“I like sharks because some are blind but can still find food. They can smell up to 20 miles under water to catch their prey.” This is what my six-year-old announced from the back of car. I realized in that moment: wow, this kid is interesting!
Interesting people are not born, they are made. Interesting people pursue interesting things, synthesize, and share with others. It’s that simple.
Put the kids in new situations
My young children love mustard and that’s not an accident. For rainy days, I invented a taste test game that the kids adore. I collect a sample of everything in the kitchen. When it’s a “dry test” I include spices, baking ingredients, and crackers. When it’s a “wet test” I include salad dressings, syrups, jellies, and hot sauce. The kids dip their little fingers to guess and rate each taste. This is how they met and fell in love with mustard.
Interesting people learn new things from trying new things. They put themselves into unfamiliar territory and use it for a positive outcome.
Encourage the acceptance and love of new experiences. Teach them to have a “yes” attitude. Sushi restaurant? Yes. Afternoon of fishing? Yes. Hockey game? Yes. New playground? Yes. They may not love sports, but take them to a game! They may not know about plants, but take them to an arboretum! They may never have seen chickpeas, but give them hummus! Your neighbor likes to garden, ask to help! New places, new food, new experiences, new cultures, new fun. Something new is part of any day and deserves a chance. Expose them to as much as you can for the simple reason to wear down the scariness of the unfamiliar.
Let the kids see you have hobbies
My kids love birds. They can point out the cardinals, the grackles, the starlings, and the house sparrows in the backyard. They remind me to fill the suet and monitor the seed levels. We dance when we see a new bird and identify it in the “Pederson Field Guide.”
Interesting people have hobbies. They may have a career, but pursue other skills in their free time. They read on a wide variety of topics or long and deep into a single subject. They whittle, they play guitar, they bake gluten-free, they sew, they have a journal, they motorcycle. They do something outside the normal routine.
Kids will pick up reading if they see you do it. Kids will tinker and teach themselves if you show them it’s normal. Pick up a new interest and invite them to learn as you learn. Simple joys like observing the backyard or going to the library are free.
Teach the art of conversation
“I can’t wait to tell Mrs. Campo about the graveyard!” my son Henry said to me not too long ago. It’s not as bizarre as it sounds. He had read about doing a rubbing of a gravestone in a book. He had begged to do that, too. He’s six-years-old and curious about death and wanted to learn more about it. We have several historical grave sites near the house so we took a ride at high noon when it’s bright and sunny, the least scary time of day. Like most kids, when my sons do something fun on the weekend they can’t wait to tell their teachers on Monday. But first we talk about how to talk about it.
Interesting people don’t just know facts. They can explain facts in a compelling way and articulate it to make others interested. Interesting people synthesize and share the most memorable parts. They make recommendations you can’t wait to follow.
Kids learn how to conversate through practice. Use the time in the car or at the dinner table to elicit discussion. Encourage comparisons, sharing opinions with justification, and predictions. Teach them to answer questions and ask a question back.
Ask lots of open-ended questions
“Mom, what is the most important part of the body?” my son asked one day in the car. I answered that I thought it was the brain but to keep the conservation going I added, “Why do you ask?”
Interesting people ask lots of questions because they look to uncover commonalities and the things that make others interesting to them. Interesting people have a habit of looking at every interaction as a learning experience.
Open-ended questions start with How, What, or Why and elicit a response that is a sentence or more. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with Yes or No and so require the child to think for a more lengthy response. Asking questions to the kids trains them to ask questions of others.
When we teach our kids habits of interesting people we teach them to be outward-focused. They learn to enjoy and seek new experiences and knowledge. They learn to engage others and share what they know with the receiver’s needs in mind. Beyond good cocktail party talk, these are skills for career, building friendships, and enjoying life!