When you’re pregnant with your first child, everyone tells you how wonderful it will be when he or she arrives into the world. “You’ll enjoy every minute of time with this child, with whom you’ll want to spend more and more and more time.”
On the one hand, this is totally true. That precious little bundle of joy (and poop and spit-up) tugs at your heart in a way unlike anything you’ve experienced previously. This is the love that drives you out of bed when the infant cries, gives you grace to clean up yet another mess, and ensures that the child survives into adulthood—despite driving you sometimes crazy in the process.
But, on the other hand, that statement is totally not true. We joke about longing to be stranded on a desert island with a good book, a glass of wine, and nary a kid in sight. What we don’t even joke about is the fact that sometimes children can be downright boring and demanding. We can’t say that because it sounds so horrible, that these little people we’re raising—and that we love to pieces—are not great conversationalists most of the time. Sure, sometimes, they say something quite cute and interesting. But do I really want to hear all about how to play the Treasure Island game my second grader learned in PE that morning? Do I need to be fully engaged in a conversation about dinosaurs for the hundredth time? Do we need to be told every thought that crosses our children’s minds—and pretend that those insights are all so darn interesting?
Let me state emphatically that I do talk with my children, that I’m frequently amazed by their insights, suggestions, thoughts, and silliness. We enjoy hearing about their day at the dinner table—but we also have no problem telling them they are talking too much, that we don’t want to hear for the umpteenth time about their LEGO creation, and that we truly would rather talk about something other than baseball stats.
What I think we’ve lost as parents is the balance of things, the realization that our children aren’t very interesting most of the time—and that’s okay, because they are only children. We’ve forgotten that childhood is messy, gross, and boring to grownups in a healthy way. We’ve become obsessed with our children to the point that we give them status and place beyond their years by paying close attention to all that they say and do, by always admiring their words and works, and by making them believe that everything they do is noteworthy of our complete and full attention.
During a recent conversation among mothers with children of various ages, one said, “Sometimes I crank up the radio just to not engage in conversation with my daughter about the movie Frozen. She talks about it nonstop, and it’s driving me crazy.” We all laughed, then I said, “I’d just tell her to stop talking about it, that I wasn’t going to be listening to her chatter on that subject for now.” Her reply? “I never thought about just telling her to stop talking. I thought I should always listen to everything she said.”
Her statement is typical of today’s parent—that we think we have to pay close attention and respond to our children’s chatter all of the time. We’ve forgotten what our grandmothers knew instinctively: That children talk too much and that they need to be taught to be good conversationalists. What we’re doing collectively as parents is teaching our children the exact opposite: how to be a bore.
If you want your child to learn how to be someone with whom others will enjoy conversing, try these tips:
Cut them off. When a child goes on and on about something he’s passionate about, you want to encourage that passion, but you also want him to realize that not everyone’s going to be as excited as he is about dinosaurs, for example. Help him realize when he’s talking too much about that topic by simply telling him it’s time to stop talking about it.
Show them how conversation works. Talking with someone is different than talking at someone. When a child dominates a conversation, they are not engaged in true conversation—they are talking at the other person, instead of with them. Gently redirect their talk to include other family members or friends. Help them one-on-one if necessary to say three things, then stop and ask a question of the other person.
Practice listening skills. Sometimes, a child will act bored around another sibling or friend who is talking about a topic that doesn’t interest her—but will expect complete enrapture when she has the floor to talk about her pet issue. Guide her in how to be a good listener, too. People want to talk more with others who truly listen than they do with someone who only wants to promote her agenda without regard to others.
So the next time you become bored with your children’s conversation, tell them gently, redirect the flow, and help them to become better at talking with, instead of talking at, others.
Until next time,