Your kids need you to talk to them. This is not just for moms. Perhaps moms talk to their children most because of their care-giver role. But y’all. Moms cannot raise their kids alone. We’ve lost the village in our culture of self-sufficiency. And self-sufficiency is not best for families. If you come across a kid regularly, that’s your kid.
Talking is for dads and grandparents and neighbors and friends of parents too, not just moms and teachers. If you have a kid in your life, even on the periphery, they are yours.
Kids learn how the world works, setting them up for their entire life, by the conversations they have.
Conversation socializes. Through it they learn patterns, human norms, language skills. They learn what to expect from other people and the world through discussions they have. They learn compassion, empathy and love.
How they are talked to. Even the ways of speaking they observe. Because they are always watching, always listening. It’s like Big Brother being in your home, except instead of feeding a national database, you are feeding information to a child’s brain that they will digest, learn from and mimic immediately.
Kids have lost the ability to converse. I have witnessed this through years of trying to teach twelve-year-olds how to write paragraphs. They can’t write what they don’t know to speak. They can’t use words they’ve never heard before. Their imagination and emotional empathy only goes as far as that of the adults in their life.
I have seen it at lunch hours and at recesses. We are at a point where kids literally need to be taught how to talk to each other conversationally. They need large amounts practice speaking in front of their peers. They need to be actively taught how to play games on the playground and interact appropriately, because a lot of kids don’t know how to relate to and engage with their peers.
We like to blame social media and the pervasiveness of screens. But who is giving them the screens? And who around them is being distracted by screens?
Apps and screens teach nominal language. But they are not nearly as effective as actually talking with the kid. It’s how every child learned the breadth of their verbal, written and interpersonal communication skills up until recent history of the world.
Ask your grandma how she learned to speak.
And then get a sample of her handwriting.
Occupying the same space as your child is not the same as talking directly to them. Speaking Adult-ese around them is not the same as encouraging them to participate in a conversation with you.
Talk to your kids.
When you are on your phone, explain that you are banking, texting Auntie, or making a grocery list. Not just ignoring them.
When they are watching TV, sit beside them and comment occasionally about their show.
When you are grocery shopping, talk to them about your buying decisions and verbalize your price comparisons.
When you are driving in the car, initiate conversation. They value time with you and need, as in life or death need, to feel valued by you.
When you are eating dinner together, be silly, ask questions, converse.
When you are reading them a book, improvise. Reading is good for their brains, and they often realize love from the person reading to them more than they realize they are learning language. But do more than read. Ask them what they think will happen next. Talk about the pictures they see. Ask what they would do in that situation. Ask what they think the main character will choose. It takes more effort on your part. But by engaging them in conversation about the book, getting them to think and interact beyond passively processing the words on the page, they are not just feeling love in the moment. You are building structures in their brains that will enable them to make healthy and life-giving attachments in the future.
Exert yourself to talk about what they want to talk about, and how they want to talk about it, not just what comes naturally to your boring, unimaginative adult brain. Speak gibberish occasionally. Guaranteed laughter every time.
Engage with them. They have tons of questions, and often you can keep a conversation going just by asking them questions back. Pretend not to know the facts or situations they know. Ask really simple questions. Look up from what you are doing. Be interested in what they are saying, even if you really are not… and even if what they are saying is just downright weird.
The brilliant thing I learned from Jordan Peterson’s book to make a person feel valued in conversation is to ask, “And then what?” It perpetuates conversation. Keeps the person talking.
My girls and I drive a lot. In the car we have gotten onto the topics of the Ice Age, dinosaur extinction, how airplanes fly, food chains, ecosystems and habitats, the planets, size of the universe, environmental stewardship, and so many other things just by observing what is outside our sometimes-boring windows. And the crazy part is they learn all these concepts. Nobody is in kindergarten yet.
Recently we saw two trains passing each other in opposite directions. I asked what they thought the conductors said to each other when they saw each other pass by. Then we had a conductor conversation. That conversation morphed into talking about the writing on the train cars, me telling them what my favorite car looks like, and then guessing what the black open-topped cars were hauling. It was a combination of imagination, empathy, fact, prediction and story.
Their favorite is listening to stories from baby days. Their baby days. My baby days. Their dad’s baby days. Attachment. Sense of self. Humor. Value. Attachment.
Spontaneously share the things in your head. You might think it is mundane, self-evident or not worth sharing. But every one of your thoughts is new information for the child you are with. A new point of connection.
Intentionally making kid-conversation takes effort. That’s the point. You are talking to them for them – not for you.
You are talking to them to grow attachment, to socialize, to learn patterns, to learn language structure and vocabulary.
You are talking to them to grow their critical thinking, their imagination, their general knowledge of the world.
You are talking to them to teach their family history, the stories of themselves and where they came from.
You are imparting value.
You are paving the way for them to be successful in their life.
Being in a child’s life should not be easy. It is not just feeding bacteria in a petri dish, bacteria that can grow reasonably well if left alone. You are molding a human. That’s why it feels hard. And chances are, you want the absolute best for that little human in your life.
Talk to your kids. Intentional conversation with these little humans is an easy way to start changing our world for the better. It is your responsibility.
Conversation is attachment. Conversation is validation. Conversation is empathy. Conversation is showing them that spending time with people is the most important thing.
Your grandma would tell you the same thing.