“I’ve had some of my best conversations with strangers, she said, because they have no idea who they are dealing with.”
—Brian Andreas, American author and Storypeople creator
I enjoy spending time with the children of friends and engaging them in conversation in front of their parents. Why? Because I know I can usually get these kids to express themselves more fully than usual, talking about things their parents don’t get to hear about or might not even know about.
How can you do this? Try these steps:
1. Focus on getting the kids to talk—be intentional about it.
2. Turn your curiosity loose and ask anything that you want to ask.
3. Listen intently—don’t interrupt, and don’t accept short answers.
All of this is easier when you don’t have a past with kids who are new to you. You don’t have an already established pattern of what you talk about and what you don’t talk about. You could say that you don’t know them—you have no idea what their interests are, who their friends are, what they want to do in life.
This holds true for all people you don’t know. You have more freedom when you have no preconceived notions about people or established patterns of interacting with them. If you already know someone, the tendency is to interact with your past experience of them rather than with who they could be.
Perhaps you’ve had glimpses of your children responding differently in conversations with others than with you.
- Have you ever heard other parents talking about your children and wondering who they’re talking about?
- Or maybe you’ve had an opportunity to watch other adults interact with your kids and see a different kid appear right in front of you.
Both of these experiences are wonderful reminders that maybe you don’t know every facet of your children in a way that you might be able to. And knowing that your children are extremely complex and capable, you can begin to see ways to engage them differently.
So how might you go about starting fresh when you do have patterns with someone? In addition to the three steps above, here are four tips for getting into new conversations with the people you think you know best:
- Remind yourself that you don’t know everything about them. Your kids are changing constantly and have endless facets that you simply haven’t explored before.
- Be more determined about getting into new conversations. Ask them about anything and everything—but stay away from things you know might be embarrassing to them or would intrude on their personal space. Let them know you would love to talk about whatever they would like to talk about.
- Get interested in whatever they are currently interested in. Often we restrict our questions to our own interests. Be willing to listen to something you are not interested in. You are interested in your kids—that’s enough to go on.
- Shut down the distractions in life. It’s difficult for anyone to talk when technology is close at hand or when multitasking. Don’t expect your kids to be expressive in a world of inattention.
Then when the conversation begins, practice focused listening, which is attentive, patient, and nonjudgmental. Listen with no distractions. Do not interrupt or interject your own comments. Let whatever judgmental thoughts you have go without expressing them.
“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.”
—Ralph Marston, American writer
This is the perfect time to live by the mantra, “There is no place to get to.” This is exactly the place to be—in this moment, fully present with this child.