Whenever I write a parenting article, I am reminded of how little I have it all together. I am writing this article on the heels of one of my poorer parenting moments at the dinner table with family around. I do so love exposing my flaws to all. So, today it is particularly convicting to be thinking through advice I would give on how to talk to your child in a meaningful way.
I don’t always do this well. I fail too often. Can you relate? Thank God for Grace. God, in His grace, is for you and me too. This means He is for us and our children, despite our own failures.
Mine are varied and unique to me. I am louder than I would like to be and so what sounds to others like I am yelling is simply my normal tone of voice (I blame my parents)! Nor have I ever been accused of being simple when I communicate or write. I really wish I could be more like Ernest Hemingway with my precision and conciseness with words. But Hemingway I am not. This means that when I talk, I tend to be a bit wordy as well. It is certainly not my favorite trait in myself. I have a host of these issues that I bring into my relationships with others and particularly my children.
Like all of us, I am a work in progress as a husband, father, son, employee, and employer. So, with that in mind, I want to challenge us all, myself included, with 10 points of advice on how to speak, listen, and engage with your children in a meaningful way.
- Be involved every day – Life gives us plenty of opportunities to talk with our children. From the news, to school events, to a TV show, to what we see around town, being involved is sometimes as simple as asking your children what they think. Granted, a 6-year-old has a far different impression of the world around them than a 14-year-old, but that does not mean it is any less unique or poignant. There is much to be learned from all ages, so be involved by simply asking them what they think.
- Be varied – From the topic you cover to the words that you use, it’s important to speak at their level of language, experience, and understanding. Every teaching point cannot start with, “Well, when I was a child…” nor can the only location for shepherding your child be at the dinner table. Be as varied as life and circumstances are.
- Be brief – That doesn’t mean spending only a brief amount of time teaching your children. It means you are deliberately giving them a bite-sized perspective rather than a longer narrative that is harder for them to follow.
- Be willing to talk about anything – Talk openly about money, sex, your past (yes, even the mistakes you made). This does not mean that you have to provide a full-blown explanation of all the bad choices you made, but you have to be someone that they can relate to. Knowing you have made bad choices makes you nothing more than a human they can connect with. So don’t shy away from topics that maybe your parents didn’t talk about or mistakes you made.
- Be early – One of the things we see with youth today is that they are confronted with issues far earlier in life than we were. This creates a gap in our mind of when we should talk about the reality of drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, bullying, and any number of other difficult issues. While you must consider age-appropriate topics, as a parent it is critical that you act as the teacher earlier than society will.
- Be first when necessary – Your child is not always going to start the conversation. It would be really convenient if it was always an “ask and respond” scenario. That, however, is not reality. While occasionally they may initiate the conversation, the reality is, sometimes you need to drive the discussion.
- Be a listener – There are times they need to vent. There are times they need to simply talk it through. Listening carefully helps you understand what they are really after. You cannot listen when you are reading a book, staring at the TV, or glued to a piece of technology. In fact, if you are trying to multitask when your children are talking to you, you are telling them they are not important enough to gain your undivided attention. Give them all of your focus. This is one of the ways you can relay their importance.
- Be patient – This can be incredibly hard at times. Sometimes we are so prone to jump in when there are awkward pauses or instruct when our only role was to listen. At least I struggle with this. Being patient doesn’t just mean to persevere. Being patient implies you give them time to work through to the answer themselves. Our role as parents is not simply to solve the problem for them, unless we want them to always depend on us for the answer. Sometimes, they simply need to be heard.
- Be there to provide moral guidance – There are the golden moments we get to answer questions and guide. This is not time for them to figure it out on their own. They want to know your beliefs, not how you would handle a situation. Telling them what you think doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t think for themselves.
- Be persistent – Conversations on certain topics like sex, poverty, drugs, politics, and beliefs are not one time events. They cannot possibly be covered in a single conversation. Besides that, we only remember 5-10% of what we hear, so go over it repeatedly. Do not lecture. Ask questions. Listen to their answers to make sure they understand.
In partnership with you for the family,