A few weeks ago, my husband and I and two of our four children went out for brunch. As we were sitting in the front of the restaurant waiting for a table, a large group of two families came in to put their name on the list. Within the group, there were 5 children, ranging in age from about 6-12 years old. I watched with sadness as all of the children took out an electronic device, and began to play/watch. They did not talk to each other or their families. As the hostess sat them down, they walked toward the table with their heads down, staring at their devices. During most of the meal, the children remained on their devices.
Being able to converse in a group setting is not something that most people are born doing well. Students who tend to struggle with language skills are no exception. It is imperative that our students receive daily practice with conversation. The use of appropriate eye contact during social interactions is also at risk, since most of the conversations children have while using an electronic device are with their head down, and not looking at their conversational partner. If you look around at a restaurant the next time you go out, it is likely that you will even see two adults, sitting at a table, both looking down at their phones. We adults are not even setting a good example.
Typically, the easiest and best place to accomplish conversation practice is at mealtime. Eating is something your family already does. It may require a bit of tweaking, but your family meal is a fantastic place to work on these imperative skills. Whether there are two people or ten at the table, they should all be included in the conversation. There are many ways to practice this at home:
- Make your meal times media free. Turn off the TV; all phones off and put away. Limit any noises to soft, background music.
- Pick a way to allow each person at the meal to have their designated time to speak, without being interrupted. There are many ways to accomplish this. One is to take turns in a clockwise fashion. The speaker must let others know when they are done. Another is to pass some type of object around (a large spoon?), and whomever is holding the “speaking spoon” is the only one allowed to speak. This allows them time to think and process without the fear of being interrupted, and helps others learn to wait to speak.
- Another fun option is to pick out a special plate. At each family meal time, someone gets the plate. The person that has the plate is in charge of the blessing before the meal. Then every other person at the table takes a turn saying something that they appreciate about the special plate holder. It can be as simple as “I appreciate you getting my bag for me today.” This allows for the plate holder to learn to accept compliments, for others to learn to give compliments, and to get everybody in the mode of conversation.
Later in life, being able to carry on a socially appropriate conversation can mean the difference between success and failure in a job or a relationship.
Blogger Stacey Seybold Hiller is owner of Indy Pediatric Speech Solutions Inc.