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In July 2015, I wrote an article on bonding generations. The article focused primarily on ways to communicate gratitude and help grandchildren remember fun times with the grandparents. Today’s article expands on the topic of communication between the generations. However, these suggestions work for all conversations, not just those with our grandchildren.

Be Present

We will see immediate benefits when we remember each morning when we pray to enlist our Heavenly Father’s help in understanding others and communicating effectively. Pray to communicate meaningfully—you to others and others to you.

The scriptures admonish us to think about what we are praying about, to not just automatically say the same thing every day without sincerity of thought. We need to be present in our minds and focus on our conversations with Him. And just as in prayer, for meaningful conversation with others we have to be present—consciously thinking about what is being said. It is essential that we allow the conversation to take precedence and register in our thoughts. We need to not only focus, but we need to be prepared to listen and, whenever possible, look at the individual with whom we are conversing. Note: that means we put down the electronics or turn them off. Conversations between human beings where both parties feel they’ve been heard and valued do not include looking down to read or respond to texts! That reminds me of this saying I used to postRules on the refrigerator when my children were young.

Ask Questions

My mother is gifted in keeping a conversation going and really getting involved. She listens more than talks, and she remembers what the other person said so she can bring it up in conversations that follow. To start a conversation with a grandchild she asks specific but non-threatening questions like, “Are you playing a sport this year?” Or, remembering the child is interested in music, she might ask, “Are you singing in the school choir or playing an instrument this year?” If the child has pets, she may ask how the animal friends are doing. Many children who are shy or uncomfortable talking to adults really open up when they have the opportunity to talk about their pets.

As I said, my mother makes a mental note of the kinds of things her grandchildren are interested in. She uses that information in future conversations. While keeping the focus on the child, when the opportunity arises, she slips in a little of her own experiences. If they ask for more, she expands her comments with more details.

Reminding grandchildren of positive shared experiences can help them feel loved, supported, and included. A question like, “Do you remember when we . . . ?” can start a conversation flowing, especially if it includes something amusing that happened. Laughter often relaxes tension and opens the flow of conversation.

Here are some conversation questions that might provide information about your grandchildren:

  • “What is your favorite thing about your neighborhood?” (Following the child’s response, you can share your own neighborhood favorite.)
  • “Do you like being in the third grade?” (As a part of the conversation you can share your experience from grade school.)
  • “What is the best part of your day at school?” (If the child says, “I don’t know,” give some suggestions that include your experience in school. You might say, “I remember the best part of my day at school when I was in the . . .” Then turn it back over to the child. “Do you like . . . or . . . best?”
  • “What is something you are really good at?” (If the child balks, be prepared to move the conversation along by mentioning something you have noticed. Perhaps the child remembers to always give you a hug, or the child is good at offering to help you clean up or carry something.)
  • “What is something that made you happy today?”

That last question brings me to my next point. Some conversation questions not only give you information about the grandchild, but they can convey your expectation for the child. “What is something that made you happy today?” says that you expect the child to in some way find happiness in his or her day.

Here are some other question ideas that might convey an expectation. They help the child to take notice of their surroundings, see events from a more positive perspective, and look for opportunities to make someone happy.

  • “What did you do today to make someone happy?”
  • “What is the funniest thing that happened at school today?”
  • “What did Mom or Dad do today that made you smile?”

Some children open up in a conversation if you ask questions that require an imaginative response. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions so children feel less intimidated and more empowered to express themselves.

  • “What is the superpower you would most like to have? Why? What would you do with it?”
  • “If you could develop a new delicious food, what would it taste like? What would it look like? How would it feel in your mouth?”
  • “If you could take only one fun thing to a desert island, what would it be? Why?”
  • “Do you have a bucket list of things you would like to invent? What is the one you think is the most needed? The most expensive? The most fun?”

Implement Hearing Strategies

Those of us with hearing loss may have a tendency to withdraw from conversations, especially when there is a large number of grandchildren talking at the same time. It can be overwhelming, stressful, and just plain hard to understand what they are saying or know how to respond. The conversation just becomes noise instead of words so we tune it out. But all that does is leave us feeling isolated and depressed. On the other hand, some hard-of-hearing individuals are inclined to take over the conversation to avoid the discomfort of not knowing what is being said. However, for best results, we need to make an assertive effort to stay in the conversation and take responsibility for our hearing and understanding by implementing a few hearing strategies.

