We all have that coworker or neighbor who we have repeatedly tried to have conversations with. We try to make small talk about sports, movies, families, yard care, among many other things. Ultimately, we come to the realization that a conversational relationship is just not going to happen. We dust ourselves off, presume it is their loss and decide to stop trying.
Our kids can sometimes block us out as masterfully as that neighbor. None of us want a quiet relationship with our children like our reclusive neighbors, so how do we change that? Here are three important things to remember to help build communication with your kids.
1. Remember, every conversation matters.
The average marathon is just over 55,000 steps. If you were to ask a marathon runner which steps out of the thousands was the most important, they might tell you, "The next one." No single step is of greater importance than the others, each step, whether big or small, leads to the finish line and the ultimate prize.
We all have the same goal and finish line regarding conversations with our kids; We want healthy and growing relationships with our children as they age. We want to be able to talk openly, honestly, and regularly. To reach that goal, we must remind ourselves that every conversation, no matter the topic, leads us toward better communication with our kids.
When your son wants to talk about trading cards or what Marvel character, he thinks is best, or when your daughter wants to share a "funny story" from class or why she feels her lunch table is the best, it is time to pay attention. If we only wait for meaningful conversations, we may be teaching our kids that we are uninterested and or not good listeners. This makes our children hesitant in sharing when significant conversations come along.
2. Show that you're 100% present.
Have you ever driven to a store that looks closed? The lights were dim, there was no movement in the window, and there were no signs at the door. Regardless if they’re actually open, the building’s presentation communicated they did not want customers. In the same way, our posture shows our kids if we are interested in talking or not. A simple question we must ask ourselves whenever we are with our kids is this: Does my posture show I am open or closed for conversation? If the answer is no, it may be time to make a quick change, for example, consider:
- Turning the TV off
- Closing your laptop
- Turn the music in the car off
- Put your phone to the side
- Let dinner wait for a few minutes
- Stop the chore you are doing
- Take out your AirPods
While our kids may not always be ready to talk, we can show to them with our actions that we are ready and open for the business of conversation. Imagine the impact it has when they begin to trust that we are always available.
3. Lean, Listen and Ask.
The first two points are all about getting the conversations started. What do we do to help KEEP conversations going?
A good habit is to remind ourselves to LEAN, LISTEN and ASK.
First, LEAN in.
The absolute best listeners are usually the ones that show they are visibly engaging in the conversation. Examples of this are head nods, eye contact, or affirming comments like "mmm," "oh," and "ok." Kids are very receptive to these small gestures. When our kids say, "you're not listening to me," chances are we simply did not LOOK like we were listening.
Second, LISTEN to learn
During conversations, listen intently. There are two types of listening that most people use; we listen to learn, and we listen to speak. Most of us are guilty of only listening to earn our opportunity to contribute to the subject. We hear but only to interject.
When we choose to listen to learn, we retain information differently. We hear what our kids say and learn a lot about them. Our kids are constantly changing. As parents it's easy to assume that there is nothing new about our kids that we can learn. On the contrary every conversation will teach us more about who they are and who they are becoming. We can also take mental notes of important details we want to remember later.
Third, ASK questions.
A thoughtful question can go a long way to showing kids you take them seriously. It shows that you want to hear from them and are actively curious about them and their stories. Ask for further details and perspectives.
Applying these principles is an ongoing choice we can make every day with our kids. It requires thought and purpose on our part. The rewards for this effort can be incredible. Regular communication builds trust, closeness, and comfort. It is true for every relationship, including our relationship with God. The God revealed to us in the Bible shows a highly interested, invested, and always listening father. As we build healthy conversations with our kids, we must also teach them that God is always listening. They can talk with him every minute of each day. God loves us and is always ready to drop everything and hear from us.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145:18-19
While there is no perfect recipe for communicating with our kids, we hope the tools in this article will be a step in the right direction for every parent to begin using today. Remember it is not about perfect conversations, it’s about being available and making every conversation count.
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