When you ask your child about their day at school, or their afternoon at a friend's home do you get a blank stare or a brief "Nothing", in response? Perhaps the problem is not how little they are doing, but how little they can communicate. We need to provide them with tools to stimulate conversation and opportunities to practice, just as they perfect their tennis stroke, or swimming technique by consistent practice.

The art of conversation is being choked by the thorns of television, computer games, and homework, and by parents who accept "nothing" as an acceptable summary of their day, and allow their children to tune into their ipods or cell phones, but there are some simple steps you can take to help your children (of any age) improve. And since conversation is an important skill, it is a valuable investment in their future. Hopefully, your children are still young enough to have many years to learn it before their career rests on it, but whatever age they are, here are four simple strategies to help them reach out to others.

  1. Content. If your mind is empty, your conversation will also be empty. Provide something specific to talk about - a book, a skill, your surroundings. Pay attention, see how much you can observe. It starts with a book, or surroundings, but the habit of finding interesting things in the world and people around them sets a child free from self-absorption.
  2. Conversation. Make a game, go back and forth taking turns to make observations and ask questions. I often hear the excuse that sos-and-so is boring and doesn't have anything to say. It takes two people to say nothing to each other, and I suspect that in an effort not to pry into other people's business we have lost the art of asking questions. Questions don't have to be personal, they can be about hobbies and interests. They can even be as blunt as "Well, what DO you like?" We also need to teach our children to respond to questions with information that may lead to further discussion, not closure.
  3. Comparison. Comparison is a great tool for thinking about subjects, and thought is the root of conversation, so teaching your children to make comparisons, both expected and unexpected, is a great conversation starter and can keep it going as well. This can be an endless game leading to both frivolous and insightful comparisons, but the mere habit of asking questions such as "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" stimulates thought on both sides.
  4. Creation. If your children are smaller, creating an artefact to show what they observed is a fantastic way both of cementing their learning and starting other conversations because the artefact remains to start future conversations. It works with people of all ages, but you might encounter more resistance if your children (mistakenly) consider themselves too old for such pastimes. If you think this is the case, ask them to write about it. Writing is an important tool of communication in its own right, but older children who might consider drawing or modelling childish, tend to be more receptive to writing projects.

These four simple techniques can lead to meaningful conversations and equip your child with a skill that will help throughout his life.