FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Connecting With the Heart of Your Child

with Melissa Trevathan, Sissy Goff | March 6, 2009
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When your daughter asks, “Who am I? What do I want? Whom should I be?”, you’ll be ready to connect to her, with practical advice from Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • When your daughter asks, “Who am I? What do I want? Whom should I be?”, you’ll be ready to connect to her, with practical advice from Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

When your daughter asks, “Who am I? What do I want? Whom should I be?”, you’ll be ready to connect to her, with practical advice from Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff.

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Connecting With the Heart of Your Child

With Melissa Trevathan, Sissy Gof...more
March 06, 2009
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Melissa: We did a radio program – I think it was maybe about a year ago, and the announcer, at the end of it, said, "So, what you're saying is if parents do everything you all are talking about, their kids are going to turn out good?" 

Sissy: And, literally, it was in the last three seconds of the radio program.  The music was swelling in the back, and I was, "Wait!  Wait!  Wait!"  Screaming, "No, that's not what we're saying.  Yes, if we had a perfect world, but we're in a fallen world!"

Melissa: What we do want parents to hear is, "Yes, you have such impact on your children," and the quality of relationship is very important.  But you cannot directly change your child's heart.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 6th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Okay, maybe there is no strategy for raising perfect girls guaranteed, but your relationship with your daughter really does matter.  We'll talk more about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You raised two sons, four daughters, right?

Dennis: That's the rumor.

Bob: Would you say it's harder to raise boys or girls?

Dennis: Oh, no question.

Bob: Really?

Dennis: No doubt about it – two to one.

Bob: What?

Dennis: Four daughters.

Bob: Two to one, I see what you're saying.

Dennis: No, but it was harder to raise daughters.  Both Barbara and I had bigger challenges with our daughters than we did our sons.  I used to just take the boys to the deer woods.  We'd get involved in sporting events; take them off the streets into the woods where they can't get into trouble.  You know, there's not a lot of bad things that can happen to a boy in the woods, you know?

But the girls, I'm telling you, there's a lot of bad things happen in the mall.  I tried to go there and try to take them shopping, but we have a couple of counselors who know a little bit about what I'm talking about – Melissa Trevathan joins us on FamilyLife Today along with Sissy Goff.  Ladies, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Sissy: Thank you for having us.

Dennis: They are both counselors at Daystart Counseling Ministries in Nashville, and they've written a number of books.  One of them is "The Back Door to your Teen's Heart."

Now, Sissy, when you have a title like that, every parent who is listening right now who has either a 'tween who is a young person who is almost a teenager, or a teenager who wants to know where is the back door?

Sissy: I would say it probably resides in our creativity in how we connect with them.  Because I think what we do so often is kind of the obvious of, "I want to spend time with you today" or "We haven't talked in a long time.  It's really time that we sit down and talk" or what girls will say to me a lot in my counseling office is "I'm so tired of my mom picking me up from school and saying, 'How was your day?'"  Because every time, that is our question with a kid, they say, "Fine."  I mean, that's always the answer – "What did you do at school?"  "Nothing."

You know, there is only one answer for them with those questions.  And so I think the back door really is about us coming up with a different way to connect with them when they hit that place during adolescence where our voices get quieter with them, and they pull away from us a little bit, to find a new way to connect that really opens the door to their heart – to sound cheesy.

But Melissa has a quote, Melissa is my boss and mentor (inaudible), but she says to the degree that kids can predict you, they will dismiss you.  I met with a mother and daughter last week, and she – I was trying to get them to connect, and she had such a hard time stopping teaching her daughter.

Bob: The mother did?

Sissy: Yes, I mean, everything was a lesson.

Dennis: Guilty.

Bob: You've been there, done that?

Dennis: Guilty as charged.  In fact, I've been – it's been said of me that I'm still teaching our children when they're adults.  They said, "You're the teaching dad now," and the point is, they are saying, "Look, back off.  I just want a relationship with you."

And as you get the relationship with them, it is then that you have the opportunity to begin to address questions that they are grappling with, and you ladies, through your experience, multiple decades between the two of you with adolescents, you have found that there are four questions that young ladies are asking that we need to help them address. 

And so as we get through the back door, here are the questions that a parent needs to help them answer.

Sissy:  Who am I?  What do I want?  What should I do?  And Who do I want to be?