I asked hearing specialist Dave Simmons (M.Ed., BC-HIS) for some pointers/suggestions on how communication between grandchildren and hearing-impaired grandparents might be improved. Here are Dave’s comments.

My thoughts regarding hearing-impaired grandparents (or hearing-impaired parents, for that matter) talking to grandchildren are two fold. Success involves the hearing-impaired person does certain things, and the person they are talking to does certain things.

First, the grandparent needs to make sure he or she is doing whatever can be done to improve their hearing, whether it be through hearing aid amplification, cochlear implants, or just making sure that wax is not blocking the ear canal.

After all that is done, they can practice listening to different sounds from different reference points, helping them tune out sounds from one source to concentrate on sound from another source. This can be done by sitting in a chair with a sound source on the left, on the right, and in the center. All sounds going on at the same time. This could be a television in front and a radio on both sides.

While sitting with the eyes closed, try to listen to only one source of sound while ignoring the other two. Then, mentally, switch the concentration to a different source. Then focus on the third source of sound. Doing this for just a few minutes each day will help train the brain to block out sounds that are not pertinent to the conversation.

Now, on the grandchild’s end, the child should be taught to always get the attention of the grandparent before conversation begins. This could be done by tapping on the shoulder, touching his or her hand, or simply standing in front of the grandparent to get his or her attention.

The grandchild should always be facing the grandparent while talking. That is tough for little ones, but over time they will develop the habit of talking face to face.

Each grandparent should talk with a professional hearing healthcare provider to ensure they can hear the best their hearing mechanism allows.

Here are some additional tips I have found helpful.

  1. Don’t be embarrassed about your hearing loss. You might be surprised to learn the great number of individuals (many of your friends) who suffer with impaired hearing. Let others know you have a problem and tell them up front how they can help. Say something like, “Because I wear hearing aids . . .” or “Because I have hearing loss, I read lips to help me understand what someone is saying. Could you talk a little slower?” Or you might say, “I’m having a hard time understanding what you are saying. Could you please move your hand away from your mouth so I can see your lips?”
  2. This is a good tip whether you are hard of hearing or not. When you are not sure you have understood, summarize or rephrase out loud what you think was said and give the speaker the opportunity to confirm you understood correctly or explain further. If you are still not sure of a specific word, ask the speaker to spell it.
  3. Sometimes we don’t want to look foolish by guessing how to respond to a speaker. If we are only clearly understanding a few words in a sentence, it may take several moments to piece them together in our mind and form what might possibly have been said. But we become pretty good at picking up on non-verbal cues like body language and gestures. We just need to make sure we voice our guesses out loud so the speaker has a chance to confirm that what we understood was what he or she meant.
  4. Face the person who is speaking. Often those non-verbal cues, including lip reading, are easier to distinguish when you are face to face. And do your best to have the conversation in a place where there is good lighting.
  5. Minimize background noise. There are times when you have no control over background noise, like in a busy restaurant. But when you do have control, as in your home for example, turn down or turn off the television or radio and loud machinery so you can hear more easily. When it is out of your control at someone else’s home, you might say, “I’m sorry I cannot hear you. Do you mind if we move to the other room where there is less noise?”
  6. Keep a sense of humor. Laugh along with your conversation partner(s) when they catch you misunderstanding. Honestly, I know how it is. I’ve made some pretty funny mistakes myself! But after the laugh, ask for clarity so you are guided to understanding instead of misunderstanding.
  7. Be patient with yourself. It is easy to become discouraged because of the great effort, brain power, and concentration it takes to communicate when you have hearing loss. In extreme cases, you might find it necessary to recoup in a quiet location, but don’t give up. Never allow hearing loss to remove you from the companionship of friends and family.

Regardless of whether we are hard of hearing, when we practice assertive communication skills, we experience greater joy in bonding the generations, teaching, encouraging, and expressing gratitude.

Fay A. Klingler is the author of the best-selling book The LDS Grandparents’ Idea Book, I Am Strong! I Am Smart! and many other books and articles (www.fayklingler.com). She can be contacted on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/FayKlingler.