Are Your Conversations With Other Adults Hurting Your Children?

We need to bring back some old adages you don’t hear much any more. One I always thought was a little strange was, “Little pitchers have big ears”. I have to admit, I am still not sure what jugs with big handles have to do with the topic of eavesdropping children, but the adage should be repeated often to parents and other adults. Not following this wisdom (from a man named John Heywood in 1546) leads to more brokenness in children than most adults understand.

Many adults believe that conversations with other adults in front of small children are not understood by little ones. Other adults think that if they can’t physically see a child, then the child can’t hear them. Or that if children are engaged in an activity, they aren’t aware of what is being said. Most adults seem to have the mistaken belief that children will understand their sarcastic comments as humor or that the adults were just upset and venting their feelings rather than actually believing what they are saying to their peers. Or more commonly these days, they believe social media posts about their frustrations in parenting will never be seen by their children.

The truth is that little pitchers do indeed have big ears. They are very much aware of many of the negative things you say and write about them. If they don’t have access to some of that information now, they will seek it out or stumble upon it when they are a little older. Those words said in an attempt to update friends and relatives, to get advice from other parents or as an attempt at being funny can negatively impact your children’s self image and undermine your relationship with them. Sadly, for some children, those comments can also begin destroying their faith in God.

Most of the time you will never know this has happened. They won’t usually come to you and complain that you were talking about them in negative ways to your friends. They just hurt emotionally. If it happens often enough, those hurts will start collecting and grow into emotional scars that may impact them for the rest of their lives. (At times, one particularly hurtful comment can have the same impact.) No matter how pure your motives may have been or whether or not they understood the conversation or its context correctly, damage has been done. Damage you can’t repair, because you don’t even realize it is there.

This doesn’t mean you can’t vent in healthy ways to friends or family or get their parenting advice. In fact, you need to do those things to be the best Christian parent possible. The key is choosing the times and places these conversations occur. If you are about to say anything about your children that may sound to them as critical or may make them think that you somehow don’t love them, please be 100% sure they will not hear you or read what you have written or posted now, or in the future. (Note: If you are remembering past negative social media posts, take some time to delete them.)

If you realize they may have heard you or they confront you, apologize. Empathize with them by imaging how you would feel if you heard someone important to you talking about you negatively. Make amends if it is possible. Regularly say positive things about your children to other adults when you know they can hear you. Put affirming love notes on their pillow or in their lunch box. You love and adore your children – even when they frustrate or upset you. Just make sure they know it, too.

Is Your Parenting Style Undermining Your Children’s Faith?

Have you ever met someone who had been raised by an abusive father or had an absentee father and struggled to understand God, the father accurately? Or maybe you have experienced this struggle yourself. The Bible tells us God is our father and if we have not had a father who accurately reflects God’s image, then we may struggle to truly understand the character of God.

Your parenting style in general can also become a stumbling block to the faith of your children. You don’t have to be an abusive or absentee father to negatively impact your children’s faith, and you don’t have to be a perfect parent to strengthen it. You just need to monitor your style of parenting a bit more carefully.

There are three basic parenting styles – authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. They are on a continuum, but most parents fall primarily into one of the three styles. These styles, in turn, tend to model for our children how we believe God “parents” us. When our style doesn’t accurately reflect God’s parenting style, our children grow up with serious misunderstandings about God, scripture, Christianity, obedience and other areas impacting their faith. So what does that look like in “real life”?

The authoritarian parent is the classic “children should be seen and not heard” parent. They are strict, with lots of rules and consequences that can be harsh. There may or may not be other toxic parenting behaviors present. Authoritarian parents are not emotionally close to their children and would not be considered particularly loving or nurturing in the ways they interact with them. When their children want to talk with them, they are often unavailable physically and/or emotionally. Children raised in these home environments often view God as overly strict, mean, judgmental and unloving. They may reject God because they cannot bare more strict rules and harsh consequences from a God who seems to be far away and uncaring. If they attend church as adults, it may be primarily from a sense of fear and/or duty only.

