Tuesday, October 13, 2015

8 Ways to Succeed on Positive Conversations With Children

By Seow Lim*

Conversation is a personal connection. It is how we share ideas and learn from one another. It requires listening and talking in equal degree. We would benefit from having an open mind when we interact and talk to children, and also be prepared to show empathy. Kids want to be heard. To listen to them - really listen- and be able to understand their needs and concerns.

Here at POVI, we want to constantly encourage our kids in our daily conversation. That's how we help them to develop their self-esteem. Development of self-esteem needs to start very early in life. We also want to teach them that success comes from effort and persistence. We want to give our kids the opportunity to try, fail, try again, fail again, and then finally succeed. They can also develop ideas about their own capabilities. While they are learning fro trial and error, they're creating a self-concept based on interactions with other people, including us. Hence, making sure that we are giving our kids the opportunities to develop such self-perception regularly is also key to their development.

The way that I would like to approach this topic of how to use positive conversations to encourage our kids is through examples. All questions are elaborated by our Developmental Psychology PhD Daphna Ram, and are part of POVI Family Connect app.

The Orange Case (Scenario 1):

"What fruit do you think is really weird?" ( Question for Development skill: critical thinking. Age: <5 or 5-10)


Parent Response A:

"What? Oranges are so common. They are not weird at all. Find something more special."

This answer discourages children from thinking critically. It also is likely to end the conversation rather than promote more conversation and exchange of ideas between parent and child.

Parents Response B:

"Your idea is interesting. Why do you think it is weird?"

Kid might say:

"Because the skin has tiny holes in it. Sometimes it is rough, and sometimes it is smooth."

The discussion can go on:  "I agree; why didn't I think of that? I thought 'durian' is really weird. Do you know what it is? Do you want to know?"

This example illustrates how one can use the questions as a springboard for further conversation and promoting curiosity. This encourages your child to constantly be seeking new knowledge and asking questions.

Flying to the Sun Case (Scenario #2)

"Where would you want to go if we go could go anywhere at all today?" (Development skill: Imagination/Creativity. Age: <5 or 5-10)

"I want to take a rocket and fly to the Sun", says child.

Parents Response A: 

"That's not possible. You are going to melt before you arrive to the Sun. Answer my question properly. Pick some place on earth", says parent.

Though the response is accurate, this answer discourages child’s creativity and may prevent him/her from sharing creative answers with you in the future.

Parents Response B:

"Wow! That's very far that you are planning to go. Further than I had imagined. Why do you want to fly to the Sun?" _ Parent replies to child's answer.

"Because I want to build a big solar panel in space close to the Sun so that we can generate all the electricity we need on earth with it."

Perhaps parents might say something like:

"That's really creative. You have made me think of things in a completely new way. But isn't the Sun really hot? How are you going to prevent the rocket and the solar panel from melting?"

This is another example illustrating how to use these questions as a springboard for further conversation. This shows the child that you are interested in his ideas. Furthermore, continuing the conversation may also promote other skills in your child; in this example, asking the child how he will prevent the solar panel from melting promotes critical thinking.  

The Bee Scenario (Case #3)

What is something nice you did today? (Development skill: Altruism. Age: all ages)

Kid says:

"I helped my friend chase bees away by throwing soccer ball at them."

Parents Response A:

"Why did you do that? Don't you know that bees sting? That's dangerous. Don't ever do that again."

The child in this example seems excited about how he helped his friend. This particular parent response overlooks the child’s positive intention.

Parents Response B:

"You are a good friend.  I am proud of you. I have heard that bees sting though. How did you prevent the bees from chasing you back? They are good for the environment though..."

"We threw the ball and we ran really fast in the other direction.", says child.

"But what about other kids in the playground. They might not know that bees might come chasing?"

"You are right. I didn't think of that. I should have told everyone to run as fast as they can."

"Yeah, maybe that’s something to think about next time. But it’s good you helped your friend. You know, even though bees sting they actually do a lot!"

This response can also further promote conversation and educate your child about different aspects of the world.

Lonely Recess Time Case (Scenario #4) 

"Where do you usually play at recess?" ( Recommended for Development skill: Social Convention. Age: all)

"I don't play with anyone. I do all my homework at recess.", kid answers.

Parents Response A: 

"Why are you such a loner? You need to go make some new friends."

Parents could use this opportunity to find out if there's a reason that he is not playing with anyone at recess and is doing his homework instead.

Parents Response B:

"I always enjoy your company. I am sure your friends do too. Why are you not playing with them anymore?"

"Friend Z has ganged up with other kids to bully me. They tease me all the time. I rather be by myself than to be teased." answers child.

