Our family talks a lot. A lot. Even now with us spread across the country we still talk a lot. We are interested in each other, we want to understand each other’s lives, we value each other’s ideas – all this comes from talking with each other. We do this now because talking with each other is our family culture – it is how we do family – or one aspect. But when the kids were younger we had to work on it – we all had to learn how to talk with each other – and I learnt that talking about things – talking about the things on my heart – was a very intentional and relational way to be heart focused. Today we are talking about talking to our kids – having conversations that touch your child’s heart.
One of the biggest tools we have as a parent is conversations.
Conversations build relationships and then they also communicate beliefs and values. For us to touch our children’s hearts – first of all, we need a relationship and then we need to be able to communicate our beliefs and values – which is why communication is one of the biggest tools we have at our disposal
The struggle we find is that we tend to jump into lecture mode or teacher mode. The trick is though, that conversations are just talking but through talking we can teach. But that doesn’t mean we need to teach to have a conversation. K?
To be able to talk about heart things we need to know heart things. We need to know what we believe, and what we value – we need to be able to find the words to communicate that. This might be hard – you might not be used to talking about these things, or even thinking about what you believe and why. But as an intentional parent you can learn.
Secondly, we need to make the time to have conversations. I think society has become conversation poor the faster our world spins. We rely on one-sentence emails and an emoji in a text messages. We no longer have conversations over dinner because everything is too rushed – dinner time is rushed. We need to make time to talk.
I think one of the mind blocks we have is that I use the word conversation – and we think serious. But it is just talking. We need to learn to talk to our kids – not giving instructions – but talking about life – talking about the little things and the big things.
It’s not about saying – son – we need to have a conversation… that’s just code for – son you’ve done something and I’ve got something to say about it.
No – a conversation is a two-way verbal interaction, and it is relational in tone.
Conversations Start Small
How do we learn to just talk to our kids? It starts off with us having conversations about everyday things. Remember, we are just talking.
How was your day?
What book are you reading?
Who did you see today?
What did you do?
How are you feeling?
Everyday life interaction. We are interested in the other person but we are not really passing on any heart value – we are not making them think. We are making them feel seen, heard and valued – and that is the basis of our relationship. So it is important.
It starts off just ordinary – talking about ourselves, inviting them to talk about themselves: talking about what we do- maybe stretched into what we are feeling and what choices we’ve made but it’s pretty surface. We may feel it is surface – but these surface conversations are getting-to-know-you conversations. When we want to talk about our child’s world – their highs and lows, their excitements and fears, their everyday activities and dreams – then they start to feel secure in our relationship. They start to know that we are there for them. When they get to this place they open up their heart so they will listen to deeper things.
These are good conversations for kids under 5. Once kids get to 5-6 years of age they are starting to understand the process of knowing what is right and making choices and they start to understand the consequences of their choices. Their vocab is fuller and the stage is set to start having conversations at a heart level. I’m not talking about their behaviour (though choices are a part of the heart) but I’m talking about what they believe and value in life, in their world.
We need to be talking about the beliefs and values that are behind what we do, think and experience. Our goal is to make our children think. To think about what they believe. And I’m not talking about what they believe about Jesus in terms of their salvation – that is one issue for sure – but I’m talking about all of life.
We want to talk about faith, worldview, character, and convictions.
What do they believe about the environment, about health, about wealth, about family, about careers, about choosing friends and the influence of peers, about government, art, and science. The list goes on. Though we can listen to that list of topics and think that I’m talking about teenagers – I’m not – it starts with talking with our young kids.
As a 5yo we talk about money – where it comes from, how we use it.
- We talk about family and how important we are to each other.
- We talk about being a good friend and looking out for the lonely.
- We talk about caring for other people’s belongings.
- We talk about appreciating beauty.
When we talk to our kids and help them see that God has something to say about every aspect of life, it starts to shape their thinking about who they are, and how they are going to live in this world.
Parents can quickly morph into lecture mode. We feel we have all this important stuff we want our child to understand so we stand on our soap box, or on our parental authority, and just dump it down on them – like a lecture. This may, and I’m being fairly optimistic here – it may sink into their head – it may become knowledge – something that they know. But it won’t reach heart level – to be something that they believe, value and act on – until they interact or engage with it: until they question it, test it, practice it, and choose to believe it.
