Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Conversation Starter Box

My Grandma Martha had a hard time talking to my brother and me. Grandma Mary did not; however, our time together was mainly spent directing and laughing at the characters on TV westerns. She also liked to play records on her stereo console and dance to the music as I watched with admiration; my brother laughed.

At eleven years old, I questioned the difference in the two grannies. My mom said, “the adult has to be the one to get the relationship going. Your Grandma Martha doesn’t know how to do that.”


My three carpool girls hardly talk during the twenty minute drive to school. I ask the usual questions:

“What did you do this past weekend?”
“What are going to do this coming weekend?”
“How was school?”
“How was soccer?”
“How was dance class?”
“Are you ready for spring break?”
“Are you ready for summer?”

I make comments like:

“I like your new hair style.”
“I like your boots.”

All responses from the girls are minimal. I turn on the radio. A good song comes on at some point, but mostly, I find the whole listening thing b-o-r-i-n-g.

One day, I try something new. “This is a totally random question girls.” (Random is one of the “in” words nowadays.) “I have a blog and I’ve written a post on tattoos. What do you think about tattoos?” I ask, along with a few other related questions.

And what happens?

I get a fluid conversation for the rest of the ride! They give their opinions and tell stories of people they know who have one or more tattoos.

I’m impressed.

Sooo…I’m on to something! What random question can I ask tomorrow? Will they participate? Will they think, “Oh no, here she goes again. I’m really not in the mood to talk.” But then I think of my mom and her statement, “the adult has to be the one to get the relationship going,” and I decide to try it again.

An Aha! Moment occurs. I have a box of questions from our family trip to American Girl Store. I’ll bring it along for the morning ride!

First I eat my breakfast bar, have my sip of water, get beyond merging into the interstate traffic, and then spring it on them!

“I enjoyed hearing your opinions yesterday girls. People are beginning to comment on the blog post to tell me what they think.

Then, "Girrrls, I have another random question for you today,” as I pass the box back and tell them to pick out one.

The question is, “What is the most beautiful animal in the world?”


They pull out a few more questions as we continue our ride, which makes me nervous because I want that box to last until the school year is over! Anyway, we have more conversation…all the way to the drop off in the carpool line.


The girls are thought to be quiet, shy, or reserved with adults when out of their comfort zone (their peers), but I discovered that though they were not really gelling in the carpool ride, for whatever reason, they have shown me that they can be excited about expressing thoughts and talking to “an old mom” who is helping to get our relationship going.

It’s so much better than three middle school girls listening to the diet commercials on the radio.

Do you try to talk to kids or let them “talk amongst themselves?”


My Aimless Infatuation said...

Oh yea,I'm a talker and a dancer and if all else fails I pull out the cards and start telling their fortunes. I have also found they love doing crafts no matter the outcome,but I love this idea with the "conversation starter box". I think I will try my hand at making one. There are a few adults around that need it sometimes too,lol.....I love your post's sometimes they are a conversation starter for me. Have a good one.

Betty W said...

If I remember correctly I did let them talk amongst themselves. But I wish I would have handled it this way. It´s sounds so much more like fun and I bet they love it.

Tabor said...

I have always been a big talker. Even if it was like pulling teeth I rarely let young people rest. I must remember to be more creative as getting my grandson away from the Wii is getting harder.

Hilary said...

I am going to bookmark this for when the car goes mortuary quiet during adolescence. Right now, I've got more carpool convo than I can handle. We have a box called Table Topics that I bring out during holidays to get people talking. It's a lot of fun and can be used as a great ice breaker in other situations. Your box is much snazzier, though!

Bernie said...

Great post with a great idea! How come you're so smart?

Talking to teenagers is an acquired skill and you found an excellent way! And I think you can use this skill with older folk too.

Sandra said...

That is a great idea! I find that kids do love to be questioned but they prefer such random questions. One day I asked my kids, "What's your favourite soup?" I swear, I couldn't shut them up!

Unknown said...

I love this idea. I'm a firm believer in talking but there were times when I listened too. As my girls talked to their friends, I tuned in to what they were saying and where their passions were. Talking to young people comes natural for me but having conversation starters sure makes it much more interesting.

Georgiana Daniels said...

Great question. I usually let them talk amongst themselves, but I always had girls who already gelled. Actually, haven't had a car full of girls (other than my own) in a loooong time. And I don't like diet commercials eitehr ;)

yonca said...

I'm loving your conversation starter posts! I'm not in a good mood, thought that I wouldn't going to write about anything today until now:)
My answer is...I think I prefer to listen them first:)

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Valarie said...

