6 Ways to Improve Kids’ Conversation Skills

Catherine Crawford, mother of two over-parented girls, became so intrigued by her French friends’ well-behaved children and their cool parenting style that she embarked on a quest to find out how they pull it off. She chronicles the results in the hilarious and helpful book French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting. Here, Crawford shares tips on helping kids develop the art of conversation. —BBL Editor

I still feel like a bit of a troll when some five-year-old is telling a story, often begun when he hijacked my conversation with his mom, and the only thing I can think about is how bored and annoyed I am. I’m amazed when other parents around me exhibit an endless amount of patience, hanging on every tiresome word the kid spits out. Me, I just want to snap, “Don’t interrupt.” Yet, I know I’m not alone. Most of us are just reluctant to admit it and thus sit around smiling, encouraging kids to ham it up, regardless of what kind of material they’re working with.

In an attempt to improve my home life, I undertook a yearlong experiment of importing certain aspects of French parenting to use on my daughters, and I discovered that, among many other things, the French do not indulge their children with such endless airtime. Although they don’t necessarily discourage kids from taking part in conversations, rarely will you see a little Frenchie usurp and dominate an already swinging discussion without a good reason. Inspired, I set out to remodel my girls’ conversational skills, and I think we’ve made great progress. Voila — my tips:

Step 1: Obvious first rule is to curtail the interrupting — not only kids interrupting parents, but also each other. It’s like reminding them to say please — eventually they get it.

Step 2: Casually bring up the virtues of a good conversation. I found it ironic how much my kids had to say on the subject. Eventually, we discussed everything from truly listening and learning to the art of good delivery.

Step 3: Practice at the dinner table. Our round table (actually, it’s rectangular) banter is more entertaining these days now that we are consciously trying to improve, and my girls don’t seem to be competing against each other for approval, so much as riffing off one another’s comments.

Step 4: Nicely let your kids know if they are hogging the floor or have chosen a faulty topic (for instance, farts can be funny, but not during mealtimes, and if I ever hear another story about the Disney show “Shake it Up,” I’m going to shake up the stiffest Martini ever).  Teach your kids to know their audience.

Step 5: Make some rules. If Mom or Dad says “this conversation is not for you,” they mean what they say. There are some circumstances where the input of a child, no matter how witty or adorably delivered, is not welcome.

Step 6: Play the kids YouTube videos of Dick Cavett interviews or Terry Gross podcasts. Seriously. Kids learn by imitation—and they could do a lot worse than imitating these conversational masters.

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"French Twist" by Catherine Crawford
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