Bob: And we've already talked this week about "Who am I" and "What do I want."  "What should I do" is kind of a cousin of what do I want, isn't it?

Sissy: Yes.  "What should I do" sometimes is "What do I do with what I want?"

Bob: Oh, okay.

Sissy: We talked about it earlier in the week, but a lot of times, it's the barrage of influence they have coming at them from so many directions – the media, the different issues that are going on with kids today.

Bob: Are they talking about moral choices?  "Should I be a good girl or not?"

Sissy: Well, some of it's moral choices, but some of it's not just peer pressure but the pressure that they feel to be something that doesn't necessarily resonate with who they are, whether it's coming from media or it's coming from another kid, it can be any source.

Dennis: And so, as a parent, how do I help my daughter answer this question is a relevant, positive way that is authentic?

Melissa: Well, one is that, again, remembering it's the quality of relationship, and that is not teaching that – I think we talked earlier about Howard Hendricks, and I said one phrase that I remember that he talked about was that things are "caught better than taught."  And teaching is the most natural thing in the world to do, but we lose the kids as we're trying to teach them so much.

And so remembering that connecting – it's usually real simple.  "Let's go to Starbuck's for a moment," and whether they are responding or not, it's still us moving toward them and asking.

Sissy: I think, also, a big part of "What should I do" is realizing that kids' voices are going to be so loud that your voice is going to be quieter, and so it's not only having your voice answering the questions but making sure your child is with a group of kids that are reflecting the same kind of faith, the same type of choices you would want for her, so that she has other kids' voices saying, "You know, that guy, you need to dump him on the way," you know, or whatever it is, but it's other kids saying that.  Because it is so amazing.  In our counseling offices, I can say something to a child in individual counseling five times, but when I put her in a group counseling session, and another 15-year-old says it to her, the lights go on in a way that I can't make them.

Dennis: Okay, comment on this, then, Sissy.  What if you see your daughter off with the wrong crowd – how does that parent go about extracting her from – well, I'm going to use a powerful word – almost a "cult-like" power that peers can have over a young person, especially if it's not a good group.

Sissy: That's a great question and a really hard question, because I think if she's 12, it's probably very different than if she's 16.  And if she's 12, you have a lot more of an ability to say, "I don't trust those kids.  We're not going to do this anymore, and so you're just not allowed to spend time with them anymore."  If she's 17, I think what that does is make those kids look that much more appealing, and you can't – you can stop her from spending time with them casually outside of school, but you can't stop her from being with them in school.

And so I think there's probably a lot of redirecting that can take place of, "Hey, we haven't seen so-and-so in a while.  Why don't you have so-and-so over?"  I mean, things like that.  In 16 years of counseling girls, I have had one girl who was glad that her parents extracted her from a social situation – one.  She didn't know how to stand up for herself.  This girl had put heinous pictures of her on the Internet.  This girl was making really bad choices.  Her parents were concerned and finally stepped in and said, "You're done.  You're finished with her."

And she said to me – she was furious with them, but when she came into my office, she said, "I didn't know how to get away from her, and I wanted to," but she had too much pride to say it to her parents.

Bob: Do you encourage parents in situations where they see a child in this kind of a social setting to change schools, move to a new town?  I mean, I'm thinking of those kinds of dramatic effects that say, "Look, we're going to extract in a major way," and I can hear a child right now going, "I'm not leaving that school.  I'm not moving out of this town."  Do you take drastic measures like that?

Melissa:  I think that certainly is a choice, and sometimes that's what we say.  Separation can be what is the right choice for some kids.  But every child – and I think I really want parents that are listening to this – every child is different.

And we did a radio program, I think it was maybe about a year ago, and the announcer, at the end of it said, "So what you're saying is if parents do everything you all are talking about, their kids are going to turn out good."

Sissy: And, literally, it was in the last three seconds of the radio program.  The music was swelling in the back, and I was, "Wait!  Wait!  Wait!"  Screaming, "No, that's not what we're saying.  Yes, if we had a perfect world, but we're in a fallen world!"

Melissa: What we do want parents to hear is, "Yes, you have such impact on your children.  You affect your children," and the quality of relationship is so very important.  But you cannot directly change your child's heart, and your decisions – some of it is going to be trial and error.  You're going to try different things and talk to different parents, but we're not saying, "This works."  We're saying, "We want you to be aware of some choices you can have."

