Face it. Talking with our kids is tough. And it sometimes doesn't get easier with age. The topics just get harder. We've had many dads tell us communicating with their kids is their biggest challenge. Here's a sampling of how they've said it:
- "Not relating to my 16 year old daughter. We are good together, no real problems there, but there is definitely a lack of deep communication."
- "Communication: aligning my intentions with my words and getting through to our three year old daughter."
- "Effective communication in a world of texts, tweets and snapchats."
Can you relate? Probably. What if you had some biblical underpinning to your approach to communication? I want to cover six (6) warnings the Bible gives us. I've found these helpful as I communicate with my kids.
We talked recently about 6 strategies for more meaningful talks with your child. Those strategies were your to-do list. Now, for the “watch out” list. Though land mines and traps await the unwary father, the following checklist will help you sidestep them during your talks.
Here are six (6) biblical warnings to prevent communication fail
1. Be quiet. Seriously.
That’s harsh, I know. But I mean it. We had one dad tell us about his biggest struggle. He said, "Knowing how to approach a topic and not be awkward." Many times, we can get ourselves in trouble the more we talk. I’ll let the Bible say it better:
Proverbs 10:19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.
James 1:19b Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
When we use lots of words, it not only leaves limited space for our kids’ words, it means our sin has more chances to emerge. Which leads me to the second warning.
2. Protect your child from the destructive power of what you do say.
In chapter three of his book, James continues prescribing medicinal treatments for that thing in our mouths that continually gets us into trouble. We want to hold our tongue, but some things need to be said, for goodness sake! At least that’s what I tell myself.
When hard truths need to be said, we often internally acknowledge our good intentions, but stumble when we try to put words around them.
James 3:5-6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
We do well to take care with each word that falls from our mouths. Our children’s young ears may take things the wrong way and sometimes the flames can erupt into the equivalence of a forest fire.
3. Go easy on the correction you give.
If you’re like me, you like to (or feel you must) correct every mistake, stray word and errant thought in the lives of our children. After all, it’s our job. Well, no. Our job is more, and much less.
One dad said to us when we asked about his biggest challenge:
"Connecting with my teenage daughter. Teaching the kids a biblical worldview without exasperating them."
Paul explains as much in the following strong command for all dads:
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
How do we correct without exasperating? While I’m still trying out different techniques, the one sure thing that I’ve seen work well is using God’s Word as a tool of correction.
In other words, I let God’s words say to my child what I want him or her to hear. Usually I use the pithy wisdom found in Proverbs. I can plant Scripture into my kids’ minds by way of my own immersion in the sayings and truisms in that book. You can flip it open anywhere and find wisdom for whatever situation you’re facing with your children.
It’s important to not only use this one book from the Bible, but to let the Holy Spirit direct you to various Scriptures, wherever they may be. All kinds of characters in the Old testament and the New lived lives that our children can learn from - and the good news is that other than Jesus Himself, none of them were perfect.
Why is that good news? When youngsters understand the fallibility of all these great people, they can see themselves in a new light. They can also see Jesus for who He is—the only perfect person who took their imperfections upon Himself, and in return gave them His spotless standing before God.
4. Don’t be afraid to discipline.
Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
This verse is counter-cultural, isn’t it? Most parents hate to use the “rod” on their children (I’m one of them). But if I really love my kids, I must discipline them. This is God’s command. One dad told us his struggle this way, "Open communication, showing grace & love and not coming across as too authoritarian."
While discipline is a hard teacher, it has an ulterior motive:
Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews says a few verses earlier that divine discipline is modeled by God Himself. Because we have been disciplined by our earthly father, when we feel the Lord’s hand of correction in our lives, we should feel secure in our standing with him:
Hebrews 12:7-8 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
Corrective consequences for our foolish actions and disobedience are to be expected. As dads, it is our duty to do the same for our children. Which naturally leads to the fifth warning.
5. Let them learn from consequences.
Sin’s consequences are unavoidable. When we lie, steal, cheat or become bitter, not only do we suffer when we’re found out, but someone else is usually hurt along the way.
The natural results of sin are depicted all throughout the Bible. King David’s adultery with Bathsheba results in her husband’s death and the division of David’s family—not to mention the division of Israel itself. Joseph’s pride lands him in a cistern and sold into slavery.
How have you seen your own sins throughout your life play out? Have some consequences taken longer, or been more intense, than you expected? Share some of your own stories with your child. Use your experiences to help them see how things you did resulted in consequences that could’ve been avoided.
Sometimes, when they won’t listen, we have to bite our tongue and let natural outcomes take over our teaching responsibilities. When your child makes a poor decision, try letting them figure it out. Real-life stress and difficulty can lodge in their memories more poignantly than a warning.
Think about your own big-life lessons. How did you learn them? Did you become wiser every time just by someone teaching you, or when you suffered consequences like embarrassment, fear, pain or heartache?
6. Set an example. Really.
Proverbs 23:26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways...
In this verse, we encounter the goal of every dad—getting closer to his children. The second part of the verse deals with the practical side of fatherhood. The context in Proverbs is about warning the son from giving in to the “adulterous woman,” and instead giving in with heartfelt love to the father.
Having our son or daughter submit to our authority is as necessary as spending quality time together. One dad told us related to his communication struggles, "I don't get video games. Not sure how to engage with my son without trying to turn him into me..." Yikes. This is so true. But without their trusting love, there is no relationship. And without a relationship, they won’t learn from our example.
We must set examples for our children. They will watch us way more than we will talk to them. Our nonverbal communication will speak volumes more than a lifetime of talks. Therefore, we must first get their hearts. Let's try our best to point to God—instead of ourselves. This is a good place to stop—before I think of a seventh warning.
You can pull your child closer through conversation. Breaking Barriers helps better connect through smarter questions.
About the author > Tom R. Harper
Tom has been married for 25 years and has three children. He serves in various ministry roles at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as the Board Chairman of Manhood Journey. Tom is the author of Through Colored Glasses: How Great Leaders Reveal Reality and Leading from the Lions’ Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible. Keep up with Tom at BiblicalLeadership.com and grab his Field Guide Breaking Barriers.
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