I Want My Kids To Talk To Me
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Do you struggle with getting your kids to talk to you? Becky Harling explains how to give them a voice.
I Want My Kids To Talk To Me
Becky: We want kids that are going to grow up to be adults that have a strong voice in this world. Our children are separate from us; they’re not always going to think like us. They’re going to have different ideas and opinions. We want to create places—maybe it’s the dinner table—where they can voice those opinions.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
I think this is going to be a really good conversation today.
Dave: Yes; because we’ve got somebody with us that’s going to help us learn how to listen, as parents, so our kids will talk. Sounds like a book title to me.
Ann: This is Becky Harling with us today. She wrote the book, as you said, Dave, How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.
Becky, you have four kids.
Ann: You’ve been married 41 years.
Ann: You have 14 grandkids.
Ann: That’s pretty amazing. But you’re also a speaker; you’re a leadership coach; you’re a trainer with the John Maxwell team. You’ve written several books, including How to Listen So People Will Talk. And you’ve spent more than 30 years teaching God’s Word to people all around the world. We really do have an expert today; I’m excited.
Dave: Yes, and we need help. [Laughter] I mean, our kids are older; but we’ve got grandkids now; and our listeners have kids of all different ages.
I’m going to ask you the question that’s on the title of your book: “How do we listen so our kids will talk?”
Becky: We have to be intentional. We have all messed up in this area, and it’s an area where God continues to grow us. God gave me a little negotiator; she was about three years old when I realized what a negotiator she was. She was tiny but mighty, as the pediatrician would say. [Laughter]
I just remember thinking, “Oh, my word, how can you be three years old and have so many opinions?” She had opinions on everything. From the time she was three, Steph would start conversations with: “Mom, don’t say no yet,” and then we would go into this long argument.
Dave: Is this your firstborn?
Becky: No! This is my third.
Becky: I treasure her—because you know what?—God had to change me. I grew up in a fairly abusive, authoritative home/very abusive, actually. Growing up in a Christian home, and being a Bible teacher, we all heard that your kids are supposed to be well-behaved/grow up to love Jesus. Unfortunately, that meant I talked a lot. I’m a teacher; right?—I had a lot to say/a lot of instructions—“Pick up your clothes,” “Make your bed,” “Get your homework ready.”
I needed to learn—
Ann: So this was you, as a mom.
Becky: Yes! I had to learn how to listen and to really tune in to what was coming from my kids’ hearts.
Dave: Was that something that you learned quickly? How did you learn it?
Becky: I did not learn it quickly. [Laughter] It’s a skill that we have to continue working on. In our home, my husband Steve and I realized we needed a key verse to shape our family; because we really didn’t know what we were doing as parents. We knew we wanted good kids; we knew we wanted a good relationship with them. Driving everything we did, we had two goals in mind: we wanted them to grow up to love Jesus; we knew: “We really can’t control that; we can only model that.” But we wanted them to grow up with a strong connection with us; that meant we had to learn how to listen.
The verse that we chose for our house is Proverbs 24:3 and 4: “By wisdom a house is built; through understanding it is established. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures [NIV].” We loved that verse, so our whole family system was built on those verses from Proverbs.
Ann: How did you break that down and think, “Okay, this is what we want it to look like now in our family”?
Becky: Well, there’s three couplets in that verse; so they became really goals for Steve, my husband, and I. The first one is “wisdom.” We knew, “Oh man, does it ever take wisdom.” In fact—funny story yesterday—we have a family text thread. My girls were all texting me, saying, “Oh my word, why didn’t you tell us parenting was going to be so hard?” [Laughter]
Ann: You have three daughters and a son.
Becky: I have three daughters and a son, yes.
Anyway, parenting is hard; but at the end of the day, parents have to go back to the Lord for wisdom; because each child is different. So we exercise that principle every day, getting on our knees, asking God for wisdom.
The second one is: “…through understanding it is established.” The idea behind understanding here is re-setting up something that’s been toppled over. For our kids, they go out in the world, and their emotions are toppled over: people say mean things to them or they get their feelings hurt. As a parent, when you listen to understand, you are helping to reestablish that child’s heart.
Then “Through knowledge, the rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” You’ve got to know your kids: “Who are their friends?” “What are the things your kids love?” “What do they gravitate to?”” What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?” Because when you can celebrate every child’s unique personality, then your home is filled with rare and beautiful moments.
Ann: Did you get to a point in parenting, where you thought, “I can’t do this apart from God”?
Becky: Oh, my word; I mean, we got to that point many times; right?! We had four kids; we didn’t know what we were doing! I can’t even tell you how many times I was at that point; like, “Lord, You’ve got to help, because I’m not doing this well.”
