Open Communication with your Children
My daughter is 4 and as I write this another one is in the oven, so my perspective is from a child’s (mine) who grew up in a wonderful family of what I would call healthy and very open communication.
I grew up in a pastor’s family where my father was a senior pastor and my mother was a youth pastor. This could have been a disaster for a child resulting in major rebellion, however my parents seemed to get a lot of it right! My sister and I are both in full time ministry and we have an incredible tell our parents anything and I mean anything relationship and had that while growing up. Here are some things that may be helpful for you as a parent as I thought back to what my parents did right.
- Not Two Faced
I believe it is crucial to have consistency in your personality. Be the same person in your family life as you are outside the home. If I had witnessed two different conflicting personalities from my parents when they were at church leading to when they were at home, there would have been automatic trust lost. I instinctively wouldn’t trust my leaders in my home.
- A Circle of Protection
There needs to be a healthy sense of “family against the world”. There should be the protection that they feel safe within your family unit. I didn’t feel pressure from my parents to be the perfect little pastor’s kid. And I didn’t really feel that from the church. If it was there, I was protected from it. There has to be that separation from the world that makes the child feel safe. And so within the home there needs to be safety as well. This includes not being sarcastic within the family unit even among siblings and no putting down or making fun of each other. There can be fun joking and teasing that isn’t degrading. Also, be careful how you talk about your kids out in public. Parents don’t realize how damaging it is when their children overhear common talk among mothers/fathers of how their child is so this or so that. I didn’t hear my parents say things about me to their peers in a negative or sarcastic tone. In fact I have heard my mom stand up for me if I was misunderstood and they would brag and protect me.
- A Trust Bond
I felt that I could come to my parents about ANYTHING. Literally anything! And they wouldn’t put me on the judgment seat or make me feel bad or punish me. My parents knew how far I ever went in a dating relationship, were the people I felt safe saying my first big cuss word around (because didn’t want my friends to hear), knew some of my bad thoughts that I didn’t know how to deal with etc… All because, I tested the level of openness with them and they proved trustworthy. We currently are trying to teach our daughter at 4 how to tell the truth by asking her if she had participated in a certain action or behavior (knowing all along, the truth). When she lies about it, we tell her we need her to tell the truth. We tell her, “please tell us the truth and you won’t get in trouble, however you will get in trouble if you lie.”
- Activities that Help Foster Communication
We tried to have a practice of each night meeting somewhere and having family prayer and a devotion. My parents let us have some freedom in what we read and who prayed first, second, third etc…so we had ownership. But this closed out the night with togetherness and a sense of security with of course the good night tuck in and saying I love you. We had devotions even when we were teenagers.
- Family Night
We also had a weekend night that was reserved for family night. It could vary on the night but it was usually a time where we helped pick the activity. This became so important that we occasionally turned down friends because of this time together. We had great conversation at many restaurants and bonded as a family unit. It’s a family date!! So date your family not just your spouse!
- Kid’s Sports and Events
My parents tried to make our events priority. So I knew and always felt their support! This is huge! My dad said that he learned it the hard way by having his dad, who was a minister; have to miss his events because of work. Even as early as age 4, my husband worked his schedule around for my daughter’s little tiny preschool pumpkin carving night to start a good habit and make her feel loved.
- Be Present Emotionally
When your children are sharing with you try to make sure you give them your full attention. I realize this isn’t always possible like in a busy grocery store or at church etc…However make sure that you make time to come back to them with that thought and look them in the eye to make sure they get that you are listening! This is HUGE with teenagers, they can tell right away when you aren’t really present, and they might never say anything…they will just mentally or subconsciously take note.
- Family Dinners
When talking about the above point of being present. Family night dinners are an excellent way of being present and making sure that your children are being heard. This was a time where we as a family sat around and told about our day and shared with each other. My mom is a very busy person, always doing for others. And the dinner table was a great place to capture her full attention. Even better, when my mom worked full time and dad wanted to relieve her, we would go to a restaurant and have great family time together talking, with no dinner to set out, prepare or clean up.
- Know Your Kid’s Love Language
Even before the book came out, my parents knew that they had to parent us a little differently. They were intuitive enough to know that we needed different things. Try detecting this early by asking them, “How do you know that mommy and daddy love you?” I would have probably said, because they tell me they love me or spend time with me.
Parenting takes work, yet it is our most important ministry. Those we minister to in our churches will often forget us when we move on, but our kids and our family and how we minister to them will impact numerous generations to come. Make sure your family is your top ministry priority.