Listening So Our Kids Will Talk
- Friday, September 10, 2004
Studies show that stay-at-home moms spend about 30 minutes a day conversing with their kids, and mothers who work outside the home spend fewer than 11 minutes. Now if we assume that half of that time the parent is doing the talking, listening time drops to 15 minutes for the stay-at-home mom and 5.5 for the mothers who work outside the home. (1) I've always been taught that as long as I'm talking, I'm not learning. If I want to be a good student of my child - to understand his innermost thoughts, feelings, desires and struggles - I need to listen to what he is saying. However, there is one key ingredient to being a good listener - the child has to talk!
Listening is no easy task. Your have to tune in with your ears, direct your eyes, respond with your lips, and engage your heart. You must also use your mind to cultivate conversation by asking good questions. Notice I said good questions.
Jesus was a master of asking poignant questions. He is referred to as a healer and teacher, but He was also an active listener. He asked questions of lawyers, invalids, mothers, politicians, fishermen, rabbis, demons, a blind man, Roman officers, a leper, and the disciples. In the Sermon on the Mount alone, He asked fourteen questions. He asked the woman caught in adultery, "Where are your accusers?" He asked the scribes, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk?'" Obviously, since Jesus is omniscient, He knows everything. He did not ask questions to gather information. He used questions to get people to think, and many times to help them come to their own logical conclusions. We can use questions in the same way with our children.
Robert C. Crosby in his book Now We're Talking! Questions That Bring You Closer to Your Kids, notes that "questions are one of the most effective yet perhaps most underused tools in a parent's tool box today. Just five minutes of expressing interest in your child will do more to build your relationship with him or her than five months of trying to get him or her interested in you."(2) This echoes the old adage, to be interesting, you must be interested.
Mrs. McVey was a grandmother who complained to my husband that her two grandchildren showed very little interest in her. They never came by to visit or called to see how she was doing. Curious, Steve took Mrs. McVey by to visit the twosome. Sure enough, when they answered the door, they weren't very excited to see her, but dutifully gave her a hug and invited her in. They all quietly sat in the room - the grandmother waiting for the ungrateful kids to show a little love and respect, and the kids waiting for the visit to be over.
That's when Steve decided to try a little experiment by asking the youngest boy some questions.
"Peter, how's baseball going this year?"
"Fine," he answered.
"Who's your best hitter?" Steve asked.
"Joe, he's really good," Peter answered with a tiny ray of enthusiasm.
"I heard you had a double play the other day. What happened?"
With that, Peter began to warm up. His countenance changed from boredom to enthusiasm. He became so chatty that Steve could hardly fit a word in edgewise. Peter was talking about his two favorite subjects: baseball and himself.
The conversation was uphill from there with Steve asking great leading questions and the kids telling him everything he wanted to know about their lives. They didn't want him to leave. Steve was "cool" because he was interested in them and they knew it. Their grandmother could have been dubbed "the coolest grandma around" had she shown interest in her grandchildren, instead of expecting them to be interested in her. Kids don't work that way.
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