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Conversation “Starters”

If you GOOGLE conversation starters you get lists and lists of questions to help shy or socially uncomfortable people start a conversation with strangers.

THIS POST is about how to model and teach young children about the “unwritten rules” related to starting a conversation.

We generally learn our conversational style or skills from our family of origin.

If you have an outgoing family you may be more likely to become outgoing yourself. For some children learning the “unwritten rules” of conversation doesn’t come naturally and some guidance or actual therapy may be warranted.

Let’s look at some of the ways a conversation between adults begins. It may begin with a question to gain information such as “How was the movie you went to?” or “Can you recommend a good restaurant near by?” These are natural questions that pop into conversation at various times. Although they usually work to get the ball rolling with adults who can hold their own in a conversation, questions might not work as well with children.

When we are working with young children a bunch of direct questions may actually be a conversation stopper.

When talking with children many people begin with direct questions such as “What’s that?” or something like “Do you know what color this is?”. These types of questions are designed to “test” a child’s knowledge more than begin a conversation. When a child is questioned more than engaged in a conversation they will begin to tune out over time because it’s not as much fun.

Try to notice how you begin conversations and if they are different when you are talking to adults or to children. When looking at children’s skills we can also determine if they have flexibility to use different “starters” or if they are limited to only a few.

Sometimes it’s helpful to model & even explain to children good ways to start a conversation. This way they can learn to say more than “Hey, look at this” or “Watch me!”

Here’s some “starters” that aren’t performance based questions:

  • I can’t wait to tell you what happened!
  • You’ll never guess what I have.
  • I’ve got a funny story to tell you.
  • Wow!
  • Look what I brought to show you.
  • It looks like you are having a great time.
  • I’m wondering what you are thinking
  • Look at that, are you thinking what I’m thinking?
  • That _____ reminds me of _______
  • I feel so happy today.
  • I had a great day today, did you?
  • Remember when…..?

By using openers that aren’t performance-based there are many more options for the child to respond in an appropriate manner. This way they can still feel successful to take a turn even if they don’t have a lot to add.

When we use a variety of conversational starters with children they also learn more variety. As children interact in conversations with different people, authority figures and more peers it’s important that they have a lot of options to choose from to make the most appropriate choices to the situation they are in.

Our next post will continue the conversation about conversation. We will move on to the skills needed to maintain and transition topics within a conversational exchange.

About Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.