I’ve mentioned before the fact that we are a family who dialogues… a lot.
I had a reader ask me to speak more on being conversational with your children. So, this post will be my attempt to flesh out the things I have done as a mom to create a conversational lifestyle within my home.
Disclaimer: I am a “talker” by nature. I am also a “teacher” by nature. The things I have implemented in my home come naturally to me, but will not necessarily come so easy for someone not so talkative. So, if you are less conversational than me, don’t assume you are getting it all wrong. Just try a couple of these suggestions, and remember you have other giftings I couldn’t even begin to dream of managing in the way you do.
1. Greet your children. I almost always greet a child who has entered a room or when I enter a room they are in. I say something like, “Hello, sweetie!” or “There you are, little one!” Too many families flit in and out of each other’s lives without taking note of each other. I want my children to know I truly am thankful to be in the same room with them.
2. Talk big. Our first child was born while my husband and I were in college. I was getting a degree in English and had a lot of reading to do. I learn best by reading out loud, so quite often, you could find me sitting in front of my little boy reading from Shakespeare or Austen as he drooled and cooed in approval. I remember my husband (also a talker/teacher) having conversations with our toddler son on historical events that went far over our small son’s head.
But, doing this set a tone. We have continued to use words that seem much too “big” for our children’s comprehension. However, we do it in a way that teaches. Here is an example from a recent conversation:
“Megan, it is imperative you learn to lead your younger siblings by example.”
I let it soak in for a bit, then follow up with,
“It is so important they see you doing something that is worthy of being followed.”
No, I didn’t define the word imperative by pulling out my dictionary and giving her an exact definition. I simply RE-WORDED what I had said using a word she does know. That way, in her mind, “imperative” and “important” must go together. As she ages and her vocabulary broadens, she will be able to clarify these two words even better.
3. Gather starter questions. Sometimes parents don’t know WHAT to say. They want their children to open up to them, but they have no idea how to get from silence to dialogue. That’s where having a few “starter questions” in your back pocket can make this transition easier.
Gather these questions from books they are reading, movies you have watched as a family, events that have happened recently.
Megan and I are reading through several books right now. One is Raising Maidens of Virtue. There are a lot of good discussions within that book on the topic of modesty and femininity (note: this book IS for a more mature female audience, so please don’t read this book in mixed company or with a young lady who is not able to grasp the concepts within the book). The discussion questions within the book have often sparked other discussions that have led to very wonderful moments for mom and daughter.
A lot of times when I want to dig deeper with the children, I will recap something we have seen or experienced and then ask them specific questions pertaining to that experience. For instance, we watched Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed a while back. For my younger children I was able to explain to them that Richard Dawkins suggests at the end of the movie that aliens might have created humans. I simply ask them what they think about that. That usually gets a good chuckle out of them and then they say things like, “Mom, aliens aren’t real!” and other such outbursts. For my older children, I am able to dig deeper with why someone might be perfectly fine with suggesting we were created by alien life forms, but not by God. If my little ones happen to overhear the conversation, all the better!
The key here is to see events and other things you encounter in your lives as a jumping off point for conversations. These are teachable moments…don’t let them slip by!
4. Be genuinely interested in them. It is VERY easy for parents to slip into the mode of constantly critiquing everything their child says or does. You child mentions how neat the video game at a friend’s house is, and you immediately pounce on their words with a ferocious, “Video games are bad for you!” Don’t be so intent on squashing weeds, that you squash the flowers too!
Engage your child in a conversation about WHY they like the video game. Find out what is behind it. Really listen to them and to their interests. Redirect that interest, if need be, but be gentle. You wouldn’t like it much if someone were always telling you that the things that interest you are ridiculous and worthless.
5. Educate yourself. I am a big proponent of “continuing education” for moms. No, I don’t mean going back to school to get a degree of some sorts. I mean being a lifelong learner. Surround yourself with good books, good movies, intelligent conversations.
Homeschooling naturally lends itself to these sorts of thing because as teachers, we are continually looking for more resources to help in our quest. Use those resources yourself. When something interests you, pursue it, chew on it, and then like a mother owl, spit it back up for your children to chew on.
Your children will thrive in an environment where they feel like they can talk to you. They want and need to be guided by wise words and parents who LISTEN to them, not just HEAR them.
So, what can YOU do to today to be a conversational mama? I’d love to hear about it!