When I was in the thick of raising kids I had a profound question enter my mind. I remember wondering, “How do I want this all to turn out?” In many ways it was a startling question. To this day I believe God put that question in my heart. It’s too easy to merely survive parenting and hopefully raise kids that are responsible. I wanted more than that. I had two very specific parenting goals:
- I wanted my kids to grow up to love Jesus Christ – passionately and radically.
- I wanted healthy and close relationships with them when they became adults.
As I thought and prayed about my goals as a parent, one thing became crystal clear; I needed to learn to listen more effectively! I had talking mastered: “Make your bed. Clean your room. Get ready for church. Get in the car for school. Finish your homework.” Yup. Talking was not a problem – I had that down pat! Listening, however, was another thing. Proverbs 14:1 convicted me to the core: The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. I had to change or I would tear down my family rather than building them up!
As I asked the Lord for deeper self-awareness, I realized to my horror that when my kids had doubts, I tried to fix their doubts. When they had arguments, I grew defensive. Sigh. I was going to need to change. And before I tell you how I worked on this, I want to be perfectly honest: I still don’t still always do this right. I’ve improved and I’m further along. I still mess up but when I do, I apologize.
Here are three things that I did to listen so my kids would talk, and you can put these in place right away. Because if there is anything I know, it’s that how you listen now will determine how they talk when they’re older!
- Learn to ask questions that can’t be answered with one word. You know the drill. After school you ask, “How was school?” The answer? “Fine.” You gotta get more creative if you want more information. Ask instead, “Who did the teacher get most annoyed with today?” Ask about specific friends (hopefully you’ve listened well enough where you know the names of their friends). Don’t just ask about test scores and homework or they’ll stop talking. Ask about the things they’re interested in: recess, lunch, whose dating who and who made the soccer team. Don’t interrogate. But draw them out and laugh with them about the crazy parts of their day. If something happened that was sad, validate and empathize.
- Give them your undivided attention. In today’s world of social media, this is bigger challenge now than when I was raising my kids. It’s easy to jump on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, or to read texts on your phone when they’re talking. Instead, set social media and phones aside when they’re talking. Listen. Look at them. Give them the gift of your full presence. Too often as a parent I gave in to the temptation of multi-tasking. Once you give them 30 minutes of undivided attention, you can do the laundry or jump on Facebook or whatever else needs to be done.
- Monitor your body language. This is particularly important if you’re listening to your teen talk. If your face looks shocked, they’ll stop talking. Trust me. I learned this the hard way. I really struggled with this one because I have a very readable face. Consequently, it was very hard to fake not being shocked. I finally learned that my teens talked more freely when I was driving because I was focused on the road and not looking directly at them!
There’s so much more I could say, but hey, I have great news—there’s a lot more in my new book, How to Listen So People Will Talk. You can pre-order it now!
The book will be available August 1, just in time before you kids start school. Here’s why you need to take this listening thing seriously: how you listen now will determine how much they will talk later!
Question: What’s the best question you’ve ever asked your kids?