How do you talk to a kid who has fallen behind her peers in reading, or who just lost an important wrestling match, or who may feel friendless? How do we explain how to join a conversation, take turns speaking, interrupt someone, or end a conversation? How do you mentor successful navigation of social media where popularity is so horrifyingly public? We’re not born knowing when a thumbs up will do, or when a public comment is preferable to a private DM. And of course, the rules of conversational engagement change as a child matures. It’s never too early to start honing conversational skills. Sadly, kids with lower language skills tend to get left out or even outright rejected, as early as preschool.
In the introduction to The Art of Talking with Children: The Simple Keys to Nurturing Kindness, Creativity, and Confidence in Kids, Harvard lecturer, speech-language pathology expert, and mom Rebecca Rolland, EdD, vows to present her decades of research, experience, and reflection in manageable, practical, and fun ways that help those of us working and living with kids hold the—conversations—both the soul stirring ones and the breezier, easier ones—that connect us and bring us joy. Promise kept.
No small feat, after what feels like decades spent isolating, distancing, covering mouths, and disappearing into computer screens. Families and classrooms are in deep need of rapprochement. What we don’t need is pressure or guilt or complicated theory.
Rolland asks us to remember the last time we had a meaningful conversation with a youngster or one that turned unexpectedly delightful. Too often, we are sidetracked by the shoulds and ought to’s. Who’s not guilty of driving a conversation toward the topics of futures, college, and career? As adults, we want to hear the problem, fix it, and send everyone on their way.
With a tone akin to a gabfest with a brilliant bestie over coffee after morning drop-off, Rolland writes with the assumption that both kids and adults could use some skills sharpening, directing us to piggy-back on the child’s words and train of thought to ask, “What might be?” and “How might we?” To learn from the kids in our care instead of about them.
It has the Aristotelian, Vygotskian, and Piagetian ideas and breakthroughs, but broken down, tried and true, and rendered accessible and manageable by a literacy expert. Rolland gives easy-to-remember aides like “the four P’s” and “the three E’s” for that “rich talk” we so need right now. Conveniently listed in the appendix is a resource titled “Talk by Ages and Stages,” with openers to dialoguing in seven key areas: learning, empathy, confidence and independence, relationship-building, play, openness, and temperament.
The timeliness of the book with the current buzz of SEL (Social Emotional Learning) pedagogy give the sense that this work has serious longevity.
For such a light, engaging read, it took me forever to plow through, so often did I pause to hunt down a son for a chat or to jot down an opener into a lesson plan. I am fortunate to have two copies, one in the glove box and the other on the kitchen island. Lucky, because as the author states, “the quality of our days seems to be connected to the quality of our conversations.” For my family, thanks mostly to my employing the “expand” and “explore” tips, that means a sort of truce has been established with one son and an uncovering of secret ambitions of another, dramatically improving our day-to-day indeed, and also giving me the sense that The Art of Talking with Children will be sparking more joyful conversations between us well into my kids’ adulthood.