Engaging Kids Through Meaningful Conversation

Woman engaging kids through conversation

Starting and maintaining conversations with our kids can be tough. None of us as mentors want to receive one-word answers or ‘I don’t knows’ while engaging kids in conversation. This can be especially challenging while getting to know your mentee and they’re growing comfortable with you.

How do we draw our kids into meaningful conversation and keep them engaged? As it turns out, parents everywhere are asking this exact question.  The May issue of Real Simple magazine offered up ‘5 Ways to Make Conversation with Kids’. I read through it with I Matter Too kids in mind and found that many of the ideas applied equally to our roles as mentors.

Here are the ideas they listed in the article but with my adapted explanation for how to use these suggestions with I Matter Too.

Do Some Reconnaissance

Always, always use the info you have. Do you already know what areas of interest the child has? Come up with thoughtful questions related to topics they may know more about than you do. Do they love computer games?  Puzzles? Books? Even a favorite school subject. One great way to get them talking is to ask them to explain something to you. i.e: I know you love to play Mindcraft but I don’t understand it, how do you win?

Don’t fret if your first day with a child is a little awkward. Just make sure that you use it to figure out what they’re interested in so each visit after will be easier for them to share with you.

Resist the Urge to Fact-Check

Often times we want to correct children (especially teenagers) but this can quickly shut down the lines of communication. Allow them to express themselves, even being creative with the details! Real Simple used the example of a child explaining a science experience. You may know that what the chemicals actually did isn’t exactly how the kid is describing it – but don’t point that out. Instead, ask them to explain their thoughts further and engage the creativity.

This rule also applies to grammar! Don’t stop a child in the middle of a story to point out a flaw in their tenses or vocabulary. This chops of their story and keeps them from wanting to share with you.

Be Into What They’re Into

No matter your age, I’m sure we can all agree a lot has changed since ‘our day’. Want to have meaningful conversation with your I Matter Too kid?  Take an interest in what interests them. Animals? Take them somewhere they can see animals and get them talking about which they like best and why. We recently offered opportunities for you to take your kid to the Glazer Children’s Museum. This is a great place to see what draws in your child and expound on that! If they’re not yet able to express their interests, that’s ok!  With careful attention to what draws them during your outings, you’ll be able to help them discover what fascinates them. Decide together to try different hobbies or subjects until you find something they feel like is ‘their thing’.

Watch Something Together

Experiencing something together for the first time will be exciting for each of you. A local play, a new movie, or other arts are great ways to start.  Afterwards, compare your favorite character or part to theirs. This will help drive conversation and engage them in being descriptive!

Ask Open-Ended Questions

This is perhaps the most obvious of the suggestions. However, if you’ve experienced the frustration of simples yes or no’s – you’ve probably fallen victim to just this trap! Avoid questions that can be answered in one word (including: fine). When asking about school, avoid saying ‘how’s school?’ which frequently receives a ‘good’ or maybe even ‘boring’. Ask questions that require some thought and more than 2-3 words. Try: what was the most exciting thing that happened at school this week?

Since we purpose to include spiritual elements in our time with kids what you’re studying with your child gives you great opportunities for these kinds of questions. After reading a bible story, ask how they would have handled the situation, for example. What would you do if you were in a Lion’s Den like Daniel? How could Joseph’s brothers handle there jealously differently?

Good conversation does take effort but the effort shouldn’t be yours alone!  Use these strategies to have engaging, thought-provoking conversations during car rides and activities. Don’t grow frustrated with quiet days or introverted kids. If one method doesn’t work, regroup and try a new strategy the next time!