This morning I had breakfast with Joe and Martha. Joe and I go back a ways. Martha and I just met this morning, and she started the breakfast conversation with this: “I remember when Joe came home from your class and declared we were only going to have one conversation at a time at the dinner table with only one person speaking at a time. It took some fist pounding by Joe, but we got there. And as a result, we found that our fifth daughter had a voice!”

Sometimes chaotic conversations are wonderful. Other times a slower pace with more attention and listening is what’s needed.

My grandmother, Esther, had one request each Christmas—that for two hours at some time during the holidays, everyone would be in the same room talking. No games, television, or distractions were allowed. Only one person could speak at a time, and the youngest person got to start. And then after that person finished, he or she would pick the next person to speak. Sure, people got excited and jumped in from time to time, but for the most part the talk flowed as intended. Those were conversations everyone in the family remembers fondly, even though it took the iron will of my grandmother to make them happen.

Creating opportunities for children to express themselves doesn’t require fist pounding or an iron will. Giving kids a chance to be heard simply takes slowing down, focusing attention, and being willing to listen.


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