Several years ago, a friend’s son—who was about eight years old at the time—asked me if he could tell me something about Minecraft. My own son wasn’t yet old enough to be playing games like Minecraft, so knowing basically nothing about it, I said that of course he could tell me. I leaned in with my undivided attention as my friend muttered, “You’ll regret that.” This boy, whom I love dearly, then proceeded to tell me not something about Minecraft but everything about Minecraft.
This desire of a child to explain a game in excruciating detail to an attentive adult is, I have discovered, not uncommon. Now that my son is 10 years old and an avid player of Minecraft, Among Us, Fortnite, and many other games, I am learning a whole lot more than I ever thought possible about games I’ve never actually played myself. He went on a months-long kick where he’d play a round or two of Bed Wars or Cake Wars and then would track me down wherever I was in the house to tell me, moment by moment, who destroyed whose bed/cake, who betrayed whom, and who was ultimately victorious.
I know I am not alone; this is a phenomenon that friends and colleagues have told me they are also encountering, day in and day out, particularly as the pandemic has kept us all largely home and accessible at all hours of the day. And although I love that my son wants to share his passions with me, after approximately the 87th retelling, I did find my eyes starting to glaze over. I’m pleased he’s found games he so thoroughly enjoys, but it is boring as hell for one human to listen to another human describe a video game they played when that conversation goes much beyond, “It was fun; I won.”
However, there is also a voice constantly whispering in my head that it’s important to listen to the “little things” our kids tell us so that when they have “big things” to share, we’re the ones they come to. So I have had to develop strategies to listen to this incessant video game replay while also having time left over to, say, work, or sleep. And I will share those with you now in case you also have a child in your life who likes to retell these experiences in extreme detail.
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This may seem obvious, but it is my go-to strategy when I can see that we are veering from “let me tell you about this game real quick” to “let me tell you every single detail about how I just spent the past hour.” I listen for a part that piques my interest, and then I redirect him toward that. (That might sound like, “How did you decide whose cake to go after first?”)
Having a specific question to answer seems to snap him out of the play-by-play retelling and gives him an anchor with which to ground his storytelling. It’s more interesting to learn about a specific aspect of the game, it’s easier for me to follow, and he gets to feel like he’s teaching me something.
Asking questions is great, but sometimes once the question is answered, the kiddo will want to revert to the full-on recap. Sometimes I simply let this play out with some “mm-hmms” and a few “oh, wows,” but sometimes I am, like, working. And if I’m working, I’m essentially always on deadline, so the amount of time I can devote to listening is finite.
But instead of cutting him off and saying, “I really can’t listen to this right now,” I transition him out of the retelling by saying, “I’ve got some work I need to get done, but I want to hear a little more; can you tell me one more thing about it?” That forces him to highlight the most important part of the story, which is probably the main thing he wanted to tell me anyway.
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Sometimes when a kid is rambling, it seems like what they’re telling us is less important than the fact that they just want to talk. So when I get the impression that their brain is overflowing with thoughts and they’re looking for a target on which to spew them, I say, “It seems like you have a lot to say about this! I’m going to time you; see how much you can tell me about it in one minute. Ready…set…go!”
The rapid-fire retelling gets even more rapid-fire, but it turns it into a game that leaves them breathless at the end and with a feeling of accomplishment at having risen to the challenge. Plus, it’s more entertaining for you.
More than any other tactic, though, I am forever pressing “pause” on these conversations with my son. There are many times I can see that it really is important to him to tell me what happened in a game, either because of drama with another player or because something exciting or unusual happened. But again, it’s not always the best time for me to drop everything and listen to the whole thing. In those cases, I suggest we “press pause” on the conversation and pick it back up later. “I really want to hear this, but I’m afraid I’m too distracted right now to be a good listener,” I say. “Can we press pause for now and you can tell me when I’m done with my work?”
The key, of course, with this one is to actually hit play again later when it’s less of an intrusion, such as when you’re eating lunch together or cooking dinner. This sends the signal that while you want to hear what they want to tell you, you also have other obligations—and sometimes, prioritizing listening to them actually means holding off until you can be more present.
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I’ve never been much of a video-game enthusiast, but I also wasn’t much of a dinosaur enthusiast until my kid hit age two and began a years-long obsession with the creatures. I learned more about dinosaurs than I ever thought I might know, not because I suddenly cared that much but because he cared. We talk about the things we care about, and we talk about them with the people we want to share our passions with. So, share it with them.
My kid loves it when I sit down to watch him play a few rounds of whatever game he’s currently into, and he loves even more to teach me how to play it. It’s a little slice of expertise they’re dying to bestow on us. So sometimes, the best way to get them to stop rambling about it is to let them show you what all the fuss is all about.
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