This made me smile. Too many adults think that dressing like kids, or acting like a kid is the way to connect. I like your way a whole lot better. My sons are now adults, and I forged wonderful relationships with them and their friends. I was interested in what they had to say...to this day they all call me Mama K...I feel so blessed. xxoo Valarie

Rebecca S. said...

I'm a bit of both. I've learned to ask more than just 'how was your day.' I have to be way more specific with my kids and their friends to get the conversation going sometimes. My kids are talkers as are their parents, but yes, for non-talkers you gotta get the conversation going - my sister is really good at this! (though, her kids think she's nuts)
Sometimes I get the hint that my kids and their friends want to be left alone to talk amongst themselves, but I usually keep an ear open if I can, just in case the conversation goes in a negative direction.
One of my son's friends calls me 'Mom' so I guess I'm doing alright.
I found your post very wise. Good work Anita!

Anonymous said...

I talk to them and I let them talk among themselves. I have something called the Chat Pack that is similar to what your picture showed, except it is made especially for younger kids. We love it!

Buckeroomama said...

If they already have a conversation going, I let them be. I love to listen in to what they say, though. I can't help it. They say the most adorable things and the way they say... they act like little grown-ups. :)

I love asking kids questions, never knowing what gems might come out in their answers. :)

gayle said...

I did a little bit of both! I think it is so important to talk to kids of all ages!

You are so smart to think of the box of questions!

Abby said...

What a great idea! I'm totally going to steal this!

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Oh honey, I am the "Kid Whisperer" I talk to 'em and join in every chance I get.

God bless ya and have a marvelous Monday sweetie!!!

Jenny said...

I can always gets my grands to talk if I bring up dreams, wishes, and fill in the blanks. I'll add tattoos to the list of good conversation possibilities ! Thanks!

Shanae Branham said...

I love this post! I needed this advice. I am still learning how to get my teenagers to talk to me. I will use this idea. I think it would also be a great entry for my contest. I like using different types of stories and you didn't let a disappointing situation stay disappointing. You found a way to get the girls to converse with you. I think you should shoot me an email. Oh, back to the main reason I stopped by which was to let you know how much I appreciated the support you gave Simone on her feature post!

Arlee Bird said...

I don't know if it's TV or something to do with social media or just a breakdown in civility, but often in today's world I think many people--and not just kids-- lack skills of good conversation. It's kind of sad. But when you do come up with a opinionated topic it can stimulate discussion. It may not always be intellectual or logical, but at least it's some sort of communication.

Tossing It Out

Just Two Chicks said...

I love it! I have a book called the book of questions, and another one that is basically an old Logic text book, that the kids love. Much better than having everyone on their cell phones engaged in stimulating one word text conversations ;)

Chandrika Shubham said...

Interesting post with a great idea. I enjoyed reading this post. :)

Unknown said...

We used to have this conversation book of weird questions. I miss it. I ALWAYS got our family discussing random things for a long period of time. I think it's a good idea to always have some good questions in your head to ask, like hair, yay or nay? Discuss.

Joanne said...

Just goes to show you what going the extra mile accomplishes ... I like your idea to get past the rote questions and invite thought and opinion. The girls are learning something from the whole process too.

Tammy@Beatrice Banks said...

Wow! The box is an awesome idea. I do both. With the girls, sometimes they'd all talk and then other times nothing. Now I have a boy at this age and it seems his group has no problem talking among themselves and almost prefer it that way. I have found when I'm quiet, I can learn a whole lot more than if I'm asking questions. Sometimes I bite my tongue to keep from interrupting. Amazing what you can learn.

Unknown said...

That is so inspiring!! Good for you. We need more adults to get our kids talking. You'd be amazed at what you can find out! LOL

Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. My son, now 54, is a great talker in our family.

Scott said...

That is quite a success! And your mother was right! I was an exception; as a kid, I talked adults to exhaustion! But most kids are shy around adults, and have to be prompted with questions to which they can relate--the tattoo question was perfect!

SuziCate said...

This is absolutely awesome! I love this idea!

Midlife Mom said...

What a great post! I am going to remember this when my grands get to that tween age! Right now they jabber away to beat the band. I remember when my son was young and we had a bunch of his friends with us on car trips. I loved listening to them talk away amongst themselves and noticed they talked more to me and the Hubs on the way back when it was dark. Go figure!

Annie Z said...

Well done! This is a fantastic success story! :):)