Bob: I want to ask you about the fourth question that you've got here – "What do I want to be?"  And I want to put a little different spin on that question, if I can, by just giving you some observations from the Scriptures that I looked at recently.  You know, it occurred to me that the only story we have in all of the Bible about Jesus between birth and ministry is when He is 12 years old.  And He is with His family, and they have gone down from Nazareth down to Jerusalem, and they are there for Passover, which is what Jewish families did.  You go down to Jerusalem for Passover. 

And He's 12.  He's about to be bar-mitzvahed.  He is about to be entered into manhood.  Again, this is the only thing any of the Gospel writers include about Jesus's childhood from birth to the beginning of His ministry.  So there is something significant going on here.

And if you go down for Passover, there is a day where you get up, and Dad says, "We're going to the temple, because today is the day that we're taking the lamb, we're going to have our lamb sacrificed.  We'll come back home, we'll cook Passover dinner," part of the holiday, the family ritual.  So here is 12-year-old Jesus getting up with Joseph to go down to the temple, and I don't know if this is right, but I have to think Jesus has been studying the Scriptures as a little boy, He's been taught, He's learning, He's growing, and He's been learning about the fact that God is going to send Messiah one day to the nation of Israel, the Deliverer to forgive the nation and lead them. 

And He walks into the temple, and He's watching these lambs be sacrificed, and I wonder if it's starting to dawn on Him at that moment, "I wonder if that's me?"  I don't think Jesus knew at age 3, "I'm the Messiah."  I think that was a growing revelation for Him.  He's a human.

So – "I wonder if that's me?   I wonder if God's called me to be Messiah?  I wonder if I’m the chosen one."  And He's watching the lambs be sacrificed and thinking well, what are the implications?  Well, if I understand Isaiah 53, right, here is Jesus thinking, "If that's me, this can get hard." 

So it comes the time to leave and go back to Nazareth, and Jesus is back down at the temple asking questions.  "I have some questions" – He's still learning.  It's all dawning on Him at this point.  But the question that's going on in His mind is – "Is this what God has called me to be?"

So I reflected on that.  I thought, as a parent, we often say to our children, "You know, you can be anything you want to be."  And, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that maybe what we ought to be saying, as parents, is, "You know, we need to figure out what God has called you to be."  Not "You can be anything you want to be."  That puts the focus in the wrong direction.  God's got a plan, a destiny, a purpose for your life.  We need to be figuring out what is it that God's called me to be, and how can we get you there.  Because I think that's what was going on with Jesus at age 12.

Dennis: Yeah, in Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 10 supports that, Bob – "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."  And so as you look at young people today and especially young ladies, and help them answer this question – "Who do you want to be?"  How do you help them answer that, Sissy?

Sissy: Well, I think a lot of adolescents live in a very reactionary state; that they're not thinking about who I want to be and the kind of person that I want to be.  They are thinking, "I'm going to be the opposite of what my parents are telling me to be.  My parents said to do this, and so I'm going to do that just because my parents said to do this, not because it's what I'm choosing for myself."

And who – Dean Allender has a quote that says, "You are the only you this world will ever know, and something about you is meant to make something about God known in a way that no one else can."  And that's something we talk about with kids – that you are the only you, and we talk about the fact that they matter and what that looks like specifically for them and how to even bring that about – that sense of confidence that really God made me with gifts that nobody else has.

Melissa: I think what Sissy is saying there – that you and the only you this world will ever know, and there is something about you that God can use to make known to this world that no one else can.  Those kids hear those words, and it is silent.

Dennis: And it seems like the whole world is trying to rob them of their courage that they can make a difference, because all the peer pressure is to blend in and not be a unique person but to just be one of the human herd.

Melissa: Right.

Dennis: And this seems to be most powerful among young ladies, and it takes, I think, a parent as well as others speaking truth to a young lady, calling them to this uniqueness.  And I was thinking of things we tried to do as our older kids grew up and left the house, and they came back, we would catch them on the way in the door and say, "You need to know, your sister is struggling with some stuff and, you know, would you come alongside, maybe take her out on a Coke date and just kind of encourage her and speak the truth to her about who she is and the difference she can make?"

Or if you don't have aunts or uncles that live near you that could take one of your kids out or go on a shopping date with them or get a Coke or a Starbuck's – find a friend who is kind of an aunt or an uncle, maybe a former Sunday school teacher when they were in youth group or something – to single them out and just …

Bob: Make them feel special.