At the other end of the parenting spectrum is the permissive parent. These parents have few if any rules. If a child misbehaves or gets in trouble at school for breaking rules, not only are no consequences given (consequences aren’t given for disobeying parents, because there are few rules to disobey), but these parents may even rail against the teacher for having rules, enforcing them and giving consequences when those rules are broken. Children raised in these homes often reject God because He has rules, expects our obedience and hands out consequences for rebellion. They, too, may describe God as harsh. If they attend church as adults, they tend to only see God as a loving giver of blessings and reject any or all of God’s commands – even when they clearly appear in scripture. They may also reject the idea that there is a hell or that anyone deserves to go there for rebelling against God.

Authoritative parents are what one might call moderate parents. They are often strict, but their rules are in their children’s best interest. These parents are willing to discuss rules and boundaries and may adapt some of them as children grow older. Their rules are consistently enforced and just consequences given for rebellion. Authoritative parents are physically and verbally affectionate and nurturing. They listen to their children with respect, but expect respect in return. They apologize when they make a mistake and they forgive their children when they repent. They are the most reflective of how the Bible portrays the character of God and how He treats us. Children in these homes are most likely to not only remain faithful, but also obey God’s commands (as much as possible) out of respect and love. They are most likely to be productive Christians – serving others and sharing their faith. They tend to have an image of God that most accurately reflects scripture, accept God’s commands as Truth and understand Heaven and Hell are real – as are the eternal consequences for a rejection of God and His commands. Children raised in these homes are also more likely to see the wisdom in God’s commands and view them as a way God protects them from the natural negative consequences of disobeying them.

It’s important to be honest about your parenting style. Ask close friends and relatives which parenting style best describes you. Think about your parents’ parenting style – yours is probably a close replica or the exact opposite. If your children are older, ask them. Or think about how you view God and how your children see Him and which parenting style that view matches..

If your style is not authoritative, make necessary changes. Apologize to your children, as changing your style will impact them. Make sure the ways in which you describe God and discuss His commands is an accurate reflection of scripture and not a response to how you were parented. Being an authoritative parent is best for your children in general, but it can also make them more likely to be faithful Christians as adults.

What Your Children Wished You Knew

It takes a lot of time and effort to have the type of relationship with your children that they feel comfortable telling you anything and everything. Some of you may be wondering if it is really worth that much trouble. After all, won’t they come tell you anything that is really important?

Sadly, children and teens who aren’t comfortable sharing the every day things with their parents also often refuse to share the more important things – unless they have reached a state of panic. Even then, the news is filled with teens who committed suicide or ran away rather than deal with a parent’s reaction to troubling news.

So what are the types of conversations your children desperately want to have with you, but may be afraid to ask? It differs from child to child, but here are some common themes.

  • When they fear they have made a major mistake. Your kids need to know that even if their choices make you angry, you are still there to love them and help them figure out what God wants them to do next. They will still be nervous, but are more likely to tell you rather than add more bad choices to the mix.
  • That they don’t feel very lovable or likable. This can be particular bad during the teen years when popularity and dating become more important to many young people. Yes, they will probably respond that you have to say nice things because you are their parent, but hearing them can still help get them over a rough patch.
  • They are really tempted by a particular sin. Be empathetic. Help them devise strategies. Avoid lecturing – they already know it is wrong, they just need your help with developing more self control.
  • Someone they know is pressuring them to do something sinful and the pressure is becoming too intense to resist. Once again, empathy and brainstorming strategies is what they need most. Depending upon the situation, you may also want to discuss what types of people really make the best friends and how to find more of those people and fewer peers who pressure them to do something they know is wrong.
  • That they have doubts about God, Christianity or something in the Bible. Studies have found that it is not the doubts that destroy the faith of a young person, but the unanswered doubts. If you don’t make it safe to share their doubts and questions with you, they will turn to other – quite probably less reliable sources – for answers. Sources that Satan will often make sure do undermine their developing faith.
  • That they are worried about the future. This could be a worry about something coming up soon or a more distant concern about college, careers or marriage. Reassuring them that God has a plan and teaching them how to begin discerning what it is, can help ease their concerns.
  • That something bad will happen and you will no longer be there to love and support them. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but do remind them of other supportive family and friends, as well as their church family, and of course God. Reassure them that as much as you can control the situation, you will be there to be a loving, supportive parent.
  • That you and your spouse will get a divorce. Some children are extremely sensitive about any tension in the house. It makes them great at ministry when they are older, because it usually means they are empathetic, but it can make them overly concerned when you and your spouse have a disagreement. If your marriage is healthy, and you and your spouse have agreed divorce is not an option for you, then reassure your child. If there are serious problems in your marriage, be honest in age appropriate ways and avoid making them take sides.
  • That something you do regularly pushes their buttons and makes them angrier than they want to be. This is a tough one, but if it’s a favorite phrase you use when correcting them or some other minor adjustment – and they ask respectfully – then you may want to consider complying. Remember, the calmer they are when you are giving advice or correction, the more likely they may be to listen and even heed what you are saying.

