I was reminded of something important last night. If we want our children to be able to carryon meaningful conversations with people, there are some basic understandings that come in very handy. But something much more important must be established.

I’ve written about friendship skills in some of my books and we provide materials to help especially preteens and teens engage with their peers. And, in my book 8 Great Smarts I explain that when we are being people smart we are better able to think with other people. This smart, like the others, can be awakened, strengthened, and trained. I encourage parents to do this for themselves and their children.

Some of us are introverted and we get our energy when we are alone and some of us are extroverted and we get our energy when we are with others. This, too, is valuable to understand as it relates to conversing with others. It’s definitely worth explaining to our children. Not only will they become more comfortable in their own skin, but they will be less judgmental toward others not like them and perhaps more successful at engaging with them in meaningful conversations.

Last night, to celebrate my birthday, I went to dinner with two friends who do not live in the area. We have not seen each other for two years. It was a glorious three-hour conversation that probably could’ve gone for several more hours except that it was late. Being people smart helped us. But, I’m introverted so sometimes times like this can be exhausting. It wasn’t. It was energizing and full of life that will last. Why?

We like each other and we genuinely care for each other. We asked about each other’s family members and how our ministries are going. We shared stories about God’s faithfulness to remind us of His goodness. We talked about struggles and committed to pray for each other. Our questions didn’t come across as obligatory interrogation, but rather genuine interest and concern.

All of this has to do with basic friendliness and other-centeredness which I wrote about on Monday. All the skills in the world won’t help if we and children don’t care about others. Knowing whether we’re people smart, self smart, introverted, or extroverted is valuable, but will never replace genuine interest in others. Care. Concern. Curiosity. Love. Maybe these can be taught. I know they can be awakened, modeled, and talked about. We have to get our eyes off ourselves.

There’s another reality. We and our children must be comfortable enough with ourselves to share ourselves with others. One-sided conversations don’t lead to friendship.

Do your children have a solid, healthy identity? Do they know themselves well enough to talk about themselves with humility and joy? They should. But, this can result in being self-centered if we don’t talk about others and our delight to relate. We were created to belong. To be connected. To love and be loved.

When is the last time we talked with children we influence about being friendly, open, kind, inquisitive, and conversational? Have we helped them know their strengths, interests, and challenges? Do they know which ones might be good to talk about with others? Who?

I think instruction can be valuable. Pray and think about this. Ask your children whether they want help. Talk about what help you wish you had.

I do think most of what my friends and I experienced last night was due to healthy self-awareness and genuine appreciation and love for each other. It resulted in vulnerable and confident sharing that was life-giving. Talk about this, too.

Guess what? Tonight I get to see these same friends again along with many others. And, tomorrow night and Friday night I’m having dinner with other friends. I can forget I’m introverted for a while because people matter and investing in others enriches our lives. I’m very grateful!