Teaching Kids Conversational Skills

For many children it’s easy to strike up conversation or join a dialogue already in progress. Yet in today’s media-centered world, many kids, tweens, and teens are lacking in social skills. They can post pictures and communicate online, but real-time conversations often baffle them.

Deb Marinik, an Education Specialist with ProMedica, explains that there are many reasons for this common challenge in today’s society. “The teenage years are angst ridden and egocentric times, so it’s hard to effectively communicate because they’re primarily thinking about their own issues. This might adversely affect listening skills, which would definitely make them ineffective communicators.”

Start the conversation early

“Encouraging positive communication skills should start very young,” advises Marinik. “Talk to your child, ask questions, and be interested in what they have to say.” She encourages parents to let go of judgment or unsolicited suggestions. “Together, they are a recipe for getting kids to clam up.”

Fundamental communication skills don’t come easily to some children, so parents can utilize TV shows and real-time events to demonstrate proper language usage and how to stay on topic. Parents can also model examples of how to start or end a conversation with basic phrases that are easy to remember.

Consistent, positive interaction is key. “Kids who are raised in a sharing and respectful environment will naturally be better at expressing their thoughts,” says Ms. Marinik. “Practicing good communication is something that needs to happen every day.”

Hang up the phone

Now more than ever, cell phone addiction has become a pandemic. Parents and kids alike struggle to put down their phones, so it’s no wonder conversation skills get lost in the shuffle. So how can adults find the balance between creating family togetherness and utilizing technology in a healthy way?

A single mom of a 17-year-old says the best way to deal with cell phone issues is to not provide one for her child in the first place. Because her son is not distracted by texting, tweeting, or posting, he has developed conversational skills that rival any adult.
For kids who already have a cell phone, it’s important for parents to teach them how to set clear boundaries. Regularly scheduled times when the entire family goes “tech free” can be a great way to minimize distractions and encourage conversation.

Paying it forward

Kirt Manecke, an author and business development specialist from Milford, emphasizes that critical social skills are essential for succeeding in a career. “Communication skills are among the top skills businesses expect when interviewing and hiring,” he says. “Employers everywhere are saying that young people lack the people skills critical to be successful at work.”

To help teens navigate adolescence, Mr. Manecke wrote Smile and Succeed for Teens. “It’s a crash course in social skills for teens to ensure success in school, work and life,” he says. Adults can also find valuable information through his parents’ guide (www.SmileTheBook.com) as they work alongside their teens or tweens with fun activities and role-playing.

Don’t give up

An easy way to practice communication skills is to do something together as a family. Everyone needs time away from their screens, especially tweens and teens, and even though it can be challenging to encourage conversation, parents should not give up. “It’s important to remember that the tween and teen years are a confusing time,” says Ms. Marinik. “Never stop trying, no matter how frustrating it is when you are getting monosyllabic responses. No one stays a teen forever, and kids need to feel unconditionally loved, even when they’re being difficult.”

Keep the Conversation Growing

  • Take baby steps by encouraging eye contact and selling “hello.”
  • Role-play introductions and answers to basic questions such as “How are you?”
  • Teach your child to ask simple, open-ended questions starting with “how” or “what”.
  • Remind your child that conversations are a two-way street, so it’s important to listen to the other person.
  • Model cell phone etiquette when talking with your child and encourage conversation topics that don’t center on social media or the Internet.
  • Visit smilethebook.com/smile-succeed-for-teens for more information about how to help your teen put down their phone and have successful conversations.

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