No matter how badly your children may or may not want to tell you these things, pressing them to do so can backfire. Be available. Reassure them you want to listen to them when they have something they want you to know. Stay calm and listen actively, no matter how upset you may be internally – you can correct later, but overreacting will shut down communication quickly. You can even take the roundabout approach with some teens and read this list to them and ask them what other things they or their friends might wish their parents knew. Regardless, make it safe and convenient for your kids to talk to you. It can make parenting a whole lot easier.

Breaking Down Communication Barriers With Your Kids

When I teach parenting classes, there is always at least one parent who mentions trouble communicating with their children. There are a lot of different reasons why communication barriers are metaphorically built between parent and child. These issues need to be addressed at some point, but there are things you can do to start lowering those walls before they become almost insurmountable.

Fair warning, if you have problems communicating, this will take a lot of time and effort on your part. You will have to be patient, persistent and change some bad habits. You may have to spend a lot of time in scripture and prayer to handle your conversations in the ways God would want. If you want your children to be faithful, productive Christians as adults, however, you absolutely must do this difficult work. If not, it may be very difficult for them to grow up to be who God wants them to be.

You may already be doing some of these things and just need to add the others. These are not necessarily sequential, although an effort was made to address them in a somewhat logical manner.

  • Ask your child what he or she believes is the reason the two of you have difficulties communicating. Emphasize that you want your child to be honest, but respectfully so. In other words, describe the issues without calling names, etc. At this point, listen and take notes if necessary. Do not respond – especially if you feel defensive or angry. Ask for time to consider what was said and to pray about it. Thank your child for being honest with you – even if you feel like crying or getting angry.
  • Apologize and state what you will change to improve communication in the future. Chances are your child will need to make some changes, too. Right now though, your child needs to know he or she was heard and you are willing to do your part. Those things you don’t agree with in your child’s assessment, for now just seek to understand. “Can you help me understand” is a great way to start. Sometimes you might agree if a better explanation is given or you may understand how to give a better reply. Once again, becoming defensive or angry at this point will shut down the process. If you believe your child is being unrealistic or excessively harsh about a point, merely state that you would like to revisit that particular point at a later date.
  • Explain to your child that you will both need to put in some effort to improve communication between you, but you want to start with easy conversations. Ask your child whether he or she would prefer these first conversations to be written or verbal. Set aside a special time for these regular talks or agree to switch the same blank journal with questions and answers back and forth at specific times. Try not to go more than a few days between attempts. You are working to establish better habits, so every day is ideal.
  • Find questions that will help you get to know each other, reveal new things about each of you, but are basically non- threatening. You can find lists of potential questions online. They can be silly or serious, secular or spiritual, but in general should make you feel closer by knowing each other’s answers.
  • Don’t be afraid to share what life was like for you at their age – but honestly. This is not a time to brag about all the laws you broke, nor is it the time to make yourself look perfect. Share some of those silly, somewhat embarrassing moments that happen to all of us when we are growing up. Rather than losing respect for you, they will begin to know and love you as a real person.
  • Spend time together doing activities, like hiking, that make talking easier. You don’t have to pepper your child with questions… just let the conversation flow.
  • Listen actively and respond thoughtfully. You cannot allow anything to distract you from what your child is saying, or you will have to begin the entire process again. The next time will be even more difficult. Think before responding to anything your child says or asks. This is not the time for flip, poorly thought out comments.
  • When your child begins to open up and share with you, do not over react. This is a critical point in the process. Your child is beginning to trust you again, but if you over react, the communication may cease and be even more difficult to begin again. If the issue does need to be addressed or corrected, ask for time to think and pray before responding.
  • Be respectful of one another when speaking to each other. This means no yelling, name calling, cursing. It also means avoiding “you are” statements and words like “always” and “never”.
  • Ask your child for the “hot button” words and phrases you use and stop using them. We all tend to say the same things when angry. For those living with us, those little catch phrases can just add to the annoyance. Make the effort to change your words and there is one less thing to make a conversation even more stressful.
  • Avoid power struggles – even verbal ones. These are your child’s attempts to make you a peer instead of a parent. The key is staying as calm as possible and refusing to play the game. At times it may mean taking a break from the conversation for both of you to calm down and talking again later.
  • In severe cases, you may need a mediator or a professional counselor to help you. If you keep trying the things above and things aren’t at least slowly improving, you may need professional help. Don’t give up, get help.

