Have you ever asked your son how his day was and received the vague response, “good” or asked him what he did today and heard, “nothing”? Have you tried to start a conversation and found that he won’t even look up from his phone? Teaching your son the art of conversation and how to be an active participant will be an essential life skill that will benefit him for years to come, as well as stimulating development. Studies have shown that socialisation can boost brain power.
Before diving into our helpful tips, remember that this does take patience and every child has the potential. Here are some ways to teach boys the art of conversation:
Active listening skills
Conversations are not just about talking, they are largely about listening. Your son may act bored when the conversation topic doesn’t interest him but expect the other person to be interested in what he is saying. Active listening is not just about listening, it is understanding and asking appropriate follow-on questions which continue the conversation.
Raising Children suggests that children learn from what you model. When your son engages in dialogue, it’s essential to listen patiently. Try to speak to your partner and friends in the way you would like your son to speak to others. Don’t be afraid to role-play conversations and situations to demonstrate what engaged discussions look like.
Body language, including eye-contact is a vital part of conversation. The well-known study by Albert Mehrabian states that when people are deciding whether they like one another, 7% happens by spoken words, 38% happens through tone of voice and 55% happens in body language. Therefore, teaching your son about positive body language is important.
Parents Magazine suggest enjoyable ways to do this. Find an appropriate TV show and turn the volume down, then ask your son to describe what the characters are feeling. Helping him interpret other people’s gestures will give him a guide for himself.
Starting and ending conversations
Teach your son the basics of social interactions, such as shaking hands, starting a conversation with a friendly greeting and appropriately ending a conversation. Role-playing situations with your son will help him feel confident. Amanda Morin has some helpful guides here.
If you find yourself always asking the questions Thomas Lickona suggests prompting your son to ask a question first and then take turns asking and answering questions. At first, he may resist or have difficulty coming up with a question but persevere and explain why conversations are important and how one-sided conversations are boring for the other person.
Notice the little conversation starters your son may initiate and make yourself available. Be mindful and compassionate in your response as this will dictate how forthright he will be in the future.
Teaching your son great questions can help him feel more prepared in conversations. We can easily default to ‘how are you?’ or ‘what did you do today?’ By having more specific open-ended questions, such as ‘what was your favourite part of soccer practice?’, you dive deeper as it warrants a more detailed response and develops good two-way communication habits. Avoid beginning a sentence with ‘why’ as it can imply negativity.
Answering conversation starters
The most common question for opening a conversation is ‘how are you?’ If your son gives one-word answers, the conversation ends right there. A simple formula suggested by Psychology Today is to reply with “great”, plus the addition of one fact, such as “Great, I’m playing football today.” The word ‘great’ conveys enthusiasm and the ‘one fact’ opens the door to further conversation.
Once your son has practised back-and-forth questions and is armed with question ideas he can start developing deeper conversations. Mastering the art of follow-up questions is key, where you dive deeper on a topic rather than merely asking questions and jumping from topic to topic.
Debra Fine says, “Follow-up questions are key because otherwise conversations are just question after question with no connection or in-depth real conversation.” As Debra suggests, reaching more depth in the conversation takes listening skills and demonstrates interest in the person.
Connect with your son
Spending quality time with your son each day is essential to building those important skills and your relationship. It may be in a relaxed setting such as taking a walk together, in the car or at bedtime. Another setting to promote conversations is around the dinner table without devices.
It’s not unusual to be distracted with the demands of everyday life, so the need to take time to listen and engage in healthy dialogue with your son is ever-increasing. Ensuring the underlying tone of the conversation reflects how much he is loved and cared for will help facilitate open-ended discussions. These positive exchanges maintain a beneficial connectedness with your son to form the basis of a trusting relationship.
At Christ Church Grammar School, we encourage and foster positive relationships to build good men. To discover more on how a Christ Church education could benefit your son, download our Prospectus.