Today’s nursery school teachers share a common complaint: their learners are unable to follow a thread of conversation. Ask them what they did over the holidays, and they’ll answer with a convoluted description of how awesome their dad’s drone is. And while the drone might certainly be remarkable, holding a conversation is one of the most crucial social skills your child can acquire and is vital for helping them land everything from a job to a partner.
Follow these tips to help your child develop into the ultimate dinner party guest:
Look into his eyes
Eye contact is about giving attention – something that’s often lacking as we run around, trying to answer emails while cooking supper and dress toddlers, all at the same time. But taking a moment to look into your child’s eyes when she’s telling a story shows her that, yes, you are interested and, yes, you are listening.
Refraining from interrupting is good manners – cutting into someone’s anecdote makes them feel frustrated and undervalued. But more than this, shows your child that dialogue is a two-way activity: you have to listen as much as you speak.
Get the basics right
Before anyone dazzles with their general knowledge or insight into obscure facts, they need a solid foundation of good manners. As quickly as the world changes, there will always be a place for people who say please and thank you.
ALSO SEE: 10 manners kids should know
Don’t do the talking for them
You’re at a restaurant, and your daughter tells you she’s thirsty. If your instinct is to flag a waiter and order on her behalf, try to rein it in. This is an ideal opportunity for her to grow confidence and get used to speaking to people who are older than her. The same goes for any other interaction with adults: the sooner she feels comfortable talking to people who aren’t her peers, the better.
Ask more questions
Asking your child how her school day was will inevitably produce a single word: “Fine”. Ask her why, probe for details, get her to talk about what really stood out or what she didn’t enjoy – because being able to elaborate and go beyond one-word answers is crucial if you are to engage and enchant your conversation partners.
Start a culture of conversation
When you’re dashing between extramurals or concentrating on essentials (getting that lunchbox packed, making sure that homework is done), it’s easy to lose out on opportunities to really chat. Beyond simply asking for news, how about swapping stories? Telling your child anecdotes from your own nursery school days, or reminding her of funny things that happened when she was a baby, helps to bring you closer while teaching her that conversation is an enjoyable, entertaining pastime.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.