Getting our Kids Skilled-Up in the Art of Conversation
It must be wonderful knowing that your teenage son or daughter is mature enough to hold an ACTUAL conversation with your adult friends. Seeing them chat away freely when introduced; radiating confidence galore when asked if they are enjoying their new high school, all the time maintaining solid eye contact and without a dot of embarrassment or discomfort.
Whilst you stand alongside, glowing with pride and marvelling at what clearly must be some pretty bloody fabulous parenting skills, thank you very much!
Today I discovered that my 13-year old son did not possess such ability.
Not even close, in fact.
As a mum who thought she’d had it all covered: good manners, gracious conduct, appropriate behaviour and the biggie ‘Respect for others’… it came as a rude slap in the chops, as I watched Junior’s social skills crumble and turn totally to mush.
Our visit this morning was to a medical centre, thanks to my son’s recent sporting injury (long story, don’t ask), was for follow-up x-rays and to be given the all clear to have the annoying brace on his arm removed.
An ideal location to meet and engage in friendly banter with seniors, it’s common knowledge in aged-care circles, that a doctor’s waiting room is ‘top of the pops’ to test even the most experienced of gasbags!
It was as we sat bored waiting to be called, when an older smartly-dressed man with walking stick and twinkly eyes, leaned over to my son and asked in a fairly loud tone (hearing issues, obviously), what had he done to himself?
I continued reading my mag, confident that Chatterbox Charlie (as he is known at home and at school), would be equally as open and friendly. The two of them would yak away in ‘blokey’ fashion and by the time we left they’d be the bestest of buddies, possibly even a firm handshake farewell and promises to meet for tea and cake one day soon.
But what was this?
Instead, no! Junior was beside himself! Turning sharply to look at me, his face strained in terror… he was actually pleading me with his eyes, as if to say, “Oh god, please Mum, SAVE ME!”
Mortified, with the realisation that my dear beloved child was indeed a complete social flop after all, I attempted to verbally prompt him so he could explain to the nice inquiring man how he had sprained his arm in a game of football.
The old guy continued on, jokingly encouraging my son to join in.
“I thought you’re sposed to use your leg to kick the footy – not you’re arm!”
As Junior turned bright red and awkwardly squeaked out some sort of inaudible response (all the time staring down at the floor, clearly wishing the tiles would open up and pull him down into the deep, dark depths of the earth where no scary old dudes could ever find him)… it dawned on me that some people might actually find conversation with an elderly person intimidating.
Especially those they hadn’t met before. And I get that.
Growing up as a shy young teen, I remember myself, the feeling of horror when an adult would talk to me – especially one I didn’t know well. The worry of not knowing what to say, or sounding silly if I did say something, or being judged and thought an idiot. It was cause for real anxiety!
In lieu of that thought, I decided my son needed a lesson in the art of conversation, STAT! Time for me to earn that Mother of the Year title and get him properly prepped and trained up on some good old-fashioned Communication Skills 101.
Yes, I would be doing this for me (and my shattered ego), but more significantly, I was doing it for my soppy, socially inept son. It was imperative that in today’s frantic and fiercely competitive world, that he be an efficient communicator; to gain the advantage over his peers by being able to competently talk and earn respect from older adults.
To impress the pants off his teachers, his footy coach or even his own grandparents by engaging them in some light, but thoughtful bit of chit-chat for goodness sake!
And at the same time, emphasise to my son that it didn’t matter what age a person was. That all it took was a little friendliness and a smidge of empathy to show kindness towards another human being and to make them feel good. That many older adults spend days, sometimes weeks sitting alone in their homes, desperate for company and to feel part of the community.
Could he imagine what that must be like?
So, while the elderly chap and I laughed and chatted about the weather, his dreadful arthritis and the price of petrol, I felt Junior watching on taking it all in. I wasn’t completely daft though; I knew in reality my son’s interest would be only fleeting and that soon enough he’d tune out, switch on his iPod and go back to mindlessly picking at the tag on his arm brace.
But blow me down, before you could ask ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ my amazing little man surprised us all as he turned to the lovely white-haired lady sitting next to him.
Then, without missing a beat, smiling and looking her straight in the eye, in a big clear voice said, “Hello, are you having a nice day today?”
My faith restored, I nearly leapt out of my chair with the excitement of it all! My son was a lovely thoughtful person after all!
Unfortunately, I don’t think the poor little mite will dare go anywhere in public with his raving, lunatic mother again. Not sure if it was the cheering out loud or the ‘high five-ing’ with the receptionist that sent him scurrying horrified out of the room!