If your children are saying “You never listen to me,” it is because they feel you never listen to them. Slow down and listen.
There is a perceptive insight in Proverbs 20:5: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There is more depth in your children than you might imagine. Drawing those deep waters out requires patience and great skill.
It also requires being sensitive to the right moment. There are times when children are talkative and times when you cannot pry anything from them with a crowbar. A wise parent goes with the moment.
Some moments are moments for walking away from conversation and making a pass at it later when the child is more willing to speak. Other moments, when a child is talking, are moments for dropping everything, if possible, to seize the moment and listen.
Unconditional love and acceptance are necessary to make your children feel safe sharing their deepest and most confusing thoughts. You can accept and love your children in your manner and tone even while you are inwardly confused or even grieved by what they are saying. If you become angry or combative your children will conclude you are not really interested in what they think—only in how you want them to think.
Sometimes young people learn that their true thoughts are not really welcomed or desired. They conclude, “My father and mother have life scripted and there is no place in their lives for my struggles with making sense of the world. My parents do not have the time or the interest to work through my questions and thoughts about life.”
Drawing out the deep waters means learning to ask good questions. Ask questions that deal with attitudes, feelings, and thoughts. A great question opener is, “Help me understand…”
Be prepared to facilitate the process of communication for your children. Many times children are helped if you give them some multiple-choice answers to your questions. If your children say, I don’t know, or seem to have trouble matching words with thoughts, help them. Using your understanding of human nature and life in the world, present as many possible answers to the question as you can. “Could it be this… or that… or some other?” Inserting a funny choice or two can help create a non-threatening context for drawing out these deep waters.
The wisdom and strength to remember and employ these ways of communicating is a spiritual grace. Restraint in speaking, pleasant words that promote instruction and the insight to understand the person with whom I am speaking are all spiritual graces that are derived from Christ’s grace to me. As I rest in the power of Christ I receive the enabling grace and strength to communicate with my children in these ways. I will not be an anxious person who is trying to force change. I will be a joyful and hopeful person who is resting in Christ’s grace and care, filled with awe and reverence for God, and seeking to fulfill my calling.
from Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp