18. Teach your children to communicate with adults. One of the best ways you can prepare your kids for a confident adult life is to teach them to communicate with grown-ups. This ability is not valued and is desperately lacking in their peer-influenced world. Somehow conversing with adults is not cool and we have come to expect rudeness as typical adolescent behavior. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here is an illustration we used to help our children in this area. One evening I went to the garage and came back with a tennis ball. With the kids gathered around, I asked for a partner to play a game of “catch” with me. I let the volunteer go first and she threw me the tennis ball. I then held on to the ball, not retuning her volley. Soon everyone complained that by keeping the ball, I was failing at the game. And they were right. For a game of catch to be fun and successful, both parties must do the throwing and the catching.
I explained to our kids that conversing with adults is like playing a game of catch. When an adult asks you a question, they are throwing you the tennis ball. You can hold on to the ball with a stare, a mumble, or just an uninterested look. But just like a game of catch, a conversation without the back and forth is not much fun. Your response when spoken to – i.e. when the ball is thrown to you – should be to throw the ball back. You do this by answering the adult’s question and then throwing the ball back by asking a question of your own.
Of course, we “practiced” what kind of questions would be good to ask an adult by throwing the ball back and forth, asking each other questions as we did. It was great preparation for those times our children were in the company of adults. And it became a code word to use when our family was going out. All I had to say on our way to another family’s home for a visit was, “Remember to pass the tennis ball” and our kids got the message.
One last thought on this topic. When children learn how to continue a conversation by asking questions, they are showing a maturity that many adults don’t exhibit. In a USA Today column, titled “One question: Why aren’t you asking me any?” the author laments how common it has become in casual settings to have people telling him all about themselves and answering his questions without seeking to learn anything about him or being even interested enough to ask him some questions of their own. It is an interesting observation. Asking questions is not just good conversation starter material, it shows a genuine interest in the people we meet. A good social skill, a good business skill, and a good friendship skill. Throw the ball!