Anyone who has spent time with my family knows that they will get roped into an in-depth conversation with one of my children. I often get complimented about how easily my kids are able to talk to adults. My oldest especially loves a good adult conversation, my middle child has an arsenal of dad jokes at his disposal, and my youngest makes friends with cashiers, postmasters, custodial staff, shelf stockers, etc. (It’s important to note that I do recognize the telltale signs of being trapped in a conversation about Fortnite, for example, so I will rescue people from the clutches of conversations with my kids from time to time without discouraging their little hearts.)
One mom friend asked me what my secret was, and so I had to think a bit. One thing that I have done consistently is that I don’t speak for my kids. Never have, even when I seemed crazy asking a babbling toddler what they would like to eat from the menu, often requiring translation.
Why is it important for my kids to feel comfortable speaking to adults? I think it’s because I don’t always feel comfortable asking questions and I don’t want my kids to feel the same. In fact, I still get nervous calling the internet company when our internet goes out. I don’t like calling the mechanic about my car, or the A/C repairman to get estimates for a new air conditioner. Recently I was at a hotel with my family and I wanted to go downstairs to see if the business center by the lobby had free printing. My husband told me to just call the front desk instead of making a trip down. My response was, “Why don’t YOU call the front desk?” Mature, I know. So, here I am raising up a generation to not be weird like me.
Ironically, I majored in communication studies and am a public speaker. Somehow that didn’t translate to me having one-on-one conversations with professionals. Fortunately, my kids don’t have that problem – to a fault. Oh, the number of times I want to just clamp their little mouths shut as something embarrassing spills out. This, however, is not a post about filtering, but a post about being comfortable talking to adults.
There are four things I require of my kids when they are speaking to others. If they do not do all four of these, they have to stop and start over again. Bless the people who are patient with us while I teach my kids how to communicate effectively.
- Make eye contact.
- Speak clearly.
- Speak loudly.
- Be respectful.
Here is the breakdown of ways I don’t speak for my kids:
I don’t apologize for them.
If my child did something wrong, we wait until they apologize. Sometimes, we wait a while, but it’s not because they are too shy to speak up. It’s because they are embarrassed. That’s not an excuse to not apologize. I may also apologize after them, but I never apologize for them or in place of them. If they do something wrong to a child or at a friend’s house, they apologize both to the child and their parent.
I don’t place orders for them.
My kids have always ordered for themselves, even before they could speak clearly enough for others to understand. I always prompt the, “May I please…” and they repeat, “May I please have ____________.” Sometimes I still prompt out of habit. This also helps the waiter know he/she can ask the kids what they would like instead of looking to me to order for them. Also, I don’t check out for them if they are using their money to purchase something. I will, however, apologize to the people behind us because I make them count out their own money and we could all be there for a while.
I don’t ask questions for them.
If my kids have a question for another adult, I do not ask the question for them. For example, my daughter had to throw away some trash at the store. Instead of me asking where the nearest trash receptacle was, she went up to a worker and said, “Excuse me, where can I throw this away?” (This also works when speaking to other children. I don’t introduce them to other kids; they must do it themselves. I will, however, hold their hand and prompt them if they are feeling shy.)
I don’t answer for them.
This is true in situations such as the doctor’s office. My kids go to Lafayette Children’s Clinic and I love how their awesome doctor, Dr. Rabalais, always asks them what their symptoms are before turning to me. He askes them the question, “How are we feeling today?” or “What’s going on today?” Knowing how to communicate this effectively will be beneficial when they head off to college and I’m no longer there at their appointments. I like how he looks them in the eye and directs the question at them which gives them the prompt they need to respond.
I don’t thank other people in place of them.
I sometimes still have to cue them by saying, “Say, ‘thank you!'” (I’m still wondering when I won’t have to cue them anymore). I often have to also remind them of #1: make eye contact. However, they are in charge of their own thank yous.
Now, in all of these situations, the kids have my permission to speak to adults. They have heard their fair share of lectures about stranger danger and topics that are completely off-limits. These are strictly for instances when it is appropriate and expected for them to communicate with adults. And it comforts me to know that in the event that they are truly in trouble and need to seek the help of an adult, they will not be too afraid to ask.