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.

Overcoming the Fear of Tough Christian Parenting Conversations

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is a parent alive that gets excited about having a difficult conversation with their children. Whether you need to share disappointing news, correction or an explanation about God’s instructions on subjects like sex, effective Christian parenting means having lots of conversations that just aren’t fun. Often, the very idea of having one of those conversations leaves a knot in our stomachs and a feeling of panic setting in.

Fear encourages procrastination. Why not try to postpone something that might cause embarrassment, hurt feelings or conflict? Who knows? The conversation may be easier after a good night’s sleep, finals are over or everyone is in a better mood. The problem is that procrastination often delays these tough conversations indefinitely, if not permanently.

The problem is that your children desperately need you to have these conversations with them. They need you to teach them what God wants them to do, help them create plans for obeying Him and even help them practice using these important scriptures/skills. They need you to overcome your fear, because often they are even more afraid than you are. They know you have their best interests at heart and will give them godly advice. But let’s be honest. Asking your parents questions about topics like sex is not high on most young people’s list of fun things to do.

So what can you do to push past the fear and have the tough conversations you have been avoiding?

  • Pray. Not just while you are mustering your courage, but also right before you start speaking to your child and in the process of speaking to him or her. Don’t forget to pray afterwards that your child will seriously consider and heed any godly wisdom or advice you shared.
  • Read scripture. Not just any Bible verses, but seriously study everything you can find in the Bible about the topic of the conversation. At times, you may even need to re-read every parenting verse you can find as well. Don’t forget all of the verses that counsel how to have tough conversations with others.
  • Ask for help from strong Christians. You are probably not an expert on the topics you must cover, which is another reason for your fears. Ask your minister, elders or a Bible class teacher for guidance. It is likely they have had the same conversation you are dreading many times and can share what they have found makes the other person more receptive. Don’t forget parents who have raised children who are strong, productive Christians as adults. These parents have done a lot of things right. You may find they avoided the conversation themselves. Or they may have had it with their children and even variations of the conversation with their children’s friends, too. (Successful Christian parents often also mentor one or more of their children’s friends.)
  • For some topics, read ”polished” answers. These aren’t available for every tough conversation, but groups like Focus on the Family and strong books on Apologetics often provide well thought out answers to common questions children and teens have on specific topics. You don’t have to memorize it (and probably shouldn’t or it will sound like you are “fake”). Just either say the same thing in your own words or share the resource (when appropriate) with your child and then discuss it. (While reading something from a neutral third larty can help, your kids still need to discuss it with you.)
  • Practice. Ask your spouse or someone else who knows your child really well to practice with you. Have them play the part of your child and practice what you will say. Encourage them to react in more than one way so you can feel more comfortable regardless of the reaction you get from your child.

Difficult conversations will never be fun. Your children, however, need you to overcome your fears and have those tough conversations with them. It is a crucial aspect of Christian parenting.

Reducing Your Child’s Resistance

Have you ever asked, told or suggested your child do (or not do) something and watched as your child seemed to be determined to do the exact opposite? Were you surprised, because you knew your child had agreed what he or she was now trying to do wasn’t in his or her best interest? Call it push back, stubbornness, resistance or rebellion – it is actually a natural human tendency that is encouraged by Satan.

It is the same dynamic that was in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve only had one “don’t” command (as far as we know). Do not eat the fruit of that one tree. It didn’t take much effort on the part of Satan to convince them eating the fruit of that tree was the one thing they just had to do – even though they knew terrible things would happen when they did.

So how can you convince your children to obey you and God when Satan knows just what to say to get them to push back at rules, commands and godly advice? For many young people the key is framing the commands, rules and advice as God does (but man has somehow often missed as we teach others those commands).

The most important factor in parenting push back from children is the parenting style. Authoritarian parenting sets the ground for push back and rebellion. It consists of strict rules, harsh enforcement and a general lack of a loving relationship. Authoritarian parents often tend to portray God as authoritarian also, which is why many children of authoritarian parents also tend to reject God as adults.

Permissive parents rarely have rules and are unlikely to enforce the ones they have or give any consequences when rules are broken. This style leads children to believe they make the rules and can disobey rules created by anyone else if they don’t like them. Permissive parents tend to portray God as permissive which is why these children either grow up to reject God as unnecessary or to rewrite the Bible’s commands to their liking.

The authoritative parenting style is the least likely to encourage rebellion or even strong push back. While rules may still be strict, they are enforced consistently with firm, but loving consequences when broken. The relationship between parent and child is loving and the parent is attentive and nurturing. It is the style of parenting used by God as He parents us. The rules and advice in authoritative parenting are always in the best interest of the child. They aren’t based on the whim of the parent or in an attempt to micromanage the life choices of the child. The authoritative parent tends to portray God as authoritative and their children are the most likely to become strong, productive Christians as adults.