I remember one morning—it had been a rough morning with my little negotiator; and it had actually been a rough week with my little negotiator—I just remember getting up, really early, getting on my knees and sobbing before the Lord, and just saying, “I can’t do this. I’m messing her up for life. She’s going to need a lifetime of therapy. I just can’t do this. You’ve got to help me!” And the Lord did; He showed me that I had to keep my mouth shut more. [Laughter]
Ann: As our kids got older, I remember my older friend saying, “As your kids become teenagers, you just say less and you pray more.”
Becky: Oh, yes.
Ann: I remember thinking, “Really? Is that really necessary?” I realize, “Yes, that is really necessary to pray more.” So I was praying, all through the day,—
Becky: Oh, yes.
Ann: —all the time—
Becky: Me too.
Ann: —even when I woke up in the morning: “Lord, help me because I know I could blow it. I know I will blow it, and I need Your wisdom. I need Your help.”
Were there specific times that you felt like, “Oh, God really gave me some wisdom in this”?
Becky: I got home from a speaking event, and my little negotiator who was then 12, came bounding down the steps. She had an idea; she’s like, “Hi, Mom.” She said, “I really think I deserve a TV in my room.” [Laughter]
Now that went against everything Steve and I believed in as parents. I just remember thinking/I could feel a response coming on, and I/thankfully, I paused; I was like, “Lord, show me what to do.” I said, “You know what Steph?” I knew I didn’t have the energy to argue this; so I said, “Go up to the office, and I want you to write for me a proposal. It’s got to have good paragraph structure; it’s got to have good sentences, capitals, periods—the whole thing.”
She was all excited. She went up and worked for two hours on this proposal. She brought it down to Steve and I, and she presented her proposal. We excused her, so we could talk. Steve said, “Beck, I don’t know what we’re going to do; this is really good.” [Laughter] So we gave in, and we let her have a black-and-white TV in her room that only worked on two channels. She felt like she won. [Laughter]
Ann: What does she do now?
Becky: She is amazing. She has a very strong voice for the Lord; she’s on staff at her church. She has four kids—two of them are very strong negotiators—and I get to laugh. She’s working on her master’s degree in counselling.
Becky: Yes, she’s amazing
Ann: That’s really amazing though; because you thought, “The answer’s going to be ‘No’; we’re not going to let her have a TV in there.”
Ann: But what she had done, and her argument was so compelling,—
Ann: —that you just saw, “We have to.” But I like the idea that it had two channels and was black and white. [Laughter]
Becky: I know; I know. [Laughter]
Now, I tell parents: “Hey, if you have a negotiator—if they’re grammar school age, or junior high, or even teen agers—learn to use the power of a proposal, because it gives you time to pray while they’re working on that proposal.”
Ann: That’s really wise.
Becky: —and it gives them a voice.
Dave: Yes, I was just going to say: “It gives them a voice.” Your first chapter is “Give Them a Voice.”
Dave: A lot of us would have just said, “No, they don’t have a voice. They’re not even—they’re going to ask—and it’s over.” But I mean, that’s wisdom.
Dave: You just modeled wisdom, understanding, knowledge. [Laughter] Seriously, I don’t know if I would have ever done that.
Ann: I think that is/I mean, that was from God.
I had a situation that I’ve shared before. It was when our son was 13. He was in a bad mood before school, which then made me mad. We get in this argument, and I tell him his privileges are gone for the weekend. I get in the car to drive him to school. Now, I feel bad; because I had over- reacted, which I can do that quite often.
Dave: Oh, every once in a while.
Becky: We all can. [Laughter]
Ann: I tell him, “CJ, I’m really sorry. I overreacted. Let’s just talk about this before we get to school.” He will not talk. That’s the thing that drives me most crazy of anything when you can’t have a conversation, because I want to have that conversation. We’re driving; I say, “Hey, don’t just shut down. Let’s really talk about what happened. What were you feeling? What were you thinking?” I’m trying to listen.
Becky: Yes. [Laughter]
Ann: But there’s nothing; he says nothing.
We get to the school. I stop the car; I said, “Hey, don’t get out of the car until we, at least, make a little head way of saying, ‘Tell me what you’re feeling.’” He looks at me; he opens the car door, and he goes into the school. [Laughter]
Now I’m like, “Ahhh!” Now, I’m mad; and I’m trying to think what I should do: “Should I go back in and get him?” But then I’m reminded, “Pray.” I think of James 1: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives generously without reproach
[James 1:5].” I said that: “Lord, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to say. But I don’t want this to be an ongoing thing, where we have conflict, and then he shuts down; so give me wisdom.”