Communication between you and your children is essential to Christian parent well. When it breaks down, you must be the one who initiates the effort to improve it. If not, you may one day find you and your children are strangers.

Are Your Kids a Burden or a Blessing?

The Bible makes it clear in John 16:21 and other passages like Psalm 127:3-5 that children are a blessing from God. Yet when your child has just vomited all over you or has disobeyed you for what seems like the 100th time in an hour, it doesn’t always feel like a blessing. In fact, many parents seem to want to spend as much time away from their children as possible.

Did you know a huge part of resilience is having a nurturing relationship with a parent? Do you also realize that being a faithful Christian requires a good deal of resilience? To your children, that nurturing relationship is only real if they feel loved and liked by you – and not in the almost academic way some people describe it – “I know my parents love me, even though they don’t know how to show it.” That may be a mature understanding of the situation, but it doesn’t feel like love to the child having to say it. And resilience depends on feeling loved and supported emotionally.

Sadly, it’s often the parents whose children fall into this unfortunate category who will deny or diminish the importance of making their children feel like they are a blessing to their parents. Hopefully all parents love their children, but if you are communicating you believe parenting them or they themselves are a burden, they don’t feel loved. And that’s a huge problem.

Are you communicating to your children that they are a blessing or a burden to you? Answer these questions and you will have a better idea.

  • Do you regularly complain about your children to others?
  • Do you describe your children in negative terms to them or others – using words like prickly, lazy, annoying, clingy, etc.?
  • Do you let out a sigh or roll your eyes when they ask for your attention?
  • Do you look at your phone or appear otherwise distracted when they are talking to you?
  • Do you regularly talk about needing a break from being with your kids/parenting?
  • Do you regularly work long hours or hang out with friends multiple times in a week to give yourself a break from parenting?
  • Do you regularly complain about how parenting is holding back your career?
  • Do you regularly tell your children to “get off” you or to “stop clinging” to you?
  • Do you sign your children up for activities and camps primarily to give yourself a break?
  • Do you regularly tell them you can’t wait until school starts or they move out of your house?
  • Do you rarely hug them or tell them you love them?
  • Do you avoid doing things like playing games with them or reading to them – especially if it is a favorite of theirs, but definitely not of yours?
  • When they disobey, do you make it personal by saying they are bad, stupid or using other negative terms, rather than focusing on the poor choice?
  • Do you ever say things in anger like “I wish you had never been born”?
  • Do you regularly complain about how much money you are having to spend on them (outside of the context of them asking for extravagant gifts or complaining about high prices in general not in connection with having or not having children)?
  • Do you complain or pout when you give up doing something you wanted to do to care for or support them in some way?

How many ”yes” answers did you have? Everybody slips up once in awhile, but the goal should be to say ”no” to all of the questions. What do you need to do to change those ”yes” answers to ”no”?

Children are smarter than most adults give them credit for. They can see whether or not your eyes light up when you see them and whether you think of them as a blessing or a burden. Give your children the gift of acknowledging and being grateful for the blessings they are. Don’t let them go through life believing they are a burden to the people who should love them more than anyone else in the world.