We were looking forward to spending the weekend with old friends and their eight- and ten-year-old sons, whom we had never met. As soon as quick introductions were made, the boys picked up their electronic game machines and headed toward the den. At dinner the boys made plates of food and sat at the coffee table in the den even after we invited them to join us for dinner at the table.
”They’re shy,” their mom said.
Conversation is an art that must be taught and practiced.
My friend, being a natural gabber, didn’t realize that her sons’ conversation skills needed to be coached and practiced much like you learn to throw and catch a ball. Someone’s got to start the game, and there are few techniques that will help keep the ball in play as our children converse with adults and new acquaintances.
Learning how to properly introduce yourself and others is one skill: Extend your hand toward the new person and say, ”Hello, my name is Jack Armstrong.” The response should be, ”Hello. My name is Clark Kent. Glad to meet you.”
To introduce a friend: ”Jack, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. Lois Lane. Lois, this is Jack Armstrong.”
When we first meet someone, it is helpful to have memorized a list of questions that will keep a conversation going.
Where do you live?
How long are you visiting?
Do you have any pets? Hobbies? Children? Brothers or sisters?
A key to keeping a conversation going after these initial questions is to keep asking questions when you see a person is interested in that topic. Aunt Hildy loves to talk about her cat. So keep asking questions. This can be practiced at home and at school.
Yep. Nope. Maybe so.
Coach your children to say more than yes or no when they are asked a question. If asked, ”Do you like to play sports?” answer with, ”Yes, I like to play tennis. I usually play with my friend, Tom, or my dad at the park down the street. But as soon as it’s baseball season, I put my tennis racket away and keep my mitt at the front door.”
With three comments we set up the person with whom we are conversing a chance to return the ball with another question, or comment. Help your child practice making three comments after a yes or no answer.
Also, a way to keep the conversation going after making three comments is to rephrase the original question: ”Do you have a favorite sport?”
Being genuinely interested in another person is an important way to make friends and get your point of view across to others. Don’t let your child be ”shy.” Coach him or her to learn the art of conversation, a skill that takes practice to perfect.
Also, it’s an important story about the power of labeling. As soon as you even think “shy” you are embarking down a self-fulfilling diagnosis, and even these techniques will be seeds that fall into the thorns of them knowing you think they are shy.
Treat them as if they are responsible citizens of the social group. Have them in the conversation on equal footing with adults because that is “how things are done around here,” and they will rise to the social challenge and learn what they have to do to belong. Allow them to not belong, to create their own society in the other room, and they will.
Thank you for sharing your insights. Always welcome!