The Art of Conversation

If you have worked with young people, then you are well aware that having a conversation with them can really be a challenge.  Often, the standard question of, “How’s it going?” receives little or nothing at all.  If you dare to ask, “How was school?”  You might get an OK, but that is about it.  My take on this is just give them room.  Don’t press them, however, when they do start to talk, be ready to participate in the conversation.  Ask some questions, like “Who was your favorite teacher today?”  By asking it in the present tense then you can ask that again another day and likely will get a different answer.  You can also ask, “What is one thing you learned today that you didn’t know?”

You can develop a list of interesting questions in advance and have them ready in your head when you get them talking.  An important ingredient in having an artful conversation is to be sure that you don’t give advice, or be judgmental.  That will immediately shut young people down.  When you want to give some advice, or say that ever awful statement, “You should have . . . ”  or “I would have . . .”  then ask another question, “I wonder why you thought that?”  or “Why do you think it worked out that way?”  This give young people some room for response and a short answer, like, “I don’t know,” can be met with another question, “But why didn’t they get angry?  or some other qualifying question that presses them to give more than a one or two word answer.

If you continue to strike out with your young person, then give it a break and try again later.  When I run up against a “no go” conversation with a young person, then I like to make a comment about myself, like, “Let’s try to make the best even of difficult situations.”  or maybe make an observation about my day with, “Today was a difficult day with lots of problems to solve.”  Often, they will respond with, “Like what?”  Then you can ease into a conversation that ends up helping them to be positive even when things are difficult.

Yours for Better Parenting,