Tag Archives: communication for children

Listening: The Basis for Conversation

Recently I did standardized testing for my eight-year-old, homeschooled granddaughter. One section of the test was on listening skills. I read Abby a passage, and then she was to answer questions from it without me reading it to her again. She had to recall facts and make deductions from the information. As young as eight years old, the public educational system sees the value in being able to listen.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Here we see that listening comes before speaking and actually has urgency applied to it. Communication isn’t simply being able to talk, but also listening in order to reply based on understanding. Listening often conveys value to the person who is talking, and that is of paramount importance for a Christian.

If we want our children to be excellent communicators, then we will be developing their listening skills. At the most basic level, listening involves being able to repeat what was said. A more advanced listener will understand the exact words, and the heart communication behind those words.

How can we help children learn to listen? First, it is important to have them make eye contact with you or anyone who is talking to them. Many children we interact with don’t make eye contact in a conversation and that often carries into adulthood. Eye contact helps to secure the focus needed for attentive listening, and it conveys to the speaker that he is being heard. Keep bringing your child back to looking at you when you are talking to him.

We parents set the example for our children in listening attentively with eye contact. If we are looking at our phones, computers, books, or anywhere except the child’s eyes when he is talking to us, then we are teaching him that listening can be done half-heartedly. I have regularly heard someone texting or reading e-mail say, “I am listening,” only to have it obvious a few minutes later that the person does not have the communication that was being given. He might have heard words, but he wasn’t able to process or retain them.

To help develop listening skills, we can have the child repeat back to us in their own words what they understood. This step takes time and isn’t necessary in every conversation. It is particularly important, however, in the ones where the child is responsible for the information, such as when he is given a task to do or told not to do something. I remember from raising our children how frequently I felt I was clear in my communication to them only to find out later they either didn’t hear at all or misunderstood. That result occurred because I didn’t take time to have them repeat back to me what I had said.

We can also ask our children questions about what I have shared with them in a conversation. Depending on the questions, we cause them not only to recall what they have heard but also to process it by drawing conclusions. We might even get them to consider heart attitudes that are behind the actual words.

We want our children to grow up with the ability to listen to others. In our normal, everyday life we help them toward that by how we model listening, teaching them to make eye contact when listening, having them repeat what we have said or asking them questions about it. This doesn’t have to be tedious or difficult, but it will help if you make it a focus and priority.

Last month, I shared that our resource, Making Great Conversationalists, would help in preparing your children to be effective communicators. By your response in ordering that book, we see again how needed it is. Please, if you haven’t already, order your copy. Teaching your children good communication and listening skills is vital to their success in life!

Children Who Are Advocates

Recently our city wanted to limit the number of chickens that city residents were allowed to have to 10. Our 8-year-old granddaughter, Abigail, is “chickie mama” at her house, and she keeps chickens for fresh, healthy eggs for her family.

She realized that obeying the new city ordinance, if passed, would be a hardship from two fronts. The first was not having enough chickens for the necessary eggs for a large family and the other from adding new chicks to the flock before they were ready to lay eggs. If they had five hens who needed to be replaced, they would have to get rid of them before the new chicks could lay eggs.

Abby wrote a letter to the city commission stating her concerns, why she had them, and asking the city commission not to limit the number of chickens. Then she and her dad attended the city commission meeting, and Abby presented her cause before them. The vote was close, but the commissioners went with the 15 chicken limit—a compromise they felt.

Are you preparing your children to be able to cognitively and persuasively voice their thoughts and concerns publicly in areas that are important to them? Could your 8-year-old child stand up in front of an official group of adults and give them a presentation? Most adults are fearful of speaking in front of others. Maybe you are one of them. “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

On Friday evenings during the school year, Nathan and Melanie have their children give short presentations at their home and sometimes for Grandpa, Grandma, and the aunts and uncles. These presentations are simply telling about something they learned or did during the school week. It is giving them skills and comfort speaking in front of people.

Talking to your family isn’t the same as talking to others, though. We can also help our children be comfortable talking to people who are friends, acquaintances, or even strangers (when they are in the protection of parental supervision). We can do that by giving our children opportunities to talk to people outside the family. Often in those situations we parents do all the talking. It doesn’t mean that the children have to monopolize the conversation, but that they are included for part of it.

Children who become adults who are stellar communicators have great potential to be strong, loving, caring fathers and mothers. Consider the importance clear communication has in families, especially from parents to children and the implications when that communication is absent. Children who have learned to think and then convey those thoughts to others will be business, church, and political leaders.

Are you not only preparing your children spiritually and academically for their future but also helping them be able to be advocates for what the Lord puts on their hearts as parents, as friends, and in whatever walks of life He calls them into? Are you giving your children a passion for things that are important whether it is how many chickens they can have in their backyard or that they can homeschool their children?

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

We have a resource available to help you in this area called Making Great Conversationalists. In that book, we give you practical projects to do with your children to help them learn conversational skills. Maybe you will learn something too.

Trusting in Jesus,

Are You Raising a Winner?

