Kids have stuff to say – if you listen
How `bout those Broncos?” Jon’s dad asked as he sat down at the preschool snack table with a group of his son’s friends. They grinned back at him, thrilled to be asked such a grown-up question but uncertain about how to answer. So, except for the steady crunch-crunch-crunch of pretzels, silence reigned.
Clearly, starting an adult-child conversation isn’t always easy. And sometimes keeping one going is even harder. But it’s not impossible, and it is important. Here are some conversation builders suggested by teachers and other parents.
One way to start a conversation with anyone, of course, is to ask a question. But what do you ask a young child? It helps to remember that kids’ minds are usually on whatever is right there in front of them. The younger the child, the truer this is. Try asking questions about things they’re looking at or touching.
Jon’s dad might have asked about the snack. “Everyone really seems to like these pretzels. What other kinds of snacks do you like?” “I wonder who helped set the table? They sure did a nice job.”
Although questions can get a child talking, be careful. Ask too many and you’ll come off sounding like the host on a TV quiz show: “What color are those carrots? How many are on your plate?” A series of questions that call for one word-answers can put kids on the spot.
Once in a while, ask your child to explain something she knows more about than you do. It’s always fun to talk when you feel like an authority – especially when you’re a kid talking to an adult.
Figure out what your child’s an expert in. You might ask her to explain a picture she’s drawn. Or perhaps he could point out the details of his action figure collection. Maybe you could ask her to fill you in on a recent Rug Rats episode.
And then listen.
Listen to children as attentively as you would to any adult who matters to you. One way to do this is to pause in whatever else you might be doing. Sit down so you aren’t towering over your child and take time to really look at him. (While you’re looking, resist any parental urges to wipe that grape jelly off his chin. After all, it’s not something you’d do to a co-worker who’s explaining something important.)
If you listen for meaning, rather than to correct pronunciation or grammar, it encourages kids to talk more, too. And even though children don’t always put words together as quickly and smoothly as adults, try not to finish their sentences for them. Whenever you can, take time to listen thoughtfully until they’ve n See Kids on page 22-A
n continued from page 8-A
gotten their ideas out. When you let kids finish their own sentences, it helps them learn to think things through.
Close listening also gives you some ideas about how to respond. That’s what keeps the conversation going. You may not be as fascinated as your 2-year-old is by the fire hydrant she spots while you’re out for a walk, but if you’re alert to the note of interest in her voice, you’ll pick up on the fact that fire hydrants are a hot topic. Your responses and comments on what she cares about can add much to her vocabulary and understanding.
Sometimes you, or your son or daughter, just won’t feel like talking. Everyone feels that way once in a while. It’s a feeling to be respected.
More often, though, your child will look forward to conversations with you, especially if you ask interesting questions, listen and respond. It’s a way to strengthen your child’s talking and thinking skills – and your friendship.
Kids First is a department of the City of Aspen funded by the affordable housing/day care tax. Kids First provides information and funding for early childhood programs. For information, call Virginia or Shirley at 920-5363. Portions of this article are reprinted from “The Well-Centered Child.”
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