We need to understand that communication is an art that we all must learn better. It does not come naturally. Here are seven principles to help you to grow in this art, that you might teach your children:
1. We should draw out the thoughts of others.
Communication involves not just talking but drawing out the thoughts and feelings of others. Solomon said, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). Blessed is the parent who knows how to draw out such thoughts in a child. Good communication is not a monologue; it’s a dialogue. We don't talk to our children; we talk with them.
2. We should let our conversations be ruled by the wisdom of Scripture.
We need to be careful not to replace God’s wisdom with man’s wisdom. For example, we need to call a sin a sin and call a lie a lie. We shouldn’t buy into our culture’s tendency to say “weakness” when it is sin, “fib” for a lie, “an affair” for adultery, or “strong-willed” when a person is disobedient. Our children need to recognize that we think biblically, speak biblically, and act biblically without cramming religion down their throats.
3. We should use discernment in what we communicate.
Sometimes we overload our children with teaching. We should take care not to load too many issues on them at once. I believe communication is most effective when we deal with one issue at a time rather than bringing up everything a child has done wrong during the past week. We have to know when we’ve said enough. We should be neither a fire hydrant gushing out on our children nor a leaky faucet constantly dripping on them.
4. We should speak respectfully.
The abusive way some parents speak to their children in public—both in content and in tone—is a confession that they have lost control of those relationships. I’m embarrassed for them. Part of speaking respectfully means not yelling. How often have you yelled and later regretted it? “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). It’s necessary to raise our voices at times—for example, if one of our children is running toward the street. Otherwise, we should speak respectfully to our children. That’s how they learn to speak respectfully to us. There are times when our voices can show more earnestness, emphasis, or concern, but we should refrain from yelling. When we reprimand a child, it is far better to say: “I love you very much but I am disappointed in this behavior. This is not what God wants from you, and you know it.” That kind of loving rebuke carries more weight with our children than yelling at them.
5. We should show genuine interest and warmth.
During family time around the dining table, we should strive to keep the conversation positive and upbeat. We want to show interest in each child and be positive where we can; if we do, our children will listen better to us when we have something negative to say to them. We need to make a conscious effort to tell our children how much we love them. We should tell them every day. I don’t care if they are eight or eighteen years old; it’s important for them to hear how much we love them.
6. We should show gratitude for the things they do.
My mother did this with me, and it meant very much. Therefore, in our home, we thank each other. I thank my wife for the delicious meals she prepares. We thank our children for simple kindnesses. My wife thanks me for how hard I work. The children witness this behavior. We should let the “attitude of gratitude” permeate our homes. It should permeate everything—our conversation, our activities, even our hugging of our spouses and children. We need to let them sense this attitude of appreciation and enjoy the love that floods our homes.
7. We should make eye-to-eye contact.
When we’re engrossed in a book or staring at a computer screen, it’s easy to block out the spoken word. We should strive to make eye contact when we communicate with our children to make sure they are getting our message. Good teachers know the value of eye contact in the classroom. If we don’t insist on eye contact, we may think we were heard when in fact we weren’t. We may miss important nonverbal messages as well.