How do you carry on a conversation with a kid?

Inspired by this thread, and also by the fact we’re going to see mr. hunter’s nephews in a couple of weeks. But mostly because I’m curious.

How do you carry on a conversation with a kid you don’t see every day (or see the parents every day), so that you don’t necessarily know everything (except possibly the odd large event or two) that’s going on in the kid’s life? I know from experience both as a kid being asked questions by adults, and an adult asking questions of kids, that questions that are too open-ended, like “How’s it going?” and “How do you like school?” are complete non-starters. They just stare at you like “Why are you doing this to me?”

One technique I’ve used before with a fair amount of success is to ask them to explain how their favorite/new video game works. They’re usually more than happy to explain in great detail, as long as I am obviously interested and keep asking questions. For kids that read a lot of books (which unfortunately does not describe my nephews, although they do read more than they used to, so maybe I’ll at least give this a try), another technique that almost always works for me is to ask them to recommend books to me. (Then in subsequent conversations I can talk about what I thought about the book, and discuss other books by that author – it works really well, when it works. Pity it works so rarely.) I also had some luck talking to my cousin’s son about Star Wars and having him tell me all about Darth Maul, whom he loves, but he’s only 5. I’m not sure that would fly so well with the 9-year-old and 7-year-old we’re visiting.

And adolescents are another whole ball game. Almost all my acquaintances and relatives don’t have adolescent children yet, so I have no experience with this. I have NO idea how to carry on a conversation with an adolescent. Unless he likes books.

What are your techniques for talking to kids? Adolescents?

Kids are people.

Ask them questions about things that they are interested in. Be genuinely interested in the answers. Listen more than you talk. Don’t lecture.

why would anyone like Darth Maul?

Here’s the kind of stuff I do with my niece and nephews:

“Hey, do you kids like silly bands? I have a whole bagful. Oh, but you have to win them from me by beating me at rock-paper-scissors.” (Spread them all out) “Rock, paper, scissors and SHOOT! Oh, 5 year old and 9 year old beat me, so they can each pick out a silly band. Okay, ready to go again?”

At the restaurant when they get crayons to draw on their placemats, draw each of them as a super hero or jedi or something, battling with giant pancakes or wrestling spaghetti. Explain the elaborate plots to them and be excited by their ideas.

Tell them ridiculous stories with a straight face such as “I knew a boy who wore a baseball cap ALL THE TIME and it pushed his hair right back inside his head, and INTO HIS BRAIN.” “I knew a girl who always ate the paper wrapper of her cupcake.” “I once saw a baby with two bellybuttons.” “I used to have a cat that would get onto the roof by going into the fireplace and climbing up the chimney.” Chances are they will try to one up you with even more farfetched stories.

Play video games with them. Develop inside jokes with them while you play. For instance, “May the force be with you! May the chomper/giant falling rock/poisonous mushroom not be with you!”

If they come to believe you are cool and fun and willing to spend time playing with them, they will probably be the ones to initiate conversations with you until you want to hide in the bathroom to get away from them.

Treat them as young adults. Don’t patronise them or assume they’re less intelligent just because they’re young. Even if they’re six years old.

Not only do you (hopefully) gain their respect, but the conversation tends to be a lot more tolerable to withstand.

“Shut up.”

I’m not so great with kids.

Stupid is good.

Cool face makeup. Or tattoos. Or whatever that was supposed to be.

DON’T tell them stories that are going to end up with them afraid to fall asleep at night, like my boyfriend did with his nephews (he told them something about bad people roaming the golf course after dark, or some such, and his sister was not pleased).

“What is your favourite…movie/tv program/sport/game, etc” is always a good starter.

I always ask who their teacher is this year. Depending on their expression when they answer, I reply, “Oh, I heard she’s good.” or “I heard he’s tough.”

I usually ask something like, ‘so - what’s the most exiting thing you did since the last time I saw you?’ and then just let follow-up questions guide the conversation. Or start off with an ‘exciting thing I did’ story of your own and get them to one-up you.

According to my kids, I speak to kids and dogs the exact same way. This usually works fine, but your mileage may vary.

I’ve been wondering recently what to say to a kid I see occasionally. He’s about 1½ years old and hasn’t really learned speech yet, allegedly because his parents don’t talk to him enough and let him watch TV all day. Are kids that age normally able to carry on conversations with adults they don’t really know? I feel like I should start acknowledging him as a human being, but it’s difficult to converse with a quiet kid who seems to barely know any words.

Miss Manners once fielded this question, and the answer was probably along the lines of discussing the kids’ interests. But what I remember most was - if confronted with kids with red hair, or twins, or red-headed twins, please to bite your tongue and don’t blurt out the obvious.

You mean Jim Ignatowski’s comment isn’t appropriate? “Egg split in the womb, eh?”

Whatever you do, don’t argue with them.

You probably don’t need much language to communicate with a 1 1/2 year old. “Hi big guy! Look at my fish lips!” Make funny fish lip face. Kid either laughs hysterically or stares trying to figure out what’s wrong with you or runs screaming. If he doesn’t run, then every subsequent time you meet him, say, “Hi big guy!” and make the fish lips. Now you have a bond. He has developed an expectation of how you will relate to him. He knows that you are interested in having a good time with him.

Here’s another one: “Hey little birdy! Would you like a worm?” Pull invisible worm out of your pocket. “Ooh, it’s wiggly! It’s juicy!” If kid looks doubtful: “Well I’ll just eat this one myself! Yum Mum Yumble Yum Yum Gulp.” Next time he sees you he will be looking hopefully at your pocket waiting for the worm to come out and may open his own beak.

One more suggestion, which I have found to help with noisy toddlers on airplanes: Make your ipod/cell/whatever hop casually and then… DISAPPEAR! And then it comes out and hops again and then… and then… hops back and… DISAPPEARS! The kid may be mesmerized for as long as you can keep it up.

I love how a five year old tells a plot to a movie. They usually start somewhere in the middle and then jump all over the place, from beginning to end, and they never quit talking about it till the subject changes.

As long as you don’t condescend to them you’ll be fine. Kids seem to love me and I don’t know why. I think part of it is I know what will irritate the parents and I know the kid knows what will irritate their parents and I will side with the kid. “Oh at least let him TRY some of the coffee.” :smiley:


No, boys, not glue.

Take them with you someplace & do something. Food shopping, rent a movie, visit Gamestop, walk through a mall…anything really. But ask them about what you see. Share something about what you like with them & see what they come back with. Humor is your friend (as long as it doesn’t shut them down). Sure it can be like pull-starting a cranky lawn-mower, but once you get it started, it will usually keep going.


“Wow, that Rolex looks amazing!”
“No it doesn’t; nobody wears watches anymore; you just check your phone.”
“What kind of phone do you have?”
Personally, I let them lead and I let the conversation roll from there.