One of the best pieces of advice I was given as a young mother was, “Talk to your daughter when she’s in your arms and you won’t need to worry about who she’ll talk to when she’s a teenager.”
According to statistics from Barna Group research released in May 2019, mothers and fathers who are practicing Christians both play an active part in creating a welcoming atmosphere for their teenagers to come to them for conversation.
Yet we must cement the desire to “tell mom and dad” long before our children are teenagers. My daughters didn’t wake up at thirteen and start conversing with their father and me. This communication began by fostering conversations during babyhood. Each age brings new and different ways we can communicate with our children. In all our communications, we can teach them about their Heavenly Father. It’s a privilege as well as a command from God:
5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
We can shape our children’s worldview through day-by-day conversation.
Don’t Forget to Listen
A big part of conversation is listening. Author Catherine Wilson said, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them it has been all big stuff.” As mothers, we have a million things to do – washing clothes, preparing meals, and cleaning bathrooms. Conversation is often superficial: “Please empty the dishwasher.” “Take the laundry to your room.” “Put your bike away.” We need to stop, look our child in the eyes, and simply listen. It signals that their words are important, encouraging a desire to talk.
These are the conversations that will get you to that important teen stage.
My friend talked to her infant daughter continually. One day, while shopping when Katie was only a few months old, Eleanor held up an outfit and engaged in small talk with her. “Do you like this shade of pink?” “Look at this pretty lace.” “You could wear this with your black patent shoes.” She looked up, to find a woman staring at her. “You know she doesn’t understand what you’re saying, don’t you?” Maybe she didn’t understand, but she was learning to love her mother’s conversational voice, and now Katie is a mother talking to her own sweet children. She creates an atmosphere of conversation for them while continuing frequent conversations with her own mother.
When your children are toddlers, their word list will explode. They will want to converse, but will be limited by their lack of putting multiple words together. However, you can use their words to start a conversation. If your child says, “Grapes,” say, “Grapes are your favorite snack, aren’t they? I like grapes too. God made our grapes. Should we draw grapes after our snack?”
This is also the time to introduce them to conversations with God. We teach them to bow their heads in reverence to God, but do we teach them the need to “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2)? We are doing a grave disservice to our children when we teach them the only posture for prayer is bowing or kneeling.
Each age brings new and different ways we can communicate with our children.
My daughter Emily was working on a project when her daughter Allie wanted her to play. Emily said, “Be patient, Allie, Momma will help you in a minute.” Then continuing quietly, she said, “Dear Jesus, help me to be patient, too.” Allie added an emphatic “Amen” to her mother’s prayer. At eighteen months she probably didn’t know the significance of the “Amen,” but she’s learning that a conversation with Jesus can be started at any time.
It is in these constant hands-on parenting routines, where you feel like it’s a 24/7 continuing conversation, including question after question, that you lay the foundation of life communication. When my oldest grandson Ethan began talking, my daughter Melanie said to me, “Mom, how did you handle me talking all the time? I just want to tell Ethan to be quiet.”
We can’t wait until our children can say “Momma” and “Dadda,” but then the words never stop. Capitalize on this time. Answer their questions, show delight in their conversation, affirm their choices – just keep them talking.
Start conversations by asking questions from observation. “Look at these ants. Did you know God talks about ants in the Bible? “Look to the ant, thou sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). A sluggard is a lazy person. Are you lazy? What are some of your chores? Daddy works hard, too, so we can have our nice home, good food, and cozy beds. Why don’t you thank Daddy for working so hard?” You’ve had a nice conversation and paved the way for Daddy to engage in his own conversation.
Elementary Age Conversations
If you pave the way for conversations to be a part of your daily life, the dialogue will continue even when your child isn’t with you a good portion of the day. Kindergarteners and first-graders are usually naturally excited to come home and tell you what happened at school —the good parts, the not-so-good parts, who said what, and why. Elementary-age children need low-pressure chats, not quick-fire questions. It is in these times you will hear if they have been bullied or if they have bullied someone else. You will hear about kindness and unkindness. You will hear about favorite subjects, teachers, and worries about grades.