I pulled into the Shell station in a small town in Colorado to fill up while on vacation. A cheerful, official-looking young man around fourteen wearing a neatly-pressed shirt with Shell logos on it approached me as I got out of the van. “Sir, would you like me to pump your gas for you?”

Since I didn’t know if there was an extra charge, I simply responded, “No, thank you, but I’d enjoy visiting with you while I do.”

We first discussed Oregon where an attendant must pump your fuel for you. Then I learned his name, that he was a Christian, that he was homeschooled, and that his father had been a pastor. His friend’s dad owned the station, and he and two of his sisters worked there after school. He was full of life and enthusiasm. He might have been pumping gas for a season, but I’m confident in a few years he will move on to more challenging, higher paying endeavors. I felt he was on track to be a “winner.”

Raising children is much more than changing diapers when they are young and feeding them. Fathers are commanded to take an active role in training their children. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Paul, by the Holy Spirit, would not command fathers in this responsibility if children automatically acquired these attributes themselves. It takes commitment and hard work. Our first priority is to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that they are headed down the right road spiritually.

Dad’s daily example of life in Christ is important in shaping his children, and family Bible time is his most effective tool for shaping his children into winners. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalms 119:9). Not having family Bible time seven days a week is like skipping feeding your child meals because it takes too much time. I’ve heard some say they don’t want to be legalistic about having Bible time every day. Are parents accused of being legalistic who feed their children three meals a day? Of course not! We feed them because it is needful for healthy bodies. We feed their spirits daily because it is needful for healthy souls. No spiritually discerning person would argue that their bodies are more important than their souls, therefore we feed that which will live for all eternity at least once a day. Our family eats “spiritually” twice a day, morning individual Bible time and evening family Bible time.

The young man at the Shell station was a great conversationalist. He looked me in the eyes, spoke with ease, answered my questions, and asked me some of his own. He was confident and had enthusiasm. What about your children? Are you raising winners? (If you need help, see Making Great Conversationalists!)

Are we teaching our children to work hard and apply themselves? Teri and I had a casual conversation “on the road” one day with a public school teacher. She told us how she prepared her students for successful test taking. As she taught them, she would emphasize what would be on the test and encourage them to write it down in their notes. (This is not to imply all government school teachers do this.) Then when they took the test, they were able to use their notes. Can you imagine the difficult time they will have as adult employees trying to provide for their families when conditioned not to have to work hard? How likely do you think their employers will be to give them raises for good performance? Are we teaching our children to work hard at learning?

One way to provide our children feedback on their academic performance is to give them grades for their schoolwork. By giving them tests over what they were to have learned (no open book tests), they will develop the correlation between hard work and positive results. “For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee” (Psalms 128:2). Working hard produces good fruit and is what we want to instill in our children. This leads to developing winners.

As your children grow older, give them projects to do that are beyond their current experience. CHALLENGE THEM—vocationally, physically, and spiritually. This is what lies ahead of them in life, challenges that are beyond what they have already accomplished. Get them used to working hard for a goal and then enjoying the feeling of success and the confidence that they can achieve anything the Lord Jesus calls them to do. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). I strive for each of my children to know the truth of that verse in daily life.

When I use the term “winners,” I know you understand what that means. You have a mental picture that necessitates evaluating your child. That is how serious the challenge is before us. We are preparing our children for life, and the stakes are high. We aren’t teaching our children to win by defeating others but by defeating their own laziness. Everyone is in the race, and all can be winners. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Train your children every day for life ahead.

We just returned home from our vacation in Colorado (see this link and this one for blog reports). We love our time together. As much as possible, we put aside our normal work or ministry responsibilities and focus on each other and the Lord. We spend many hours in intense physical challenges all the while enjoying the beauty of God’s magnificent creation. Together Teri and I climbed two mountains over fourteen thousand feet with our children (now seventeen to thirty-six), and they went on to climb a third one that required a two mile transverse. I want my children to know how to work hard and delight in the view from the top spiritually, vocationally, and physically. Do you desire that for your children? May I encourage you in the job at hand? “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Steve Maxwell

A Sure Test of Worth

There is a skill that every father needs to learn and then be able to teach his children. It is essential for effectively sharing the love of Christ with your family and others.

Without this ability, you and I will leave people with the impression that we think we are more important than they are. The absence of this is particularly evident at social gatherings. The ones with it are a pleasure to be around, while the ones without it are boring.

If you don’t develop this skill, your wife may doubt that you really care for her. If you don’t practice it with your children, someone else may steal their hearts away from you.

Jesus was a Master of this. In fact, He amazes me every time I read that He did it. Sometimes I cannot understand why He did this, other times it was pretty obvious. What is this skill?

I commented briefly about it in last month’s Corner from Mark 9:21, when Jesus asked a boy’s father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” Jesus is God, and He knows everything. Why did He ask the question? Was He seeking a confession or some information He did not know? I believe Jesus asked the father the question because He wanted to draw the father into a conversation in order to reveal needs in the father’s life.

