(Whether a parent yourself, or a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a neighbor, a teacher, a scout leader, or whatever your role in the lives of the children around you, this important series will give you valuable tips on how to influence those kids for the Lord! To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” mini-series, please click here.)
“And you, fathers, DO NOT PROVOKE YOUR CHILDREN TO WRATH, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NKJV)
Have you ever tried to have a relationship with someone you can’t communicate with? It’s hard, isn’t it?
The first step to good communication is having the ability to express yourself. You want others to understand your thoughts, intentions, ideas, etc.
The second part is to understand what is being communicated. You need to be able to comprehend what others are trying to express.
Communication breakdowns can occur in both of these areas. If you are not good at expressing yourself, you will create communication breakdowns. If you are not good at listening, or if your communication partner isn’t good at expressing him or herself, then communication breakdowns will also occur.
In my work as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I find that the problems many people in our society have with communication are rooted in the fact that either they have never learned to express themselves or they have never learned to listen, or both. Many have never had anyone around who would listen to them or encourage them to talk. Others have tried to express themselves in the past, but every time they try to talk, someone cuts them off or tells them children should be seen and not heard; or even worse, when they do try to express themselves, their ideas were belittled and they were made to feel stupid.
How can we help the kids in our lives to communicate well with us, and even more importantly, to communicate well in general?
First of all, we can help them by being a good example! As mentioned in earlier devotionals, we need to stop what we’re doing long enough to make time for adequate communication, and we need to take the time to really listen to what they are trying to tell us.
The second step is to encourage our children to talk freely. We need to provide them with a communication atmosphere that is non-threatening. We need to encourage them to express their ideas and opinions without belittling them. We also need to keep our own opinions to ourselves sometimes.
You will find that if you listen, if you act interested in what your kids are saying, if you ask pointed questions in order to ensure that you understand, then you have created an environment that is ideal for communication to grow.
I do my best to spend “special” time with each of our boys every day, and I find that this is an exercise that is looked forward to by all three of us. Often the “special” time ends up centering around exercise, something that the three of us enjoy. The only problem is, my younger son likes jogging (my sport of choice), while the older one prefers biking or swimming. And due to time and weather restraints, jogging is usually what we are able to do.
Now, my older son has tried to tell me that he doesn’t prefer jogging, but my usual response goes something like this:
“Oh, once you start, you’ll be glad you came. Come on! It will be fun!”
“But it’s cold!”
“No! It’s not cold out there. It might feel it at first, but you’ll warm up quick!”
“But I don’t feel like jogging, mom! I don’t really like it, and besides, I’m feeling tired today!”
“I know you are feeling tired today. Jogging is JUST the thing to work out the fatigue!” Then I’ll give him one of those “looks” — the one that says “You’re just acting like a teen!”, and I’ll say, “You don’t HAVE to go if you don’t want to. But I’ll sure miss your company! After all, this is our special time together!”
In the end, he usually goes, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that an ideal, safe communication hasn’t happened! Instead, my son ends up feeling like what he does and doesn’t like is substandard and unimportant, that maybe he doesn’t even really know what he likes.
What if the above conversation were to go something like this?
“I know you don’t prefer to go jogging. My only problem with biking today is this: The dog hasn’t had a run in two days. She can’t go with us if we bike.”
“Well, we could go biking now, and then when we get back, you could take her for a short walk.”
“Good suggestion, but I don’t have the time to do both.”
“I see your point. Why don’t we ask Papa if he’s going for a walk this morning. He could take her with him.”
In this scenario, both my own concerns and the concerns of my son are heard, validated, and addressed. My son is allowed to do some problem solving, and the exchange helps my son to know that his ideas and concerns are both valid and important.
If we want to really communicate with the kids in our lives, we have to listen to what they are telling us. We have to validate their feelings, their opinions, and their desires.
But what if dad doesn’t say “yes” to walking the dog? Here’s what happened the other day:
“Papa isn’t going for a walk today, mom. Why don’t I take the dog for a romp out back, and maybe my brother can romp her this afternoon.”
I looked over at his brother. “What do you think?”
“Okay!” Was his response. “But it’s really windy outside!”
My older son and I looked outside, and sure enough, it was far too windy for biking.
“Oh!” He said. “Then I guess we don’t have any choice but to go for a run! Let’s go!”
Communication. It will be the cornerstone of your upcoming relationship with your children. Only when we have solid communication with our kids, when they know that they can come to us at any time and tell us exactly how they are feeling or what they are thinking, when they know that talking to us is a “safe” thing to do, that it will make them feel better about themselves rather than worse, then will we have laid the ground work for being able to shape their developing minds and ideas.
Why not start today? Stop what you’re doing and give them some of your time. Watch to see where they are at, and then listen to them in a non-judgmental, open way. Validate their ideas, thoughts and feelings. Make them feel like what they have to say is important. Allow some guided problem solving. You will be amazed at the results!
Join us next week for Bringing up Kids God’s Way, Part 7: Stressing the Positive.
God bless each of you abundantly as you seek to guide the kids in your life in the ways of the Lord!
In His love,
Lyn Chaffart, Mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, www.scripturalnuggets.org , with Answers2Prayer Ministries, www.Answers2Prayer.org .
(To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” mini-series, please click here.)