Big Picture

Tips & Tricks

Conversations with Children

-Robert Choun

Talking Builds Trust

Young children tend to monopolize conversations with adults. Ask a kindergartner about a movie he’s seen and he’ll recite the entire screenplay before coming up for air. Adolescents represent the opposite extreme. Their responses can be monosyllabic and extracted only through interrogation under bright lights.

Early elementary kids are somewhere in the middle. When offered the opportunity, these kids are able to dialogue with grownups. The degree to which they are willing to do this depends on the adult.

When you show genuine interest in children, you earn their trust. Kids who trust you will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. They’ll also be more likely to follow your example and live what you teach.

A Guide to Conversation

A child knows when he has a grownup’s attention. Here are some self-evaluation questions.

  1. Do you look into the child’s eyes?
  2. Do you physically get down on the child’s level?
  3. Does your body language demonstrate your interest?
  4. Do you adapt your responses to the child’s question?
  5. Do you wait for children’s responses or answer your own questions to save time?
  6. Do you engage children in an exchange of observations, opinions and experiences rather than ask standard questions about their age, grade and favorite color?

Ice Breakers

A child’s favorite topic is himself so that’s a safe place to begin a conversation. Ask subjective questions to move beyond yes or no answers. “What’s it like to be the youngest child in your family?”

Discover a shared interest or experience to form an instant bond. “Hey, I like baseball too. I used to pitch for my school’s team.”

Work together on a project to start up a conversation. “This puzzle reminds me of a beach I visited. Where do you go on vacation?”

Guiding the Conversation

Suppose you’re having a casual chat with one of your learners and the conversation turns to spiritual matters. Anxious to make the most of the child’s interest you overload him with concepts. You turn a dialogue into a monologue. You provide answers to questions that haven’t been asked. Instead of seizing the moment you stomp it into the ground by giving too much information.

Here’s what happened when I tried to teach more than one truth in a discussion with a second grader about outer space:

Bob: God made all the stars and planets we see. God even made the ones we can’t see.

Karl: Why would God make some­thing I can’t see?

Bob: God is the Creator. Making things is one of His jobs.

Karl: God made me.

Bob: God made all the universe and you. God cares more about you than about all the stars and planets. You are very special to God. Do you know how much He loves you?

Karl: My dog threw up in the car!

A teachable moment has the life span of a rainbow. It requires careful handling. Guide conversations toward spiritual matters and be alert for signs of interest. Always keep one central teaching aim in mind. Take your cues from the child’s responses. Be care­ful not to over-reach a young attention span.

The above conversation might work better like this:

Teacher: God made all the stars and plan­ets we see. God even made the ones we can’t see.

Karl: Why would God make something I can’t see?

Teacher: God has a plan for everything He makes.

Karl: God made me.

Teacher: Yes, and He has a plan for you!

Ask thoughtful questions. Be pre­pared to wait for an answer. Give your learner time to think. Once you’ve heard his response it’s your turn to pause and consider. Show him you value his thoughts. Pay attention.

Through prayer we have God’s at­tention. God doesn’t fall asleep or get up and wander off. He thoughtfully consid­ers our petitions because He knows each of us so well. He answers in a personally relevant way.

God is a good conversationalist and we can trust Him. Go and do likewise.

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