Do you ever get the feeling that your children aren’t listening to your instructions? You have just offered an ocean of wise counsel but your little sailor seems to be floating in an entirely different sea.
You recognize the warning signs: glazed over eyes, a robotic nod of the head during inappropriate segments of the conversation, an occasional “uh, huh,” and that irritating sigh of impatience that says, “How much longer is this woman going to talk?”
Teaching children to listen to advice and accept instruction is of vital importance for their character development. Solomon reiterates the wisdom of heeding instruction in Proverbs 19:20, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”
All parents desire their children to listen and to heed their instructions, yet many parents are frustrated by their children’s lack of attentiveness. The problem often lies not in the child’s inability to listen but in the parent’s inability effectively to communicate.
In order to talk so your child will listen, consider the following guidelines.
Understand the art of communicating
As parents, we often think that if we are able to verbalize our thoughts and feelings to our children, then we are good communicators. Therefore, we think that if we administer verbal instructions based on God’s Word then we are training them appropriately through communication.
But effective communication involves listening as much as talking. The art of successful communication entails not just expressing our thoughts and feelings but drawing out the thoughts and feelings of our children.
In Proverbs 20:5, Solomon says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” Rather than talking “to” our children, we must learn to talk “with” our children. Communication is not a monologue; it’s a dialogue.
Decide what and how much to communicate
Avoid discussing more than one issue at a time with your child. For effective instruction, focus your correction on the most important aspect that needs immediate attention. Resist the temptation to use one teachable occasion to unload both barrels. Concentrate on the issue at hand and look for other occasions to address unrelated concerns.
Be sensitive as to when enough said is enough said. Once you have conveyed the necessary instruction, correction or advice, shut your fountain of wise words off. Do not become a leaky faucet that drips frustration into the heart of your child. Put the issue to rest and allow the Holy Spirit to work.
Make eye-to-eye contact
Small children can become so engrossed in the activity at hand that they tune out the world around them. Parents need to re-direct their child’s attention to the voice of authority before giving instructions. Issuing commands from a distance can leave room for question. Eye-to-eye contact eliminates any confusion as to whether the child heard your instructions.
Making eye-to-eye contact benefits older children as well. Taking time to stop what you are doing in order to communicate with your child speaks volumes to his heart. Refrain from what you are doing when an opportunity for instruction presents itself and look into the sweet eyes of your child. Offering him your full attention communicates that he is important to you.
Choose the right time and place. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to rebuke children in front of others. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Children are more attentive to instructions when they are not embarrassed by being reproved in front of other people, especially their friends.
A child who has been reproved in front of others will focus on the embarrassment aspect rather than the sin in his own heart. The goal is not to embarrass or humiliate but to encourage a right relationship with God through the repentance of sin. If other people are nearby, respect your child’s feelings by moving him away from others before correcting him. If this is not possible, quietly instruct him in his ear.
Choose the right words
Be careful not to replace God’s wisdom with man’s wisdom. Understanding that it is God’s wisdom from God’s Word that will bring about a change of heart motivates parents to use the Scriptures for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training children in righteousness.
If you want to truly penetrate the hearts of your children, you must speak God’s Word to them. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
The world has become masterful at “softening” sin in order to make us feel better about it. Avoid the temptation to sugarcoat sin. Call it what God calls it and allow the Holy Spirit to work through speaking biblical terminology (God’s Words) rather than worldly terminology (man’s words).
In other words, don’t substitute “You are being disrespectful” with “You are acting ugly”; “You are telling a lie” with “You are telling a fib”; “You are being disobedient” with “You are being strong-willed.”
God uses the law of His Word to bring about conviction and to lead sinners to Christ. Galatians 3:24 says, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Let the light of God’s Word shine into the hearts of your children in order that they might come to Christ.