4 tips to help your son be a good conversationalist
Before I had children, I would imagine all the meaningful conversations we’d have about the world, life and love.
Then I had my sons.
And although they’re smart, funny and kind, often when they talk to me (or more accurately, talk at me) about their latest gaming or sport obsession, I glaze over.
Boring their own mum to tears with repetition and Minecraft monologues is one thing, but I do want my boys to be good conversationalists out in the big wide world of friends, teachers and other adult humans.
Not simply because conversation plays a huge role in kids’ development, wellbeing and sense of self, but also because being able to talk and listen well helps them navigate school and social settings, make friends, and be understood. It also gives them the verbal tools to ask for what they need.
Here are 4 tips to help your young son become a conversation connoisseur.
1. Practise the basics
Some kids seem to understand the conversation-skill basics from an early age. Not your son? Upskilling is simply about practice. Start by focusing on:
- Getting attention the right way – waiting until someone’s stopped speaking and saying, “Excuse me”.
- Using eye contact.
- Taking turns speaking and listening. Practise this by playing ‘conversational catch’, taking turns to ask and answer questions while throwing a ball back and forth.
And don’t forget to praise your son when he’s practising what you’re preaching. This will help him recognise the behaviour and he’ll be more likely to repeat it.
2. Help him cut to the chase
My sons are great at telling never-ending stories – tales with no beginning, no middle and no end in sight. Kids can struggle to work out what the main point of the story is, so they throw all the facts at you.
If your son is a serial rambler, ask, “What was your favourite part?” or, “What was funny or weird about that?” to help him find the nugget worth sharing.
The point isn’t to stifle your son’s creativity but to help him keep the other person’s interest. And hopefully turn a one-boy show into a healthy two-sided chat that’s fun for both parties.
3. Make empathy your son’s secret weapon
Empathy helps the conversation grow stronger. The tough part is that empathy requires listening in order to understand others’ perspectives. Help your son by reminding him of what friends or teachers have said and by praising him when he demonstrates good listening.
However, the best way to teach him about empathy in conversation is by showing him how it’s done. Be a good role model. Give your son your time and attention. Listen at least as much as you talk. And show you value his feelings or points of view by acknowledging and repeating them.
4. Teach him emotional literacy
When my son is having ‘big’ feelings, such as anger or anxiety, he tends to shut down. Conversation stops and physical behaviours such as retreating or even lashing out can take over – a barrier to budding friendships or healthy teacher/student relationships.
Telling your son to ‘use his words’ is difficult if he doesn’t know which words to use. So, help him develop a ‘feelings vocabulary’ by:
- Talking about your own emotions, even the uncomfortable ones such as worry, frustration and fear.
- Asking him questions to help him define his emotions, such as “You seem really upset, what are you feeling right now?”
- Helping him connect physical reactions to underlying emotions: “I see your face is getting red. Are you feeling angry?”
- Using ‘I’ statements: “I feel _____ when you _____.”
Finally, tune in when he’s all talked out. Although it’s important for your son to be able to hold a conversation, social exhaustion is real (as many of us learned post-lockdown). So when your son’s had enough talking, gently guide him away and allow him to recharge with some quiet time.
Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer, and mum of two beautiful, boisterous boys. You can find her at www.cavalotcopy.com. This article is about Parenting
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