Small Talk and Sharing Interests
by Nadine Briggs
Many kids don’t understand the value of small talk. They would rather not talk about things that are obvious because they don’t see the point. If it recently snowed, for example, they don’t understand why anyone would discuss something that everyone can look out their window and know to be true.
Small talk is like the opening act or the warm up to say something more important. It can lay the groundwork for the key thing you want to say. For example, we had a teen join social group one day who opened the conversation with “I’m failing all my classes!” While it’s great that the teen felt comfortable enough to share this news in the group without fear of ridicule or judgment, inserting some small talk could have helped to work up to such news.
Another way of approaching this could have been:
“I am so glad it snowed! I really needed the snow day to catch up on my school work. My grades are not good this term. In fact, I’m failing all my classes!” Small talk provides a bit on an on-ramp for the bigger news.
Another benefit of small talk is to assess if the person you are talking to shares your interests. Kids have certain topics that they love discuss but they don’t necessarily take into consideration if the other person is also interested in that topic. They will tend to talk about it in a manner which can result in more of a monologue, where the person is just talking to someone, rather than a dialogue where there is a back and forth of conversation with both parties sharing interest in the topic.
Since small talk can be tricky, it’s important to practice this skill. We practice small talk at the beginning of every group. We prefer that the kids start with a topic of their choosing, but if they don’t, then we will introduce a topic for them (ex. pet peeves, weird animal stories, or how they socialize during the pandemic). The topic is less important than mastering the skill.