Keep Talking! How and Why to Have Great Family Conversations (and a FREE Printable Conversation Starters Chart)

We have a very conversational family. From the time our kids were little, we have talked to them and encouraged them to talk to us. We talk. We listen. We have fun conversations. We have serious conversations. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree. Being a family that talks is a great thing. Because we talk often and freely, we have good relationships with our kids. And as our older kids have passed into the teen years and the younger set is not far from them, the conversations we have are truly a blessing.

Becoming a family that talks isn't always easy- especially if it's not something you're accustomed to or if you didn't grow up in a talking family. But, with kids that range in age from 16 down to 10 now, I can truly say that cultivating a family that talks is worth the effort.

Why should you encourage your family to keep talking?

It encourages good relationships.

I know it will come as hard to believe, but we have teenagers who actually like to be around us. They text us- from the other room- and ask to hang out. Although they do like to go hang out alone in their rooms with their electronic devices, they also like to hang out in the living room talking, watching t.v. with us, or playing board games.

Because we've always made a point of having conversations, of making time together a priority, we now have good relationships. I'm not saying our kids never argue or roll their eyes or stomp away mad. But all things said, they enjoy being with us, and we enjoy being with them.

It helps to prevent long-term behavior issues.

When family members are constantly doing their own thing, talking as little as possible, it's easy for heart issues to go unnoticed. Major behavior issues don't just happen overnight. Behavior comes from  the heart. And if we aren't talking to our children regularly, how will we ever know their hearts?

Life might seem simpler if we shuttled the kids off to their rooms all the time to text their friends and watch their shows and play video games and leave us alone. But, in the absence of conversations, heart issues grow and become big behavior problems. Frequent conversations give us glimpses into the hearts of our kids and let us become aware of things that need to be dealt with.

It builds critical thinking skills.

Do you want your children to be able to think and speak and process information as an adult someday? Talk to them- often. Having good conversations can model critical thinking and good social skills.

If children only ever have real conversations with their peers and not with their parents, how will they develop mature thinking skills? When we talk with our kids we can have discussions that model how to think and even how to disagree and prove a point. They can develop a maturity in thinking and speaking when we give them opportunities for good conversations.

It gives opportunity to influence your children's worldview.

Do you want to pass on your worldview to your children? Most parents do. Good conversations with our kids give them opportunities to hear what we believe and why. In the course of a conversation, kids will pick up on what we believe, on what shapes our thinking much more than they will from just sitting them down to teach them a lesson about our worldview.

We can arrange conversations to discuss directly with our kids what we believe, but their understanding of our worldview also comes from indirect conversations. Talk about that movie you just saw and how it supports or contradicts your worldview. Talk to kids about how a friend hurt their feelings, and you'll be indirectly passing on what you believe about relationships and how we should treat each other. Good conversations help us to guide the thinking of our kids and shape their worldview.

Make talking with children a priority

How can you cultivate a conversational family?

Listen to any conversation- no matter how small.

Mothers of small children, I know you can relate. Your three year old shows up at your elbow when you're preparing your calendar and menu plan for the coming week. Said three year old begins in his stuttering three year old speech to tell you all about the dump truck that he's driving around the floor at your feet. It's very easy to tune him out or shoo him away. It's harder to stop what you're doing and focus on him and listen with interest and carry on a conversation. The same thing happens with different conversations at various stages of childhood- the six year old who wants to give you a blow by blow description of what her dolls did, the ten year old who wants to describe the video game he loves.

It's time consuming to stop and have these seemingly meaningless conversations, and we'd often rather be doing something else. But I've learned a very important lesson over the years. Place importance on 'small' conversations with your kids, and your kids will want to talk when the conversations are big. Because I've always tried to make time to talk about the things that seemed little and meaningless, my older kids will talk to me now about the really big stuff. And, boy, do teens have some big stuff. The thing is, because I listened then, they know I'll listen now.

Be available.

It's easy to pretend to listen to your kids while you're really checking Facebook on your phone. It's easy to tune out a child while you're sending emails. You glance at them periodically or nod once in a while. But kids are smart. They know when you're really available and when you're just pretending to listen. When you're going to listen to your kids or carry on a conversation, stop what else you're doing and be available.

This doesn't mean you have to drop everything every time a child walks up and begins to chatter. It is important for kids to learn not to interrupt and for them to learn that the world doesn't revolve around them. The older they get, the more they can understand this. Sometimes when I'm working and a child walks up and begins to talk, I will stop everything. But sometimes I'll tell him/her "I can listen to you better and hear what you say if I can finish this first and then focus on you. I'll be able to listen in _____ minutes." You know your kids, and you know how much they can understand about waiting.  When you work on cultivating good conversations with your family, you'll also begin to know your children well. I have one child that doesn't talk about feelings easily. If that child shows up while I'm working and is talking about feelings, I'll drop everything and listen. I know it doesn't come easily, and I better listen while I can.

Take an interest in the interests of your children.

When we take time to learn about the interests of our kids, they'll be encouraged to talk more. If they know that we want to know what they enjoy and what they're learning and what they've been doing, they'll be encouraged to talk about it. When we take a genuine interest in what interests our kids, we'll encourage them to talk because they know that we care about the things they care about.

Sometimes it's easy to enjoy what they're enjoying, and sometimes it's just not. Last year, Charles became really interested in a computer based video game. He played it and talked about it. And talked about it. And talked about it. I listened to descriptions and analyses and critiques. Did I care about the game? Not really. But I listened and asked questions, and I learned more about the game than I ever imagined wanting to know. Was it because I loved the game? No, it was because I love Charles. And I love to talk to him. So if that game is what he currently is into and wants to talk about, then I'm glad to talk about it.

Model good conversation.

Kids learn from what we do much more than from what we say. The same is true when it comes to conversation. If we want to cultivate good conversation, we need to model good conversation. If we want them to put down the phone when we talk, we need to put down our phones when we talk. If we want them to be respectful in a disagreement, we need to be respectful when we disagree with them. If we want them to think before they speak, we need to be careful to think before we spout off.

We can model good conversation when we talk with them, but we can also model it when we talk to our spouses. Do we make a point to have good conversations with them in the hearing of the kids? How do we handle disagreement? Our kids will watch those conversations too. What are they hearing?

Being a talking family isn't always easy. Sometimes it would be much less draining if we didn't talk so much- especially for an introvert like this mama. But the benefits of having good, meaningful conversations are so worth it. I'm realizing it more and more the older my kids get. I'm so glad we're a  family that talks!

Would you like some suggestions of what to talk about with your kids? It's always great to follow their lead, but if you need some help getting started, you can download this FREE printable conversation starters PDF.

Free printable conversation starters chart

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