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The art of Conversation

Coaching past the “shy”

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’ conversational 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.  

Howdy. 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 met you.”

To introduce a friend:  “Jack, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. Lois Lane.  Lois, this is Jack Armstrong.”

Whatchaknow?  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 at topic.  Aunt Hildy loves to talk about her cat. So keep asking questions. For example, “What’s the most humorous thing your cat did this week, Aunt Hildy? Is your cat particular about his food?”  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 and a question 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 a lot of back- and-forth practice to perfect.

Written by Maren Stark Schmidt


Maren Schmidt is a certified Montessori teacher with the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and holds a Masters in Education from Loyola College in Maryland, as well as a BA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Interpersonal and Organizational Communications. Maren founded a Montessori school and has over thirty years experience working with children.

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