This is where conversations come in – it’s just talking about stuff. As parents, we can raise a topic – like being kind, or about the role of government – it works for all ages – and conversation can start from there. All conversations start with a conversation starter. I found two simple and flexible conversation starters:
- I was thinking … (also works with reading, watching)
- What do you think about (insert question)
Actually, even in conversation starter #1 where I start talking about something I am interested in – to make it a conversation, not a monologue – I need to end up by asking a question. So what do you think…
Asking open-ended questions is the best way to redirect a conversation to a heart level.
What do you think?
Why do you think that?
How does that work?
Where did you get that from?
Of course, we don’t want our questions to be judgey, or like we are ready to catch them in false thinking. We have to keep our attitude conversational. We want to talk to this person (our child) about this topic. We want to hear what they have to say. We are interested in them.
There will be some conversations that you have with your child where you let them have the final say – but there will be other conversations that you want input. In these situations, I’m looking for a different word than teach. Because when we know we want to teach our kids something we slip into lecture mode and it is no longer a two-way thing – they don’t feel like they have a voice, and they can’t ask questions. You are just saying it as it is. So maybe the word is tell or share, as we tell our story, or share our beliefs, talk about our understandings we can do that in a conversational tone. A conversational tone invites others to contribute.
You can invite participation by asking questions like:
- Does that remind you of anything?
- Have you ever thought about it like this before?
- Do you have any questions about that?
- What do you think? Does that line up with God’s word?
These questions are inviting input but shaped so that you are directing the conversation to a heart level.
Conversation is a two-way Thing
For us to have conversations that touch our children’s hearts we really have to get our head around what a conversation is. Yes, as the parent we may have an agenda – we want to discuss a particular belief or value – but to do it in a conversational way we must get off our parent platform and just talk to our kids.
We talk to people we are interested in.
We talk about things they are interested in.
We raise topics we are interested in.
We ask questions.
We answer questions.
We go with the flow.
We end up talking about all sorts of things.
Here are a few keys as I wrap it up:
- You, as the parent, have to find a talking with tone – not a talking at tone.
- You have to think about how life connects with your beliefs and values and find the words to communicate that.
- You have to be vulnerable and share your thoughts, questions, emotions with your kids.
- You have to have the time to sit and chat.
Conversations are the thing I love about our family. I have so many good memories of conversations – silly ones, serious ones, confrontational ones, healing ones, conversations as a family, conversations one on one. I talked to my kids and they talked with me. It is a precious family habit and I encourage you to cultivate it in your family too. Remember it starts small – it starts because you want a relationship with your child. Anything deeper is built on that.
Heart-focused Action Step
Well, obviously the action step is to start having conversations! But maybe you need to do some thinking first. Get your heart in the right place.
So here are some things to think about this week:
- Do you have time – both physical time, and emotional space – to talk to your kids about every day events, about their rambling stories and about their struggles and successes?
- Do you have a habit of listening to your child without cutting them off, talking over them, or dismissing it as silly?
- Do your children think you are interested in what they think?
And then start bringing a conversation starter to the dinner table (or when you go for a drive somewhere). And just because I’ve been focusing on a heart-focused Christmas here are some Christmas theme conversation starters for you:
- What would make Christmas special to you this year?
- What do you think it would have been like to be a shepherd when the angels came to tell about Jesus being born?
- What do the Christmassy words of: Love, Peace, Joy, Hope mean to you? What can we do that will bring those words into our home/family?
- I’ve been thinking about our neighbours lately, how do you think we could love on them this Christmas?
- What do you think you are going to struggle with this Christmas? How can I help you with that?
If you would like to use those heart-focused questions as you lead up to Christmas take a screenshot so you have them with you.
Well thats all for this week – I really do hope you can start seeing – or hearing the conversations that are happening in your family, assess how they can be improved – and how they can dig down into heart stuff – the beliefs and values on topics of life.
All Strong Relationships start with a Simple Connection: Life is all about relationships. It starts with a simple connection but we’ve got to step out and take it further. Intentionally build relationship.
How to Make Family Dinner time Happen in a Busy Week: Dinner time is all about communication and connection – so important to make it happen in your family.
How to let a Conversation be an Effective Teaching Tool: Your children will learn far more when you engage in conversation than when you deliver a lecture.
Christmas Lessons from Picture Books (and things to talk about): Discussion notes or lesson plans based on our favourite Christmas-themed picture books.