There is another factor in reducing push back, however. If you pay close attention, God never forces us to obey Him. He makes it clear we have free choice. The choice to obey or disobey is always ours. In the book The Catalyst, author Jonah Berger calls the tendency to push back, reactance. One of his suggestions is to give people the information they need to support the rule or advice, while also reminding them of their freedom to choose.

In Christian parenting, this often looks like having more in depth discussions about God’s commands. Why does God say it is a sin to get drunk? What are the negative things that can happen when one is drunk? When does one cross the line from drinking to drunk (and how close does one really want to get to that line – when God’s definition may differ from the legal one)? Couple these conversations with a reminder that while whether or not to drink alcohol at all will ultimately be a decision they make at age 21, for now it is against the law and not an option, and you can minimize push back.

For younger children, it can help to give them options that are all acceptable to you. When the child resists and suggests an unsuitable option, reminding him or her while that option isn’t available, there are still multiple options on the table, can reduce push back. For younger children, try to provide only two or three options on your list. If you offer too many choices, the child can become overwhelmed and revert back to the simple unacceptable choice.

Finally, with older children, try to understand their reasons for pushing back. You don’t have to agree with their thinking, but understanding what it is can often help you find a way to remove the obstacle to compliance. You may find it isn’t actually about your rule or advice, but rather the timing or presentation of it. Or it may be a misunderstanding one of you has about part of the conversation or terms used by you. Getting to the root of the problem can make it a lot easier for both of you to find common ground.

The answer to push back is never to give up setting appropriate boundaries or giving godly advice. Rather it is finding ways to communicate so that your child has no desire to push back at what is in his or her best interest.

Can the Hygge Fad Enhance Christian Parenting?

New trends often attempt to reverse issues caused by current trends. It’s no wonder then that after several years of living in an isolated, cold, high tech world, the Danish idea of hygge is becoming popular in the U.S. So what is hygge? Is it a good thing? More importantly, can it enhance your Christian parenting efforts?

Before we get too far, hygge is a Danish term pronounced hyoo gah (like the name Hugh and with a hard ”g” in the second syllable). There is no direct translation in English, which of course makes it feel more special and exotic to us. Probably the closest English words would be terms like cozy, homey, warm and fuzzy, comforting, embracing and the like.

While summers in Denmark are pretty close to my definition of perfect – not too hot and daylight hours that basically never end – the winters are cold and very, very dark. Areas like that in the U.S. often have extremely high rates of depression, but the Danes credit hygge for keeping their spirits high – consistently ranking as one of the happiest populations in Europe.

Just like many trends, hygge is not inherently good or evil. A lot depends upon the individual and how he or she incorporates the various common elements. For example, comforting foods and desserts play a large role in hygge. Eaten in moderation, there is nothing particularly wrong with cake. If someone trying to create a hygge environment eats an entire cake at every meal, however, then the sin of gluttony comes into play.

Personally, I believe adding elements of hygge to your home can create the loving Christian home atmosphere most of us want. It encourages children to want to stay home more and invite their friends over. It’s also great for entertaining and we know that hospitality is not only commanded in scripture, but leads to higher success rates in Christian parenting. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to make your home more hygge. If you do decide to purchase items, IKEA can provide low cost items that are hygge since many other Nordic countries have similar ideas.

For a quick primer in hygge, you can read the book The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. In general, you want low lighting – like that from candles and fireplaces. Unplug from technology and wear comfortable clothes – the fuzzier and cozier the better, so break out the sweats, pjs and fuzzy socks. Food and people play a big role in hygge. Wiking suggests having people bring the ingredients for a meal and everyone work together in the kitchen to cook it (and yes, I too wonder how big their kitchens are). The food tends to be comfort food, so think pasta, potatoes, stews and desserts – their favorites are cakes and chocolates.

The people element is where things get interesting. Think friends and family with everyone having equal time in conversation. There is a sense of gratitude, harmony and a lack of arguments and drama in conversations. Think the perfect Norman Rockwell painting or episode of The Waltons and you are probably close to completing the hygge environment.

This social element has become rare in the U.S. over the last few years because of an anger that tends to accompany any discussion of differences, so you may need to make some rules that everyone agrees to follow until warmth and civility become habits again. The hygge ”rules” should be standard in your home – even when you don’t have guests. Loving, supportive interactions should be the norm in your grateful home.

And don’t forget hugs! The word hygge is thought to be linguistically related to the word hug and hugs are certainly hygge. Not only do they communicate your love for your children, but hugs can reduce stress and lower levels of aggression and anxiety. The old standard was eight hugs a day per person – at a minimum. Even if more recent studies question the exact number, it is still a healthy goal for your family.

So give hygge a try in your home and see what happens. Avoid any possible pitfalls, like gluttony, and embrace the good points. You may find your family is happier and you have more opportunities to teach your children the things God wants them to know.