by Dan Brunell
Of all the things that we need to teach our children, communication skills are among the most important. If you think about the various children you interact with – and adults for that matter – don’t you think more highly of the ones who look you in the eye and speak to you clearly? Strong communicators are much more confident, and self-confidence is the engine that propels the healthy development of our kids. It stands to reason that children who have learned to effectively articulate their thoughts and desires will have better odds for happiness and success in their adult lives. Healthy relationships, academic achievement and career advancement are contingent on the ability to communicate well.
The great American composer John Powell said, “Communication works for those who work at it.” Children may not be eager to work at developing communication skills on their own, so it’s up to the adults in their lives – especially their parents – to be proactive about helping them develop these skills. And if we do it right, it won’t seem like work to our children. It can actually be a lot of fun!
Sometimes quiet time is good for our kids, but most of the time they would rather be talking with us. Healthy communication with adults makes them feel accepted and relevant which, of course, builds their confidence.
At the root of skilled communication is the ability to ask and answer questions. And since one of the best ways to teach children is by example, I recommend developing the habit of simply asking them questions. This will perpetuate the habit of two-way communication.
While participating in the Watch D.O.G.S. program at my kids’ school, I interacted with many different children. I witnessed varying degrees of confidence and interpersonal skills, but I found that I could engage any of the kids in conversation if I asked the right questions. This helped inspire me to write a book to help adults start conversations with kids in a fun and productive way.
There are plenty of everyday opportunities to talk with our kids. Driving in the car is one of my favorite times, but we also spend lots of time waiting in lines or at the doctor’s office, etc. These are great times to ask your kids questions. Like anyone, kids love to be asked about their opinions and ideas, so a few well-placed questions can set the stage for a very fun dialogue.
Kids are incredibly perceptive, so you don’t want to patronize them with trite questions. They have a passion for the undiscovered and they love to laugh, so try to capitalize on those facts.
I like to ask my kids silly questions or have a competition to see who can tell the most ridiculous story in under one minute. I also like to fire off fun facts that usually start by asking “Guess what?” A great way to get started is to pick a general topic like the ocean or travel, and then ask questions that loosely fall in that realm. For instance, you might ask, “If you could build a spaceship, where would you go?” After they answer, follow up with more questions like, “Who would you take with you?” “Would there be aliens there?” “What would they be like?” Once you get the ball rolling, the kids can take a topic and really run with it. Whether you are with one child or several, it’s pretty easy to get them excited with the right stimulus.
You may have heard that “the journey is half the fun.” If you foster these conversations with your kids, the journey can be a whole lot of fun. Possibly the greatest part is that your kids will quickly learn to ask their own questions of you and each other. This empowers them to better articulate their thoughts and stimulate conversations on their own, which builds their confidence and the all important self-esteem.
Dads, we have a relatively short amount of time to prepare our children for adulthood, so we need to take full advantage of the time that we have. For me, this is one great way to make the most of the opportunities I have to invest in my children and bond with them.
Dan Brunell is a husband, father of three, coach and Cub Scout den leader who also works as a business and training consultant in southern California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more practical suggestions and dozens of conversation starters, get a copy of Dan’s book, Car Conversations for Elementary School Kids.