Must-Have Skill #5: Starting Conversations (Connecting with Peers)

Social skills are a must-have to be a part of society. There are many benefits to communicating well, which is why parents need to set examples, create opportunities, and encourage their child to interact with others (However, take care not to push them too hard as they will grow an aversion to socializing).

Open communication enables a community to work harmoniously and can keep the recent epidemic of loneliness at bay. Whether getting the family together for game night, or networking with at a business event, good communication can accomplish so many amazing things, such as bringing people together and enacting change–but they all start with initiating a conversation.  

You want to lay down the basic foundation for your child at an early age so they can excel in the future through communication and expression. The benefits are immediate–even now, they can benefit from good conversation skills to make friends at school and discover mentors. But how can we help our children do this?  

Recognize the opportunity

Your child has to be good at reading the room. Leaning over to another student during an exam in class is probably not the right time to say, “Hey, we’ve been sitting next to each other for a while but I don’t know your name.” Better times would be when they are waiting on the lunch line or sitting in the bleachers for a football game.  

One way for parents to help them recognize opportunities is to start enrolling them when they are young in certain clubs where they can learn to work as a team, like Boy/Girl Scouts, or classes where they can find like-minded peers, like arts & craft. Additionally, events or programs with chances for mentorships can gently nudge them out into society at a young age while training them to independently seek such opportunities for themselves in the future. Practicing how to network and forge deep connections early on will set your child on the path to success.  

The same goes for creating change. Encourage your child, if they feel passionate about a cause, to go somewhere and start conversations with people who can make an impact. For example, they can go to an event at the town borough to talk one-on-one with other attendants regarding the neighborhood’s recycling policy. There are many different ways to use conversation to reach certain goals, whether it is making friends or helping the environment.

Read the opposite party

Besides reading the room, does your child have the proper emotional quotient (EQ) to gauge another person’s mood? Can they read the cues to tell whether the person is in the mood to be approached for conversation? Sometimes, someone can be in a bad mood and not want to speak to anybody, especially a stranger. A person can also make it obvious they just want time to themselves if they are in a corner with a book.  

To make the right first impression, it is important to be able to judge when it is the right time to make the approach. This helps maintain harmony in society and leaves a better impression if your approach is to befriend or to persuade the other party.

Being open to your child about how you or others are feeling and giving them books to read, particularly in first-person narrative, could help develop their EQ. Otherwise, with all things, it comes with practice.

Set the right tone and body language

Body language will be very important throughout the conversation, especially from the beginning. There are two ways you can act as an example.

First, be an example in your posture and behavior. Be friendly and engaging. When talking to your child or others, make eye contact without being too intense and off-putting. Smile in an open and easygoing way. Turn towards your audience and lean forward slightly to show that your full attention is on them and what they are saying. Adjust accordingly. Your child is likely to mimic your behavior. Observation skills will be important here–and you can only get such skills through practice.

Second, show how to start with a friendly greeting and perhaps a question or comment about the situation they and the opposite party are both sharing. Make sure your body language is relaxed and non-threatening, so the person feels more open to conversation and comfortable.  

Establish common ground

When starting a conversation with somebody new, your child should establish common ground. The easiest way to do this is over a shared situation. For example, if they are both waiting on the lunch line, they can strike up a conversation about how hungry they are and what they want to eat; if they are in the same class, your child can ask questions about the assignment or bring up a mutual friend. Establishing such connections with others can make people feel less lonely, which can subsequently prevent or decrease depression and anxiety.

Give a reminder not to get too personal, so topics such as entertainment or classes are always a safe bet. Avoid controversial subjects, such as politics or religion, and avoid gossip. There is always time for deeper conversations in the future. For now…

Create a feeling of familiarity

One way to create a sense of familiarity is to use light humor, maybe even about the common ground established at the start of the conversation. Your child is probably not a stand-up comedian, and therefore should not start roasting people or go into a full-blown routine. Just show they have a sense of humor.  

Saying the other person’s name occasionally in a conversation can also benefit both parties. Since they just met or are not yet familiar with each other, repeating the name will allow your child to remember it more easily. This will also create a feeling of familiarity for the opposite party as names are often said among acquaintances, friends, and family. They will feel closer to your child when they hear their name often. However, try to sound as natural as possible. As in, advise against this:

Your Child: So, Rebecca, what have you been interested in lately?
Rebecca: I’ve really been into tennis these days!
Your Child: Rebecca, that is so interesting. Wow, Rebecca. I love tennis, too, Rebecca! Oh my gosh, Rebecca! Rebecca, we should totally play together someday, Rebecca.

Practice active listening

Contrary to belief, listening, while important, should not be a passive performance of maintaining eye contact and nodding to everything the other person is saying with occasional utterances of “Uh-huh” and “No way!” Active listening involves asking appropriate questions at the right time to further the conversation and show genuine interest in what the other person is saying. People want to feel heard. It also leaves your child with an open mind to take in new information and perspectives.

This can be difficult at first, but help your child practice it. Advise them to let the other person finish talking, respond to what was said, and ask engaging questions. Patience and empathy are key here.

With these steps and tips, your child will be ready in no time to initiate a conversation with anybody! Remember, encourage this by being open to conversation so they can practice their social skills. Do not feel guilty, however, if you are not able to engage all the time; simply let your child know you are preoccupied or not in the right headspace, and they will note this for future reference. This goes with the very first point and will help them recognize when is the right time to approach others.

Conversation and communication can be difficult for both children and adults, but they are important and should be approached head-on! Good luck with your future endeavors to make lasting friendships and relationships for a brighter future and happier life!

For more tips and must-have skills for your child, head to JEI’s news section.