Jesus was accomplished in the art of asking questions. Why is the ability to ask questions so important in life? First and foremost, it communicates worth to the person you are asking because it says that what they are thinking is important to you.

To my shame, there have been times when Teri was describing a situation to me and “in all my great wisdom” I’ve quickly figured out the solution to her problem. I’ve interrupted her with answers she was seeking. However, what I really did was to communicate that she wasn’t as important as my time. I had given her a swift answer so I could get on with other things. Jesus could have quickly healed the father’s son mentioned in Mark 9:21 without any communication, but He didn’t. He took what time was necessary to get to the heart of the matter, which included growing the father’s faith as well as delivering the son.

That is why questions are so important. What if I were to wait until Teri finished describing to me her problem? Then, what if I asked her a few questions to verify that I understood the situation, gleaning additional clarification as needed? Wouldn’t this communicate that I care about what is important to her and am putting her interests first?

Another example might be the times I’ve been out all day and haven’t had a chance to speak to Teri. Finally I come home and ask her about her day, how she is feeling, or if she had any problems. Aren’t I telling her that I love her and that she is important to me by asking the questions and being attentive to her answers? Who am I communicating is the most important if I’m only interested in telling her about my day?

The same is true with our children. Communicating heart to heart involves asking our children questions about their struggles, their likes and dislikes. It is an excellent way of showing genuine interest in them and getting to heart issues.

We cannot effectively witness to someone without asking him questions. It is very difficult to communicate the love of Christ while “verbally shoving” something down someone’s throat—and that is what a constant stream of words does.

Consider the following examples. “Jim, you need to be saved so you won’t go to hell. You need to confess you are a sinner.” Or, “Jim, where do you think you will spend eternity? Would you be interested in learning what the Bible has to say about it?”

“Donny, I have seen you being very mean to your sister, and it better stop.” Or, “Donny, I’ve observed you having some conflict with your sister lately. Would you tell me about it? Has she offended you in some way? Shall we talk about it?”

It will help a child throughout his life if he learns how to ask good questions as a means to get to know others. Think how common it is to spend time with someone you don’t know very well. What better way to get to know something about that person than by asking questions?

Years ago, our evening family altar time was interrupted by a knock on the door. Nathan, then thirteen years old, jumped up and said he would see who it was. He stepped outside and didn’t come back in for quite a few minutes. When he finally returned, I asked who had been at the door. He said it was one of his lawn-mowing customers. I asked if there was a problem, since he was gone for so long. Nathan said, “No Dad, there was no problem, we just got started talking.” The gentleman Nathan was talking to was probably fifty years his senior, but because Nathan is skilled at asking questions, he was comfortable talking to just about anyone.

We have found communicating through questions to be essential for our monthly visits to the City Union Mission. The men we “visit” with are often not refined in their social skills. Carrying on a conversation can be quite difficult at times. Questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer are the primary arsenal for chipping away the hardened outer layers of these men.

Questions are a surgeon’s tools for getting to the heart of man. When guided in a gentle but purposeful fashion, they will unlock a great treasure. They can bring to light hidden hurts that have been long buried. They can be the key to discovering deep waters. When I sense a closed spirit in Teri or the children, loving questions will uncover issues that I need to address or offenses I have committed.

How can we teach our children to gracefully employ the art of communication though questioning? Practice with counsel makes one skillful. Fellowshipping after church or with dinner guests provides wonderful opportunities for children to practice their communication skills. Encourage your children beforehand to think of questions they can ask. Then have them practice the questions with you prior to the guest’s arrival. That way you can help them learn what is appropriate to ask and how to be gentle with the questions.

I suppose the most difficult aspect of asking questions for a child is learning what is appropriate to ask and what is not. Questions about the guest’s physical appearance are always the most risky. One we have learned to shy away from is, “So when is your baby due?”

There are some dangers with questions. As I just mentioned, some questions are inappropriate because the relationship or an assumption can prove false. Questions can be blunt, insensitive, demanding, or too many. Our tone while asking is very important and often will tip the scales toward appearing caring or toward being pushy and demanding.

Teri and I are amazed at how often we encounter people in social settings who will never ask a single question about our family or us. It isn’t that we are dying to tell them about ourselves, it just makes the conversation much easier and more pleasant. By their not asking any questions, they appear to be interested only in themselves, and we run the risk of appearing nosy after asking them question after question.

I would encourage each dad to evaluate his communication skills in questioning. A good place to start is by asking your wife if she feels you show interest in her. Do you ask her about her day, her needs, and her cares? If you aren’t doing this, repent of your selfish focus. Then begin to ask your wife and children questions to communicate that you are putting them first and caring about them. Make this ability to use questions a priority in your life, and then teach it to your children.

I have found the art of asking questions one of the most important skills I have. I must give credit to two people in particular. One was a man who taught a sales seminar I attended in 1982 on being successful in sales. The other person is Teri’s mother. She is gracious and skillful in interacting with others, and I see much of this is due to her ability to ask questions.

Dads, may we be ready instruments in our Lord’s hands through our communication skills and equip our children to be the same. These children will then be comfortable in social situations and will bless you.