Honestly, once our kids hit adolescence it can be hard to pry a conversation out of them at all.
When we ask how their day went, they often just say the dreaded, “fine.”
When we asked what they did at their friend’s sleepover they say, “don’t remember.”
Not exactly stimulating conversation.
But as normal as it might be to talk in a bored monotone and use as few words as possible when talking to an adult, it’s just not good manners.
Manners are taught by parents, and if you want to make sure your kid doesn’t come off as rude or sullen as he gets older, you need to give him some tools for having a polite conversation.
Check out this story: I was sitting in the dentist’s office the other day as my daughter was getting braces, and in walked a boy of about 16. He grunted a hello to the nurse and sat down in the chair.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, the nurse tried to start a friendly conversation. It went like this:
Nurse: “How are you today?”
Boy (sounding very bored): “Good.”
Nurse: “Do you have plans this weekend?”
Nurse: “Are you enjoying this good weather?”
Finally the nurse gave up and didn’t say another word to the boy.
I get it. I remember being 16, and it did always feel slightly horrifying when an adult would talk to me.
But all I could think while I sat there in the dentist’s office was how mortified I would have been if that was my teenager, and I wondered if anyone had ever taught him the art of conversation.
Some parents might think, well, my kid is just painfully shy. It’s not his fault he doesn’t want to talk to adults.
But I don’t believe shyness is an excuse for rudeness.
You aren’t asking your child to have a twenty minute conversation with the pharmacist about world politics.
You just want to make sure that she knows how to be polite and show a passing interest in other people.
Here are some tips to offer your child when it comes to talking to adults:
1. Teach them how to ask questions and be curious about others.
The best way to keep a conversation moving is to ask questions, as we could see in the above example. If your child answers a question with one word and doesn’t ask a question back, there’s nowhere for the adult to go. Encourage your child to take it a step further. In the example with the nurse, all the boy had to do was reply with her question about how he was doing with, “I’m good, thanks, how are you?”
2. Ask them to use a person’s name when talking to them
I love this trick I learned from Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. He claims that a person’s name “is the sweetest sound,” and I agree. It’s always nice to hear someone use our name when they’re addressing us. So if your child is at his friend’s house, and his mom gives him a plate of crackers and cheese, he can say, “Thank you, Mrs. Parker.” Easy as that.
Conversation is give and take, and it tends to come more naturally to adults.
But that doesn’t mean our kids should get away with not having good communication skills that help others feel listened to and respected.
And, if you are looking to teach kids other appropriate behaviors, you can check out Kids: The Manual. It’s a child discipline system for kids aged 2 – 12.