"I am so glad that you have told me. I wished you had told me about this earlier. I will do my best to keep you safe, anytime anywhere. Would you want to tell me more about the situation in school?", replies parent.

Hopefully, with responses like these, the child will eventually feel that he can trust the parents and will begin to understand that he/she truly want to help him solve his issues. 

Freed the Sadness (Scenario # 5) 

"Do you think this is an appropriate amount of time for someone to be sad when something bad happens to them?"(Development skill: Emotion recognition. Age: Teen)

"Yes, when my best friend got into an accident, I just kept crying and crying. I didn't know if she was going to recover. I was sad the whole time until she got out of the hospital and got back to school.", kid answers.

Parents Response A:  "She is well now. Back to school. No need to be sad anymore."

This response would cut off the conversation about your child’s feelings.

Parents Response B: 

" I know. You were really sad at that time. I had to comfort you a lot but I didn't have a chance to really talk about how you truly felt at that time since you didn't even want to talk."

"I felt like my world was going to end. This person who truly understands me was going to disappear from my life and I was going to be left all alone. I was so scared.", says kid.

"Yes, that's truly scary. I am always here, always by your side at times like this.  I felt your sadness. I am happy to talk with you.
 I am glad that you have handled it really well", parent replies.

Parents are connecting with their child emotionally by listening to her discuss her emotions. Hopefully she will begin coming to you in the future when she is having emotional issues.

Baby Talk Case (Scenario #6)

"What do you think young kids/ babies talk about? (For developmental area: Perspective taking. Age: 5-10, teen)

"Babies say I am hungry, I want milk. Young kids talk about their toys and games. They don't have to go to school, how lucky.", he/she says.

Parent Response A: 

"You are lucky that you get to go to school. Look at those kids who don't have the opportunity to learn."

It is good to make kids be thankful of how lucky they are and not always take things for granted, but this response takes away from the point of the question; to have your child take someone else’s perspective.

Parent Response B: 

"Yes, babies and younger kids spend more time sleeping and playing because that's their phase of growing up. I see you working and learning every day."

This response encourages perspective taking and how they may be different from others. 

The Self-Care Case (Scenario #7)

"Why is it important to take care of yourself so that you can be good to others? (Developmental area: Self esteem. Age: 5-10, teen)

Kid response: "I want to take good care of myself so that I don't get sick. Then you don't have to get tired taking care of me."

Parent Response A: 

"That's great to hear. You don't want to get sick so that you won't miss any important classes or tests."

This too dismisses the main point of the question; having your child think about themselves in relation to others. This also may make your child think that you think classes more important than health. 

Response B:

"I love you, I want to take care of you when you are sick. I am so glad that you care so much about me. Like I always tell you, my world is so beautiful because of you."

I rather take this opportunity to thank my kid for wanting to take care of me. Encouraging his values of taking care of his family. Letting him know that how much I love him and will always be there for him. He can feel my love, and I boost his self esteem that he can also take care of me in return.

Teacher's Talk (Case #8)

"Of your teachers who do you think cares the most about the students? Why?" (Development skill: Perception of others. Age: Teen)

"I think Teacher X really care most about the students. She invites us to her classroom during lunch time. We are free to share our problems with her. She often wants to help us in anyway she can. I do go and talk to her once in a while and talk to her."

Parent's Reaction A:

"If you have problem, you should tell me your mom. Not your teacher. She is not your family. I am."

This may be somewhat discouraging to your child as teens sometimes simply have issues that they don't feel comfortable discussing with their parents. In that regard, it’s probably good that the teen is talking to the teacher. 

Parent's Reaction B:

 "That's really nice of her. I am so glad that you are sharing your thoughts with her, and she has been helpful. I am always here to lend you my hands or ears if you like to discuss with me. I trust that you are asking for the right help at the right time."

This response is more encouraging. For their emotional well-being, we should support our kids to seek help from the people they trust, yet also allowing them to feel that we are these to listen and share their worries.

Having conversations with kids can be really fun. Especially in the process we get to discover their curiosity, creativity, fear, opinion, their pride, our kids are like 'diamonds in the sand', we got to discover them. Or 'onions' that we need to peel. Lots of fun in such discovery.

*Lim is Povi CEO whom through hard way has realized the importance of positive conversation w kids : her story can be read on this post here.

I would love to give you a heads-up that we will be running a Kickstarter campaign on Tue, May 24, 2016. We would greatly appreciate your help to be one of our early backers to make Povi a reality.

You can choose to back our project for your family, a school, your team members at work or even non-profits.

We would greatly appreciate you also sharing this important message with whom you know will benefit from joining our community!

Thank you very much! Do email me at seowlim@povi.me to catch up anytime!

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