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I have a 9 and a 12 year old. They'll (either one) get into a video game and then want to talk about it. Have you ever heard someone talk about, say, minecraft?

first i got some oak sticks, but then I decided I wanted cherry, then I used the sticks to make boards, these boards aren't immune again spiders, so i had to get them blessed. blessings cost 6 gems but i only had four.. and then and then and then

It's not always a screen thing. Yo-yo's are cool right now. It's mostly screen things.

I try to be not-a-jerk. Most of the time I'll say things like "wow neat", "it sounds like you're really interested in [game]", etc...

To me, it sounds like I'm being very fake. I'm not 100% sure they can't tell.

Sometimes I need to say "I can't listen to this bullshit right now.", but I'd like to not give them fatherly approval issues.

Trying to ask about alternative topics hasn't worked so far. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

I guess if I need to ask a specific, answerable question, it's: How do I tactfully change the subject? Or use this brief moment of their attention for something positive?

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    Regardless of their value or relevance, comments are ephemeral and not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 18:31

8 Answers 8

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To some degree, kids need you to act interested when you aren't; you can't fully avoid their 'boring' talk without it leaving them feeling unheard or unappreciated. There have already been two great answers on how to participate in the topics you aren't interested in that I fully endorse and thus won't repeat.

That being said, your kids are old enough that you get some freedom to start trying to drive the conversation to things you're more interested in, after you have done your due diligence and listened - and ideally found a way to participate, even if you aren't that interested - to whatever obsession the child wanted to ramble about.

Let them know your ignorance to a topic

It's okay to say something like "Oh videogames, I don't really know about those" or "I always was bad with yo-yo as a kid" etc. This isn't saying 'no we can't talk about that', but it is your 'subtle' indicator to a child that this is not a topic you are going to be able to contribute in. By itself that won't do much, but it does lead into my next advice...

It's okay to say you want to talk about something else after listening to them for awhile

Shutting a kid down every time they want to talk about something you don't like isn't a good idea, the kid needs to feel you value them and thus their thoughts and interests. However, a kid also needs to learn that they can, and should, strive for conversation topics everyone enjoys.

So the compromise here is to listen for awhile, show interest in them and what matters to them. Then, after a long enough period that you have clearly demonstrated that interest and attention, you can then politely remind them that you don't understand video games and so can't really participate in the discussion. Now you can ask if they want to talk about some topic you know you both have a more shared interest in.

Yes, I am suggesting being a bit overt when you change the topic, you should be politely saying "I can't really be part of this conversation, so let's talk about this other one instead." Overt and blatant, if polite, is perfectly fine with a younger child such as your 9 year old. Even if being that overt with, say, an 18 year old would be mildly insulting, it's okay with a child who hasn't learned enough about conversations to pick up on the more subtle nuances of them yet. Basically, you are modeling how conversations should go, by giving a hint early on that 'this isn't a topic I can/want to be part of' and later reminding them of that when you change the topic so they can slowly pick up that they need to adjust their own topic of conversation based off what the other person in the conversation demonstrates an interest and desire to participate in.

Again though, you only get to do this after you did your parental duty of feigning interest in their topic first. I'll also point out it won't always work, quite often a young child will miss even an overt request to change the topic and if that happens, well you just sort of have to deal with it. Again at 9 they don't fully get that what interests them isn't interesting to you. You're modeling how the conversation should go, they won't always pick up on it. As the parent you're still stuck feigning interest if the kid insists on a topic, because making them feel heard is the most important thing you can do as a parent.

You get one veto topic

You can't ignore everything a child has an interest in, but presuming a child is interested in numerous things you can pick the one thing you are least interested in and keep reinforcing that this one topic is one you can't really do. So long as it's just one thing you stay consistent on and there are plenty of other topics the child is interested in that you do allow them to discuss with you, the child should be able to understand the distinction between 'really don't want to talk about this topic' and 'not interested in you or your passions.' Just don't make your 'veto' anything too generic, like all video games if your kid is an obsessed gamer.