Dennis: Yeah, just grab them for a few moments and do something relational with them, but speak the truth of what is – what the Scripture declares about each and every person.

Bob: You know, one of the things that we tried to do with our kids, and, in fact, my boys got real tired of hearing me say this over and over again, but I would say, "Do you see anybody who is five to 10 years older than you are that you look at and say, 'When I'm that age, I'd like my life to look like that?'"  And I'm just trying to help them catch a vision of where they think they're going, right?

And I'd get them to think about that, and then I'd say, one of the key questions you need to ask is if that's what I want my life to look like, how do I get from here to there so that they can begin to think strategically about their future rather than just reactionary, impulsively, about what do I feel like today?  Instead think, "Where am I going?  Where do I want to be?"  It's answering this question – what do I want to be and how do I get from here to there?  And, again, I'd pull them back and say, "It's not just what do you want to be but who has God called you to be?"

Dennis: That's right.

Sissy: There are some studies today, too, out on kids and how the most impacting thing in a child's self-confidence is for them to give of themselves.  And so I really believe part of that, too, is putting them in places not just where they're hearing great truth about themselves from other people they respect, but where they are acting on that and having to love or care or build a Habitat house or whatever it is.

There was a girl who came to Daystar probably six years ago, and she had been hospitalized because she had tried to commit suicide, and when she came to us, she was – it was back in the Gothic days – not the real Gothic days, but she was dressed Gothic in all black and her hair in her face, and she was so depressed, and she was in group all spring talking about just wrestling with this severe depression.  And then over the summer, she went to camp and accepted Christ and came home a different kid.  I mean, she just had this light that was profound.

And one of the girls in group said to her – I did not know this at the time – but one of the girls in her group said to her, "You are a bridge of hope to me, spanning where I feel like I am not to where I can be."  And what happened was five years later this girl's father called me and said, "My daughter has decided she wants all the money for her Christmas gifts this year to go to Daystar."  Not because I had anything to do with it as a counselor but because she knew that she made a difference to somebody else, and she said that to me when she gave the gift.  She said, "I never knew God could use my life and my story," but she saw it in light of giving.  And so I think that's a great place for us to pull our kids in and give them opportunities to see that they can make a difference.

Melissa: There are three words that we go back to, and this is very simple, but I love this – it's soften, shape, and strengthen – and so often, again, the natural tendency is going to be to shape a child.  The softening takes more place in the relationship, and the shaping is the teaching.  But the strengthening comes when they are able to give back and feel like, "My life does make a difference," because so often we are treating a 17-year-old, or relating to a 17-year-old in the same way we did when they were 13.  And our 17-year-olds begin to be very bored, and I love what you're saying – is they have something to give.

Dennis: They do, and I think there are a lot of needs in the culture today that are fully within the reach of an older adolescent young lady.

Melissa: Oh, yes.

Dennis: All the needs of orphans around the world, 130 million orphans – there are young ladies who could make a difference in their church to help begin to raise up an orphan care, foster care, or adoption ministry in their local church.

Bob: Well, you remember talking with Josh and Brett Harris, who wrote the book, "Do Hard Things," and that's their whole thesis – that there are a lot of things that teenagers can do and ought to be called to do and challenged to do, and part of our job, as moms and dads, is to set their sights on that direction and then call them up.

Dennis: And put them in the path of people who are going to challenge them to great things.  And I just want to thank you, Sissy and Melissa, for challenging young ladies through your counseling ministry in Nashville, Tennessee, and your writing of your numerous books.  Thanks for your work with young people, your help with parents, you are an invaluable resource to the next generation.  Thanks for your ministry.

Sissy: Thank you so much.

Melissa: Thank you.

Bob: Well, and thanks for writing the book, "All You Need to Know About Raising Girls," which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If our listeners are interested in getting a copy, go online at  The information about the book is available there.  You can order online as well, if you'd like.  That's or call 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and when you call we can make arrangements to have copies of this book sent out to you.

And, with that, we've got to wrap things up for tonight.  Thanks for being with us this week.  We want to invite you back next week when we're going to hear a couple of exciting stories for younger listeners.  We'll hear the story of "The Princess and the Kiss," and "The Story of the Squire and the Scroll."  That ought to be fun.  I hope you can tune in and be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great week.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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