The power of speech that is unique to us humans is also the reason behind the amazing development of the human race. It is indeed interesting that, on a daily basis, we use this amazing gift without giving it much thought.
With the increasing number of options in digital and virtual communications, I feel the art of conversation is not dying but it is taking up newer dimensions. In the age that we live today, everyone is short of time and hence it is all the more important we re-learn the art of conversation.
The conversation I’m talking about is not of a professional type. While that too is important, we learn so much about professional conversations and communications in our B-schools and boardrooms. The type of conversation I have in mind is the one we have in our homes, our drawing rooms and our dining rooms. When every family member is hard-pressed for time, it’s vital we revisit the important of the art of conversation in daily life.
The importance of open-ended questions
The first requirement of being a good parent is listening. Do parents engage with their children effectively? It’s easy to say that generation gap, the scarcity of time and career pressure prevents long conversations, but we are talking about quality of conversations here.
Parents could begin with simple questions over the dinner table: “So, Priya, how was day? Shashank, how’s your science project turning out? Priya, what was the highlight of your football match today?”
Note that they are open-ended questions that aren’t answered by simple yes-no (“Did you enjoy your school today?” “Yes!” End of conversation), so there’s a lot more coming up. Children can pour their heart out, share their concerns, express their joys and feel connected. “Dad! Today our PT teacher taught us somersault! Awesome!” “Mom, you are amazing! Your tip for improving my stamina on the football ground is showing results!” “Mom, I need your help with my science project. How about this Saturday evening?” “Dad, my friend Pratik needs your help with Economics. When can I ask him to come over? May be this Sunday morning?”
Helping with decision-making, not making decisions
By a little effort and with the right conversations, parents can make the most of the time they get with their children. They can help children adjust in new surroundings, confront tough situations, make the right decisions, and, most importantly provide help in building confidence by letting children take decisions themselves. Don’t take decisions on the behalf of your children; show them the pros and cons of issues, explain them the likely outcomes of each decision and then watch them grow by taking responsibility of the decisions they take.
Conversations on the dinner-table could go like this:
Mom: “So Priya, what have you decided: between the tennis practice match on Monday and preparations for your Sanskrit test that’s scheduled on Tuesday. Which one will you choose?”
Priya: “Mom, I’m utterly confused! I want to have both! I love tennis, and yet I don’t want to do badly on my Sanskrit test.”
Dad: “Oh I know, you like Sanskrit! Tough choice, eh?”
Priya: “Sure it’s tough Dad! You know I love Sanskrit!”
Mom: “So Priya, what factors would you use to decide between the two?”
Notice how first Mom reminds Priya it’s time to make a decision. Then Dad not only echoes Priya’s confusion but also gently acknowledges that he’s taking enough interest in Priya to know she loves Sanskrit. Priya feels her Dad knows her likes-dislikes, invests time in her and understands the strong parental bond there. Next, Mom slowly guides as to how decisions are taken: not in a haphazard manner, but by weighing various factors appropriately.
You’d also notice the parents haven’t shown their own preferences, much less pressurize Priya into one decision or the other. Many things happen due to this. One, Priya learns decision-making. Two, she feels she’s appreciated as an individual with an independent voice in the family. Three, it strengthens the family bond. Four, she realizes she can always take help from parents whenever she’s confused. And finally, she will learn to own up whatever the outcome of her decision.
Not the best conversation!
Compare it with the communication below, which carries very subtle negative undercurrents.
Mom: “Priya, what are you going to do about your tennis practice match next Monday? I hope you remember you have a Sanskrit test coming up on Tuesday.” (Shows undue urgency. The second sentence hints that Mom believes Priya isn’t responsible enough to remember her tests.)
Priya is now on the defensive, instead of being open. “Well, it’s not my fault the two are on consecutive days. And, Mom, have I ever forgotten any tests, especially Sanskrit?”
Dad (looks up from his WhatsApp chat): “What’s so special about Sanskrit?” (While Dad meant to ask why Priya gave so much importance to Sanskrit, Priya interprets this differently. She thinks her Dad doesn’t even know what her favorite subjects are! And besides, Dad is always busy with WhatsApp!)
Priya (irritated), “Why do I have to keep reminding you Sanskrit is my favorite subject?”
Mom (showing signs of anger): “Priya, that’s not a very polite way to talk to your Dad!” (and turning to Priya’s Dad) “And I really wish, for the 20th time, you’d not use WhatsApp during dinner!”
See how a little change in the initial wordings made a huge difference later on!
Children are maturing earlier than before. They are also becoming more assertive and it’s important to respect their individuality. A little care in framing your sentences can make a huge difference. Showing a lack of trust in their abilities to make the right decisions not only weakens them but also weakens the bond within the family.