I do have a sort of Minecraft veto with a nephew. He gets to discuss it a bit with me, but then I tend to redirect those conversations sooner than others with a reminder I really don't get/like Minecraft. That does mean that now that he has a Zelda obsession I'm stuck discussing that video game, and it's 20 different iterations, with him since I've basically 'used up' my veto with Minecraft, but at least I know Zelda and a lot of it's earlier iterations so I don't feel quite as out of my depth. Zelda may not be my ideal conversation topic, but it's better than Minecraft IMO so I consider it a win.

Of course as time goes on you can manage a more granular process of having an 'absolutely don't want this' response to one topic and a "okay we'll talk awhile but not as long" on this topic etc, you aren't actually limited to exactly one and only one veto. However at first stick to one, give the kid time to adjust to just that, and maybe later you can add a little more nuanced distinction or other things you want to avoid. The main reason I say you get one veto though is to stress this is not something to abuse. Such a veto should be limited to only the worst most offensive topics to you, you must still participate in discussing the majority of things the child wants, even if you find many of them boring.

Non sequential can be used when you really need a change of topic

Kids don't pick up on 'subtle' attempts to redirect them well, but they can still be easy to redirect. Rather than the politer sort of redirection you might use with an adult you can use the bludgeoning approach of completely derailing their conversation with something else. After you have participated in their passion for a bit wait until a slight lull in their rambling and throw in a "Oh, hey, I just remembered I wanted to ask you about whatever"

It's a good idea to have a specific discussion already planned out to redirect them, one you are pretty sure they would be interested in participating in and ideally with a good 'excuse' for your non sequential change of topic. I've been known to use the time a kid was talking to think about the change of topic I was going to use and how to most organically force it in.

I find topical things, like discussing plans for some upcoming event or letting them know an interesting fact about a place or time, work well since they flow more naturally as an "oh I just remembered this" non sequential. With the kids I regularly visit/mentor I also usually have one or two mini topics already picked out for the kids intended to teach them something that isn't being taught in schools so they generally expect a random "oh were suppose to talk about this on this visit" at some point during the day anyways.

So long as the topic is one that might be interesting to the kids this usually works. The catch is you can't overuse it, as I keep repeating you do need to participate in their hobbies and interests first before forcing another topic.

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    I do this with my 8yo son. It works fine, he is very communicative and interested in many things I am interested in too. So there is some gradient in my listening-efforts about video games. Least time get minecraft and roblox, more time gets mario and tycoon games (because I can talk about similars I used to play as teenager). We had a time, when I need to forbid the word "Pokemon" at dinner times, because I was not able to stand it anymore. We are always happy about guests, interested in video games ^^ I prewarn them, that they can do me and my son a favor in taking 15min to talk about it. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 6:53
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    @Matthias I've used 'how to master this game' as an excuse to teach plenty of math before. Comparing stats, deciding which is best, explaining why the armor state scales better then others due to diminishing returns, basic theory crafting. Not as useful for FPS players, but many games out there have really heavy math, and if kids see the math actually helping them be better at games their more willing to listen to it.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:00
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    @dsollen you're a genius
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:37
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    Pokemon! We actually had a "Pokemon Conversations Banned" poster up at the meal table a decade and a half ago.
    – Neil_UK
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 20:33
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    Wording: I think "redirection" or the original "non sequitur" is much clearer than "a non sequential" as a noun. Anyway +1
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 12:33
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You don't have to be interested in the subject. Nobody is interested in everything in a conversation. But if you back up a level and think about teaching your kids how to interact with people, that is something you probably can be interested in.

To this end, ask them questions about what they're telling you about. "Boards aren't immune to spiders? What do spiders do?"

What you're doing here is teaching them how to have a conversation, a back-and-forth with someone. They think they're talking about a game. They're actually learning the back-and-forth dance that is a conversation.

After some back-and-forth, you can end the conversation: "Thank you for telling me what you know about X! I like knowing more about you. I'd like to go back to doing Y now. Can I have a hug?"

It's also OK, when you genuinely can't talk right now, to tell them that. "Wow, that sounds really cool! I'd like to talk about that, but I can't talk right now. (Offer brief explanation if appropriate). Can we talk later?"

The goal is to teach by example how to converse, and how to advocate for one's own needs in a respectful manner.