In my mind, popped this thought—went home, grabbed a piece of paper—put a stick figure of a girl, stick figure of a guy; and I put a brick in the middle of us. He came home later that day. Because I had put that note right on his desk, where he studies, he came in the house, goes upstairs [for his] studies, and then he comes immediately downstairs with this paper. He goes, “Mom, what is this?—like your attempt at art? What is this that you put on my desk?” [Laughter]
I said, “Oh, that’s what happened to us today. That’s me, the woman; that’s you, the guy. That thing in between—that block/that brick—is the fight that we had. It’s in our relationship now; it’s unresolved.”
He said, “Mom, it’s not there; I’m not even mad about it.” I said, “I’m not either, but that doesn’t mean the brick has disappeared and the conflict is resolved. We’re just not mad that it’s there anymore.” So we had this great discussion about how, if you have one fight and you don’t resolve it, and I took a pencil and I made all these bricks.
I said, “I see families, all the time, that can’t even talk; because they’ve had so many arguments, and they haven’t resolved them. And we’ve seen marriages/that happened to them as well.”
It’s so fun because he said, “So how do you get rid of the brick?”; you know? [Laughter]
Becky: I love that!
Ann: We talked about it; we prayed about it; and I erased it.
I would have never have come up with this thought in my mind to draw a picture of that picture. I think God is so beautifully merciful to us when we go to Him and ask. He gives generously.
Becky: Yes, absolutely.
Dave: Talk about this: “How do we give our kids a voice?” Because often, we are the voice, as a parent; and we want to be authoritative, and we want to lead them in a right way. Yet, there are times we need to give them a voice. And there are other times we don’t, so there’s got to be wisdom there. How do we give them a voice?
Becky: I think we need to really be intentional about giving them a voice, because we want kids that are going to grow up to be adults that have a strong voice in this world. I think it begins with a mind change on our part. Our children are separate from us; they’re not always going to think like us. They’re going to have different ideas and opinions. We want to create places—maybe it’s the dinner table—where they can voice those opinions. We want to really affirm their creativity in how they express their voice.
My husband was the pastor of this large church, and we had Wednesday night programs. Our kids would go to these Wednesday night programs. My oldest was in third grade so she was part of Pioneer Girls at the time. But Bethany was very athletic; and at Pioneer Girls, they wanted them to sew. She couldn’t stand sewing. [Laughter]
The boys were getting more gym time; so Bethany and her friend, Robin—I’ll never forget this—created a petition. They took it around to all the fourth-grade girls, the third-grade girls, and the second-grade girls. Then they went very respectfully to the children’s ministry director and presented their petition for why the girls needed more gym time.
This is awesome, because they did it in a respectful way. We gave them—
Ann: I think all your kids are negotiators.
Becky: Oh, yes; probably. [Laughter] They brought a proposal to the children’s ministry director.
I think family dinners are a great place to encourage your kids’ voice: talk about faith issues/let them express their doubts. Because they need to wrestle out their faith in order for it to be strong later.
I think there are some guiding principles throughout the book: “Ask questions,” “Give them opportunities to make choices. Don’t make every choice for them. They need to make choices, and they need to own their choices for better or for worse.”
Dave: I know the quote early in your book—I’d never seen this quote—and I was like, “Wow!”
Ann: I love this quote, too; because it really stuck out to me last night when I was reading your book: “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable,” by David Augsburger.
Becky: Yes, I love it.
Ann: That’s a heavy, heavy quote. That combination of being heard, they feel loved by that.
Dave: I mean, we all do.
Becky: Yes, we do; and fortunately, in our day and age, we all didn’t have to deal with this as much—the whole technology piece—but that is shaping families right now; because you have parents that are continually on their cell phone, and we’ve all been guilty of it.
But if your child’s going to really going to feel loved and connected to you, they have to feel heard. We have to make sure we’re being intentional about opening those doors of communication.
Ann: You even talk about looking them in the eye,—
Ann: —making sure that they’re seeing that you are looking at them.
Becky: Yes, I love the story, in Luke 15, of the prodigal. That story for me, personally, is my all-time favorite story that Jesus ever told; because I grew up with a very abusive father. To see the actions of the father in that story with his son, who has really blown it and wasted the family inheritance/ran off. He’s like the typical college freshman; right?—he’s partying; and all of a sudden, it dawns on this kid, “Hey, maybe I should get a job,”—there’s a profound thought. The kid gets a job slopping pigs. Then he finally thinks, “I should go home and work for my dad.”
But what’s amazing about the story is the kid starts home; and the father is outside, scanning the horizon. I can hardly ever teach this story without crying, because it impacts me so much. But that father lifts his robe, and runs to that kid, and throws his arms around that kid. This is the kid who has made his life miserable. But he throws his arms around that kid—he’s loving him; he’s hugging him; he looks him in the eye—and he says, “You’re going to come home, as my son, not my servant.”