We can shape our children’s worldview through day-by-day conversation.
Use this time to build on their conversations with God. Take a Praise Walk. As you walk, thank God for each part of His creation. “Thank you, God, for creating the trees to give us shelter.” “Thank you, God, for the sun that shines so we can have warmth and light.” Your child will love to shout the “Amen” when you arrive back home.
This important age brings with it the reality of peer pressure. Your child wants to be like everyone else. The way to dress, the words to use, the foods to eat — these are all important to your junior high child. If you ask yes or no questions, the conversation won’t last very long. Instead ask, “What was the best part of your day?” Share the best part of your day, too. “What made you laugh today?” “Did you dream last night?” “Was there a time today you asked Jesus to help you?” “Did you do a hard thing today?”
Stop and pray with your child when he hears a favorite teacher has cancer or a friend’s grandfather died, or when she is struggling with being kind to a bully. Just a simple two-sentence prayer will do.
This is when you will see the fruitful results of your commitment to continual conversation. Your child will be more likely to tell you about her day, her hurts and triumphs, her crushes, and her friendship crises. He or she will ask you to pray with them over the little and the big. When my daughter Melanie was a senior, she competed in a piano solo competition at a national level. From the time she was little, her father always prayed with her before she sang in Vacation Bible School or played at a recital, asking God to settle her nerves and perform for God’s glory. Unfortunately, she was several states away and it was time for her performance. It was then that her teacher, Mrs. Craig, put her arms around her and prayed. Our children will seek out prayer when they know its importance. The first-place medal she received wasn’t the prize in my heart. It was that she knew the importance of conversation with God.
When your children are teenagers, they will bring friends home. After-school snacks are a must for any growing teenager. Don’t just feed those hungry teens and walk away. Sit down and have a little snack yourself, taking the opportunity to have a conversation with their friends. What’s their worldview? How are they doing with their schoolwork? Are they respectful and kind? These conversations reveal what kind of influence they are on your children.
In all of our communications we can teach children about their Heavenly Father.
This is also when you need to set social media rules, to foster conversations that are Christlike and pure. Rules like, “No phones at the table for any meal, even snacks.” “No phones for two hours after school.” After school, your children have just been with their friends. They need a break to be aware of their importance in your family. It’s impossible to have meaningful conversation when their eyes are glued to their cell phone. One of my friends read every text their child received – yes, even when the child was eighteen. I didn’t go that far, but we had to approve any friend request. When my daughter showed us an inappropriate conversation, that “friend” was deleted.
The Result of Conversations
At the beginning of this article, I shared several statistics. Are you in the ninety-five percentile of mothers whose daughters come to them for advice and encouragement, or are you in the five percentile who don’t? Are you in the seventy percentile of fathers whose children come to you with their faith questions, or are you in the thirty percentile who don’t?
My oldest daughter was on a hayride with the church’s youth group. The kids were urging her to kiss a boy she was fond of. “Come on,” they said, “Your mother will never know,” to which Melanie replied, “Yes, she would because I’d tell her.” It was in those minutes after she told me what had happened that I whispered, “Thank you, Jesus,” acknowledging that the conversation that had started at birth and continued through the years was worth the effort. While my children are raising children of their own, they are still conversing, asking for advice and encouragement, talking through their cares and concerns, and asking questions about faith – it’s a gift. Watching them in continuous conversation with their Heavenly Father is my biggest blessing.
If you don’t know where to start, consider these resources:
- Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with your Children (John Younts)
- 101 Conversation Starters for Families (Gary Chapman)
- 88 Great Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters (Rob Teigen)
- From Me to You: A Conversation Journal for You and Your Daughter or Son
- Talking to Your Kids about Jesus (Natasha Crain)