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    Asking questions works with adults too lol
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 1:23
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    Do you still suggest saying "I'd like to talk about that, but I can't talk right now" if the adult, privately, would much prefer never to talk about that subject again? On the one hand, it's a common polite thing to say, but on the other hand, is it better to be more honest with your kids?
    – DLosc
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 21:02
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    @DLosc I honestly don't know. Although it's good for the kid to learn how social white lies work, maybe they don't have to learn it from their parents, at least not yet. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 22:52
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    @DLosc - If you genuinely can't talk right now, and otherwise would be willing to engage, saying this isn't a white lie but rather a white simplification. Saying this doesn't obligate you to steer the future conversation to this topic actively, but make sure that if you often stop a conversation like this, that you also often encourage your child to tell you what they are doing and how it goes. Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 6:02
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First: show an interest, but do it authentically, when you can. Listen to their conversation about Minecraft, and listen well enough that you can ask intelligent questions. This is a useful skill not just with kids - my wife (a brilliant scientist) talks to me about her work in minute detail all the time, and I can't really understand it any more than the kids talking about their games, but I listen and ask questions about specifics; that shows that I'm paying attention and care about what she's saying, and also helps me understand her better over time.

When my kids go into video game monologues, I focus on asking questions that are either helping me understand what they're saying - "why are cherry sticks better/different from oak sticks?" - or questions that move the story along, such as "So you were two gems short, how did you get those gems?".

When they're talking and you don't have time, it's okay to be polite and just tell them that you do need to do something else right now. "Heya, I'm working and need to be able to focus on my work - I'd love to talk to you later about this." Give them a legitimate reason, and preferably a later time that you'd be available to talk, and stick to it as best as you can.

If you're asking "how do I get them to talk about something interesting to me", I'll turn that around: how about you talk to something interesting to them (and also you)? This really doesn't need to be any different from any other person: you'll need to spend some time talking to them about what's interesting to them, when that's what they want to do, and if you want to introduce a different topic that's interesting to you, just do that at a natural point.

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    You and I posted the same thing, in different words, within 30 seconds of each other. That's uncanny. Get out of my head! Oh wait, maybe I'm the one in your head. Sorry, I'll leave now. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 22:17
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This might help you. Or not, but it doesn't hurt to try:

See if you can change your mindset.

You don't have to listen to your kids talk about their current favourite thing. You get to listen to them tell you about something they love doing.

All too quickly they're going to grow up. They're going to have an increasingly large life outside of their relationship with you. They'll talk to you less. And the talks you do have will be less personal.

So try to treasure these moments while you still get to have them. Because they'll be gone sooner than you think.

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    "Sooner than you think", indeed. I had to say goodbye to my son before he was very verbal (10 months—fuck cancer), and I wish I'd have been able to have conversations with him about all the things that were going through his head. My daughter's a little older than that now, but not too much (18 months), and I'm so looking forward to being able to have those kinds of conversations. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 17:55
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    There are many good very answers here with which I completely agree, but you have really hit on a critical detail and I love the lines, "You don't have to listen to your kids talk about their current favourite thing. You get to listen to them tell you about something they love doing." What a great encouragement. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:05
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I had the same issue: Even though I have played Minecraft myself and actually introduced my then 6-year-old to it, I wasn't that interested in the intricate details of his farming mechanisms 5 years later. (He did do some fairly spectacular redstone stuff later though, like completely vanishing 3x3 doors, but I'm probably starting to bore you ;-).)

Now there are two opposing "forces" at play: We love our children and are interested in them, and therefore are interested in what they are doing. Even if the concrete thing is nothing that would ordinarily interest us, how our child plays and lives often is interesting on a "meta" level: What are they interested in, do they engage with others, do they express a talent in design, are they smart, are they ambitious. But on the other hand there are certainly areas like computer games, soccer or contemporary pop music that don't interest us in themselves, at all. A long technical monologue is uninteresting to us also on the meta level; at some point even the "patience credit" which our children enjoy, which is substantial, runs out.

That is your situation.

We also need to be authentic, and we need to teach our children — through our authentic behavior, as always — the basic social skills they will need to navigate their lives.1 So I don't think we should hide your growing impatience and boredom. This is a realization they need to have:

Nobody except their Minecraft peers will be interested in this, ever.

