The Value of Conversation

Beth Anne Brennan
Lower School Head

This Thanksgiving, after a vivacious and delicious meal, my friend Steve pulled me aside in the kitchen.  He smiled and said how reminiscent this holiday had been to his own childhood.  He delighted in hearing my father tell the family stories of past holiday celebrations, including the details of the “cast of characters” sitting around the table and the shows we put on as children for our very proud parents and relatives. 

“Hmm?” I thought. Nice to hear, of course, but I never really saw it this way.  For Steve, our lively discussion around the Thanksgiving table was a treasure. For me, time spent talking was a typical occurrence in our household.  As a family we have grown used to joining my father in the living room, sitting on the couches, engaging in conversation.  And my father is a pro:  he instinctively knows the right questions to ask and listens with genuine concern to all of the details and topics of interest in our lives.  He offers advice, shares a story from his life experience that adds substance and meaning to the conversation, and makes positive observations that encourages us all to want to stay engaged. 

Now, not everyone’s like my father, I realize.  He’s had years of practice.  Yet, given the time to reflect upon the festivities of this past weekend, the heartwarming union of family and friends, I think Steve has the right perspective.  Conversation is a treasure.  In this regard I consider myself lucky.  I grew up in a household that valued conversation and made it a priority.  Now, today, it is easy for me to see the gains of having parents who wanted to talk with me as a child.

You may be thinking “that was then,” right?  After all, these days it seems it’s tough to find the time.  Most of us have very scheduled and hectic lives, along with family-wide access to the various media channels that draw our attention.  It is a facet of the era in which we live, but we have to keep in mind that the time we spend disconnected or disengaged with the members of our family, with our children in particular, we not only miss those moments that enrich our lives and allow us to bond with our kids, we also lose the opportunities to develop their character through conversation.

Engaging your children in conversation not only expresses your love by showing interest in who they are and what they have to say, it also provides them with a model for listening, speaking, and asking.  Among other things, conversations also teach children to absorb or form opinions, frame perspectives, and develop empathy.  Although it may not be easy to initially connect with your children, perhaps provide them with a topic of mutual interest and encourage them to carry on lively discussions by sharing their ideas or asking questions.  And stick with it; try not to give in to any initial grumblings or indifference.  Try not to succumb to the “easy way” by handing/allowing them a device when they jump in the car or sit down for dinner. As an educator and as a mom, I can’t stress this enough: conversation is a critical social skill and part of child’s development that requires adult patience, modeling and practice.  So the next time you sit down for a holiday meal, or any meal in fact, seek to find this treasure.  I assure you, it’s worth it.

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