It’s such a powerful example of what God wants for us, even in our parenting. When we look at our kids, and our eyes light up to see them, there’s all this science that’s been done that you are actually building your child’s joy center; what an amazing capacity that God’s given us.
I have little grandbabies. When you look at that little grandbaby, and you’re looking at them eye to eye, and your eyes light up to see them, you’re building their capacity to be able to return to joy later in life. How crazy is that?!
Ann: It’s amazing.
Becky: It is!
Ann: I’m thinking about that with each of our kids or our grandkids, to really look them in the eye. As a mom, with little kids, this feels like: “Are you kidding me? I’m making dinner. I’ve just come home from my job; I’m exhausted. They’re all running around; it’s crazy. There’s homework to be done. There’s dishes to be done.”
Becky: Yes, all of the things.
Ann: But to stop for a minute to look in your kid’s eyes to tell them, “I see you, and I love you who you are.”
Ann: That is one of the greatest gifts that you will ever give to your kids—and I will add—“…and to your spouse.” Because I’m worse with Dave than I am with my kids. My kids can come in and I’m [cheerfully], “Hey, what’s up?”
Ann: But Dave can come in, and I can be like [frustrated], “Where have you been?” [Laughter]
Becky: We’ve all done that! You brought up a good point, too; because when your kids are coming home and into the house, looking excited to see them. That’s not the time to be on your phone; look them in the eye, “How was your day?!”
You’re going to have the kids, who are going to be like, “Fine,” or whatever, but—
Ann: And they’ll go through phases that they’ll do that for a while, actually,—
Ann: —like [annoyed], “It’s no big deal, Mom. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?” But they remember it.
Becky: They remember it. When you look excited to see them—I mean, you and I know—we all have grandkids; right?—when they come to my house, and they run in that open door, and they’re like, “Mimi!”—and I’m hugging them, and picking them up, and looking them in the eye—there’s a whole wealth of nonverbal language that happens that we can show our kids we love them, without really even using our words—not that it’s not important to say, “I love you,”—but hugging them, and looking them in the eye, and smiling.
I remember, in our home, some of my girls—it seems like the girls confront a little more than our son did at this age; [Laughter] it seems all of my stories are about them. Anyway, they said, “You know, Mom, you look angry.”
I’m like, “I’m not angry”; I was probably focused on some project. I literally went before the mirror—this is/I’m being very vulnerable here—I literally went before the mirror the next day at school, and I practiced smiling, like: “What does my face look like? What messages am I sending these kids with my face?”
Ann: That’s so funny. [Laughter] But it’s a great thought: “Am I constantly/do I have my mind on something else? Am I distracted?”
Ann: But as you were saying that, the thing that hit me was, as you talked about the prodigal, our Father is always so happy to be with us—our heavenly Father.
Ann: When we come to Him, He’s smiling. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done; He’s always so glad that we’ve come into His presence.
Ann: And He’s always welcoming us; that’s a good reminder.
Dave: As you were talking, I’m remembering walking in my house every day/every day after school—Dad left; my little brother died—
Becky: I’m so sorry.
Dave: I’m really feeling unloved. I can remember walking in the back door from the driveway every single day—and it didn’t hit me until I was listening to you two moms talk—that my mom stopped everything, hugged me, kissed me, looked me in the eye, sat down for dinner, and asked me about my day, every single day. I ran home; because I felt seen, and loved, and heard.
She probably didn’t know that Bible verse; but she had wisdom, understanding and knowledge. I thought, “Man, I want to be home”; because I was loved. I was loved, because I was heard. It’s a perfect example of what the Father looks like. In my case, it was a single mom.
But to the parent listening, I’d say: “Today’s your day. No matter what yesterday was, or how you have been parenting, I hope God spoke in such a way, saying, ‘Today I need to make sure my son or daughter feels heard. I need to look them in the eye, turn off my phone,—
Dave: —“and let them talk, and see where God takes us.’ It will be a beautiful day.”
Bob: Some of our kids are an open book; it’s not a challenge to get them to talk to us. But there are children—and there are seasons for all of our kids—when they shut down or pull back. As parents, we have to be shrewd/we’ve got to be wise in thinking about how we can draw them out.
That’s what Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with Becky Harling about today. Becky has written a book called How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, and we want to make that book available to our FamilyLife Today listeners this week, those of you who can support the mission of FamilyLife Today/help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this program, which is listened to every day by hundreds of thousands of people all around the world.
If you can invest in the lives and marriages of those listeners by supporting the work of FamilyLife Today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Becky’s book. Again, it’s How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk. You can make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call to make a donation is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what we can do, as parents, to help our kids get in touch with what they’re feeling and know the right words to use. Sometimes, they’re not talking to us; because they don’t know what words to use. We’ll talk about how we can help with that, as parents, tomorrow. Becky Harling will be back with us. We hope you can be back with us as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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