Making them understand that is an important matter. Therefore it is totally OK to first show signs of having lost interest, then of increasing impatience, and then, if they didn't get the clues, say "you know, I'm really not that interested in these details. I would rather talk about (our next vacation, the weekend, a new movie)."

You can also steer the conversation by asking about aspects of their gaming which are interesting to you: Are they playing on servers, are they playing with friends, which part of the game in general is most interesting to them: PvP like Minecraft Hunger Games or building beautiful houses or building intricate redstone mechanisms; who is their favorite youtuber; why is Minecraft so interesting anyway, etc.

And: You can still be authentic in showing the love you genuinely have for them so that they know you don't reject them as such; it's just that you have heard enough of this particular subject. I think you are allowed to smile, tell them you are glad they are having so much fun — and then say "but ... I think I now have a sufficiently thorough idea of your Minecraft farming skills." Ideally, there would be another activity or conversation topic you could suggest.

Over time they should learn to recognize the clues, and the effort you'll need to make them change topic should be smaller and smaller: A little nudge and "hey ...", or even a raised eyebrow. Ideally, eventually your lack of enthusiasm should be enough of a clue to keep it short. This is the bit of social competence which we would like our children to learn here.

Edit: My partner reminded me that our son once built a beautiful house for her in Minecraft, and a gigantic piano for a good friend (who loves to play the piano). She says that this is a way to engage with your child's Minecraft gameplay: Ask them to build something that you are interested in which they can later show you. It is interesting that such virtual presents resemble traditional arts and crafts pieces: They are elaborate works of love.


1 In particular, I don't think it is a good idea to fake (too much) interest while you are rolling your eyes, mentally. The children should know that when we are interested, we are interested, and when we are not, we are not. They need to trust us.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 22:02
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"I can't listen to this bullshit right now."

This statement has a couple problems. A more effective statement would be:

"I'm not interested in that right now"

or

"I don't want to listen to that right now"

Why? While all of these are attempts to express yourself and be honest, the first version has two issues:

  1. You pass judgement on the topic.
  2. You say "I can't" instead of "I want".

Calling the topic bad is irrelevant because the truth is something different. Whether the topic is actually bad is besides the point because the truth is you don't want to hear it, regardless of whether it's objectively good or bad.

Saying you "can't" listen is probably not true. You can probably make yourself listen, and so "I can't" would be untrue. Just directly say what you want.

Many people miscommunicate like this, by avoiding directly saying what they want or don't want, bringing up other reasons. But just know that it's possible to let your child down and still be nice about it. It's all about tone.

Have a kind tone, and say the pure truth directly: "Son, I'm not really interested in hearing about that Minecraft stuff right now". This might be a letdown, or it might not be, depending on the lightness of your tone. And this won't destroy your child's self esteem because you can still listen other times.

On a good note, you did something really well:

  • Scoping to "right now" because feelings are transitory.
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Being the ages that they are, they expect you to be interested in the things that they are actively pursuing. I personally suggest you take the time to engage their conversation if it occurs at an appropriate time. If they are seemingly interrupting you when you are doing something else, explain to them that you would be happy to talk with them after you’ve completed what you’re doing. Just make sure that you do so. All they realize is whether or not you care about what they have to say. You don’t want to ruin an extremely important connection like that. It may seem mundane to you but if they think you won’t listen to this then it could be such a thing that in the future, they won’t come to you for something way more important. This is just my opinion and I mean no harm by my comment.

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What you need to do is lead by example so that they learn where they should put their effort in order to make their monologues interesting and engaging for their listeners. As it seems, the effort put by them in that direction right now is approximately zero, which is completely normal for children this age. However, it has to be improved for facilitation of deep and valuable relationship formation in their future. Do not fake being interested, as tempting as it might be -- dishonest feedback is not helpful. Children this age have yet a lot to learn as their frontal lobes mature, and remember that this process doesn't stop until around the age of 25 or so. They need time to develop the full empathy and social cunning enough to be able to see the world from the perspectives other than their own, to actually fully realize and internalize how the unstructured stream-of-consciousness knowledge dumps, like those Minecraft ones they are doing on you, score around -200 on the scale spanning from 0 to 10 in terms of being interesting for the listener. Don't be too critical, either, and always try to find something at least remotely interesting in some brief sparks of socially-fluent brilliance on the part of your children. Hope this helps.

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