Part 6 of 11 on Parenting Principles
There is this great video that circulates on social media every so often. It is a dad and his son sitting on the couch watching a show. The little boy is probably about a year old. The two of them are having an in depth conversation about whatever it is they are watching. It's absolutely hilarious and adorable. The little guy is babbling and the dad is responding to him. Their conversation is absolutely brilliant.
One of the principles that we have followed over our years of parenting is that we have made the conscious decision to speak with our kids. There is an old saying that children are to “be seen, not heard.” That is absolute baloney. Kids are part of our family structure, critically important members of the household and they need to speak and be spoken to.
Over the years we have had to make some big family decisions, like any family does. When we do, our family gets around a table and talks through the decision together. We don't speak down to our kids, we tell them like it is and invite them into the process. I am so thankful for the insight and input they have offered. Because we engage them in this way, they have always felt part of the decision making process and have owned the decisions with my wife and I.
I'm not a child psychologist, so take the following with a grain of salt. I did a bit of research on the Google Machine regarding talking to your babies. Some research shows that baby talk (you know googoo gaagaa and the like) are good. Some research shows that using real language with your baby is the best. I think that the key thing to remember is that whichever approach you use what is important is that you are engaging your child. We weren't big “baby talk” parents. We typically spoke to our kids like we would anyone else. I think that helped them in language development and having the confidence to speak with a variety of people.
In our day and age one of the most difficult things to do is to put our mobile devices away and be present with those around us. These little handheld computers are ever present. My kids have called me out more times than I can count about my device at the dinner table. They want me to be present with them. Why? Because we have always spoken to them. For their whole lives we have been intentional to engage them in conversation. As a result, when we are disengaged it bothers them and they know that they can call us on that. It's never fun to be challenged by your kids, but when it does we are wise to listen.
Part of the process of speaking to our children is teaching them how to have conversations. There are little things like looking people in the eyes when you meet them or turn your body to face the person you're speaking to. We try really hard to not simply yell to one another from other rooms in our home. My wife is really good about intentionally inviting us to whatever room she is in to talk.
People have consistently been impressed by our children's ability to converse and connect with kids and adults. When you actually talk to your kids they learn from you how to engage in conversation. Remember, much of this is caught, not taught. We cannot be afraid of having hard conversations with our kids. Whether it is religion, politics, our bodies, pop culture, or anything in between. I try to be as honest as possible with them. There are times when I'm not an open book because it's not healthy for them. However, if I want them to be authentic with me, I need to model that.
As our kids have walked through the various difficulties of life, there have been many conversations about my own doubts and struggles. I haven't hidden those. This creates a context where they know that we can talk about such things because Mom and Dad don't have it all figured out, they don't have to either.
Inherent in all of this is the absolute necessity for parents to listen. Too often we think we have it all figured out and when it comes to engaging with our kids we are simply waiting for our next opportunity to speak. If we're really honest, that's how most of our conversations go, even with adults. Listening to our children communicates trust, respect, and love. It's very difficult to listen to someone you don't trust. It's even harder if you don't respect them. If you don't love them, it might be impossible. If we want to build authentic relationships with our kids then we must listen to them. They know when we are not paying attention or we are going through the motions. It's going to happen. The 117th time they've talked about some tv show that we have no interest in, our eyes are going to glaze over. But, we have to be sure that we are listening intently so as to not miss what is important. They will give us clues as to why something is important to them. This is what we want to discover and then fan that into a flame.
All of this comes back to the principle of “speak with them.” When we intentionally engage our kids in conversation we begin to create the environment for so many of the other principles.