You have all kinds of stories from your youth that you could tell your nieces and nephews.

Save them for another time.

When your siblings’ kids want to tell you about their present-day sports endeavors, just listen.

You could, of course, counter their stories about your days as a competitive swimmer, or regale them about your championship soccer game, or even show then your operation scars on your football knee.

But don’t.

Let your niece tell her whole story about the swim meet last weekend. How cold the water was. How she anchored the 200 x 4 freestyle relay, and caught the swimmer ahead to nab second place. And what a hero that made her with her relay teammates.

Ask for more.

“How did you know how far behind you were?”

“Did you think you could catch her?”

“What was it like to hit the wall in time and realize that you pulled it out?”

It’s her moment. Let her revel in it.

Most conversations are really two people talking right past each other. One waits more or less patiently for the other to finish talking so that he can get his turn to talk. What he says may have some relevance to the previous speaker’s words—or not. At any rate, it’s just ping-pong, sentences pinging and ponging back and forth. Each person can hardly wait for the other one to shut up so he can talk. And, he’s not really listening anyway. He’s thinking about what he’s going to say next.

You can do better.

Ask, don’t tell.

When your nephew opens up about soccer practice, ask for more. Listen to what he just said, and ask a follow-on question about that very same thing. Give him plenty of space to expound.

And sometimes, just let the silence hang.

“Coach made us do 10 sprints at the end of practice. And if any of us didn’t make it in 18 seconds, we all had to run two more. It was hard.” Your nephew hangs his head a bit and talks into his chest.

“It sounds hard,” you reply.

“It was,” he says.

Now, you might be tempted to say, “You know, when I played football in college we had to do 1000 sprints at the end of practice, while carrying 500 pounds of lead ingots, up the stadium stairs and to the top of the Empire State Building, hopping on one leg on broken glass. Now that was hard.”

But don’t.

When your nephew says, “It was,” make a little nod to let him know you heard him. Then keep silent. Give him time to transition to the next thing he wants to say. Ten seconds of dead air feels like an eternity, but it’s not. It’s giving him the chance to keep talking.

It’s just love.

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