When your children seem to spend more time making eye contact with their devices than with you, these conversation apps can get you all talking again, explains Yvonne Walus.
Some children are natural sharers. As soon as they see you at the school gate, the stream of words starts: “I had the jam sandwich at morning tea, Mummy, because I was so hungry, and Hannah only had a bite of her apple because she wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t like the celery sticks, and I lost my shoe in the sandpit, and Miss Jones found it, and I have a new reader about ducks…” Others, though, may be less forthcoming. Perhaps they need some peace and quiet to decompress after a busy day, or perhaps they simply don’t feel the need to report back on the day’s events. Conversation is an important aspect of connecting with family and friends. With the rise of social media and its own non-conversation way of communicating, it’s crucial that we continue talking to our children, both for the purpose of exchanging information, and also in order to teach them the skill of having a meaningful dialogue.
We all know that to keep a conversation going, we need to ask our children questions that can’t be answered with a single word, such as “yes” or “fine”. So instead of asking how school was or whether they’ve had a good day, try something like: “What was the best and the worst thing that happened at school today?” Hopefully that will result in a reply that you can follow up with a “Why is that?” or “Tell me more about it.”
A conversation is an easy-flowing, two-way thing. Teach your child to ask questions of their own once they’ve answered yours. And remember, sometimes the best way to get a dialogue going is to sit down next to your child and say, “Tell me about this game you’re playing.” Most children, though, don’t enjoy talking about school. Technology to the rescue! Here are a few apps you can use to find new topics to discuss with your family.
Make Every Day Count (iOS and Android)
This app contains conversation starters for parents and children of primary and secondary schools. You can filter questions by gender or age, choosing from topics such as activities, friends, family, enemies, money,
religion, entertainment, etc. Examples include: “What kind of job do you want to have when you grow up?”
and “What new sport would you like to try?”
What If (iOS and Android)
This is actually a game, but it can easily lead to a full-blown conversation. The app prompts you to choose “Yes” or “No” answers to challenging and crazy questions, such as: “What if you could extend your lifespan with 20 healthy years. But you step on a piece of Lego every day when you least expect it”, or “What if you could read everyone’s mind. But they could read yours?” Play it together and compare your answers.
Conversation Shakers (iOS)
Shake your phone to dislodge a new question, such as: “What’s something you intended to do today but didn’t?” or “What does success mean to you?” Subjects vary from light and easy to difficult issues. You can choose “warm and fuzzy” topics, table conversations, or personal experiences.
Monster Messenger (iOS and Android)
Monster Messenger is an instant messaging app for children and their families. It’s like normal text messaging, but in a safe environment. Parents can approve whom their children can text with and messages are moderated for appropriate images and language. You can share photos, voice messages, text messages, and video chat, and parents have visibility of all messages received and sent.
Conversation starters without electronics
Try one of the following conversation starts with your child today:
- What’s the most useful thing you own?
- What’s your least favourite book?
- What do you like about summer?
- What song makes you want to sing along?
- If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?
- Which birthday party do you remember best?
- What superpower would you like to have? Why?
- If you could go into a movie world, which would you choose?
- If you had $1,000, what would you do with it?
- Who do you think is the richest person in the world?
- If you had a magic lamp that granted three wishes, what would you wish for?
- What are you grateful for right now?
- What is the thing you like about yourself best?
- What do you like about our family?
- What made you smile today?
- What taste makes you happy?
- Which friend do you miss?
- What’s the worst smell in the world?
- What do you love about your room?
Yvonne Walus is an education specialist, senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two children.