4 Parts of a Conversation: How to Help Kids With Social Skills Issues Navigate

At a Glance

  • Navigating a conversation can be difficult for kids with social skills issues.
  • Different skills are required for various parts of a conversation.
  • You can help your child get better at joining, starting, maintaining and ending conversations.

For most people, having a conversation is easy. We don’t think about having to make appropriate comments or how to join in when other people are talking. But for kids with social skills issues, the normal flow of conversation can be hard.

Important skills, like reading body language and knowing what to say (and when to say it), don’t come easily to them. Here’s a look at the four parts of a conversation, the skills involved, and how to help your child navigate each one.

1. Joining a Conversation

Group conversations are tricky because there’s more than one person to connect with. Each person has a unique personality and communication style. The group itself has a unique way of functioning, based on who’s in it and what’s being discussed.

Skills involved:

  • Reading the body language of the group to know if it’s appropriate to join in.
  • Using the right phrases to ask to be included.
  • Understanding the tone of voice people use when they aren’t OK with you joining.
  • Knowing what’s being discussed, and staying on topic.

Why it might be hard: Trouble reading body language can keep kids from knowing if a conversation is private or open. They may also misunderstand the rhythm of the conversation. Is the pause in talking a natural lull? Or is someone just taking time to breathe? And some kids don’t get that they need to talk about the topic at hand to join a conversation.

How to help:

  • Use videos, TV shows or real-life events to point out situations where a group is turned away or talking privately. Also, point out when people in a conversation are looking around and seem open to others joining.
  • Model for your child how to wait for a break in the flow of conversation and then ask a question, like “Is it OK if I join you?”
  • Remind your child to listen and say something related to what others are saying. Your child can use “wh” questions (who, what, when, where and why) to get up to speed.

2. Starting a Conversation

Launching a conversation involves a number of steps. To be successful at it, you have to do them all correctly. The first step is often the hardest: figuring out if this is the right time to have a conversation.

Skills involved:

  • Knowing to start with a greeting, and having the language to do that.
  • Recognizing if it’s an appropriate time to have a conversation.
  • Choosing an appropriate topic and having phrases to open the dialogue.
  • Recognizing nonverbal cues that show if the other person is interested and wants to talk.

Why it might be hard: Kids who are impulsive may burst into a conversation without any greeting. They may act like the other person already knows what they’re thinking. Some kids may not be able to read the “feel” of a room to know if it’s a good time to start a conversation. And once they start, they may not pick up on signs that the person isn’t interested in talking.

How to help:

  • Teach basic greeting phrases to use with familiar people (“Hi, how are you?”) and with unfamiliar people (“Hi, I’m Joe—I’m Miranda’s neighbor”).
  • Show your child what someone’s body language looks like when the person does and doesn’t want to talk. Also show examples of a neutral or uncomfortable facethat might mean a lack of interest.

3. Maintaining a Conversation

The work doesn’t stop once kids with social skills challenges enter a conversation. Continuing the conversation can be difficult, too. It requires following a number of social rules—and not just for a minute or two.

Skills involved:

  • Knowing how to take turns in a conversation.
  • Listening to what the other person says and responding appropriately.
  • Being able to stay on topic.
  • Reading body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Why it can be hard: Impulsivity may cause kids to blurt something out or interrupt when they’re excited about a topic. Trouble with nonverbal cues may keep them from realizing that the other person is trying to speak or is losing interest. Kids also might be so stuck on one thought that they can’t let go of it.

How to help:

  • Teach your child how to ask follow-up questions to show he’s heard and is interested in what the other person is saying. Give him scripted examples to practice and use.
  • Help your child practice keeping a thought in mind instead of blurting it out. Let him know it’s OK to say, “Remind me that I wanted to say something about that once you’re done,” if he’s worried he’ll forget his point.
  • Brainstorm words or phrases he can use to show he’s paying attention during conversation, like “right” or “that’s cool.” Make sure he knows he needs to mix them up a little because saying the same thing over and over can sound like he’s not paying attention.
  • Role-play and demonstrate how saying something off-topic or at the wrong time can sound like he’s not interested in what someone else is talking about.

4. Ending a Conversation

Ending a conversation can be as challenging as starting one. You have to read the situation correctly to know if it’s the right time to wrap it up. And then, you have to have the words to end it appropriately.

Skills involved:

  • Reading body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.
  • Making sense of tone of voice and other verbal cues.
  • Being aware of how your own verbal and nonverbal cues may look to others (perspective-taking).
  • Conveying intent through language. (For example, “Well, I have to go now.”)

Why it can be challenging: Since many kids with social skills issues have trouble reading body language, they may not recognize that a person is no longer interested or needs to end a conversation. Kids who are impulsive or who struggle with communication skills may also end a conversation abruptly without saying “goodbye,” just walking away or hanging up the phone.

How to help:

  • Demonstrate some of the nonverbal cues your child may see when someone is trying to end a conversation, like checking the time, turning away or yawning.
  • Teach your child some of the verbal cues that show someone is trying to end a conversation, such as not answering questions, saying they should go or saying things like “So…” or “Well….”
  • Explain that your child can use these cues to end a conversation, too.
  • Teach phrases your child can use to know if the conversation is over. One example is: “Are you OK to keep talking, or do you need to leave?”
  • Help your child learn and practice how to close with a sentence like “It was good talking to you,” or “Well, I have to get going now,” before walking away.

For kids with social skills issues, learning the art of conversation takes lots of direct instruction and practice. So it’s important to be patient, and know that you may have to reinforce these skills over and over.

Learn more about what trouble picking up on social cues can look like in different grades. Read how a mom got her son to stop interrupting. And find out how the “chicken wing” rule can help kids learn to respect personal space during conversations.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are key conversation skills.
  • Being familiar with nonverbal cues, like when someone looks around or checks the time, can help your child know when it’s a good time to join or end a conversation.
  • Learning the art of conversation takes a lot of practice, so it’s important to be patient with your child.

 

The source can be found here.

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