Columns by Pamela Majteles
Originally published March 19, 2010
Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay
In parenting, no lesson is too small.
That’s why I’m coaching my son on how to make small talk. He wants to play with someone he hasn’t played with before at preschool, and he doesn’t know quite how to start.
“Mention the Batman book you got at the library,” I advise him. Engaging in small talk is the ideal way to break the ice when you’re trying to get to know someone. It’s exactly what I do when mingling at a cocktail party with people I don’t know. If there were a class for it, you’d call it Party Chatter 101.
The expression on my son’s face tells me he’s not impressed with my advice. He may have a point — some small talk might be, well, too small. He could use a little more juice to get things going.
I try again, “Ask him if he likes Batman.” This would be a woman’s approach at conversation. Either by nature or socialization, women know how to be engaging. By asking others’ for their opinions, you flatter them. As a social technique, you can’t beat it, particularly when you really listen to what a person has to say – something else women tend to do well.
But my son doesn’t appear to be listening, so I have my doubts about his success with this approach. It occurs to me I may be aiming too high, not focusing enough on my audience.
So I throw out, “What about asking – who’s your favorite superhero?” Here’s an example of an open-ended question, which I’ve heard experts tout as a surefire way to get any kid talking. Furthermore, in my experience, when the larger subject of superheroes comes up, little boys can really rev up. Just like the Batmobile.
However, if there’s a strong difference of opinion, I wonder if this surefire question could become incendiary. Can someone on Batman’s side of the aisle find common ground with Ironman’s side? One thing I know for sure – never ever mix politics with small talk.
I’m starting to think I could use a little help. (Maybe a superhero can rescue me.) But my son saves the day by coming up with his own answer. “I’m just going to ask him to play,” he says.
“You’re right,” I reply. “Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
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