Biblical Parenting – How to Communicate with Your Child
by Dr. George Sledd
It’s no easy task today to raise children biblically, especially in the twenty-first century, however with some patience and reliance on God and his Word, it can be done.
While the following is by no means an exhaustive study on Godly parenting, it gives a nice overview of a topic that is vital to all parent-child relationships, communication.
As such, this study looks at why communication is a priority in parenting. It also examines different types of communication as well as ways parents can communicate effectively with their children.
The lesson concludes with reflection questions on the topic that you can use to further apply the concepts discussed.
I hope this lesson helps you build stronger relationships with your children and a home atmosphere that is surrounded by God’s presence.
The Priority of Communication
One great essential in any relationship is good, clear communication. This relates especially to parents who want to communicate the best righteous values and principles they can to their children.
We live in an ever increasingly pragmatic world. As such, a child left exposed to this world will not fare well in life, and our children are going to require more influence from their parents than they get from their peers or even school teachers in order to stay the course in life. They need real time communication with parents and even grand-parents.
But what is communication exactly? Let’s define it. A comprehensive definition of communication could be as follows:“Our children are going to require more influence than they get from their peers or even school teachers in order to stay the course in life.”
“Any act by which one person gives to or receives from another person information about that person’s needs, desires, perceptions, knowledge, or affective states. Communication may be intentional or unintentional, may involve conventional or unconventional signals, may take linguistic or non-linguistic forms, and may occur through spoken or other modes.”¹
George Bernard Shaw once said: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Communication is not a one-sided matter. You can relate your thoughts to another person but you have to receive thoughts and discussion from the other person.
I hear some parents holler at their children and bark out orders. Yet, the parent does not want the child to respond. We have heard the age-old expression that children are “meant to be seen and not heard.” That is not a good method of establishing communication. Instead, we have to try to discern what a person is thinking and saying to communicate effectively.
For instance, it is quite common for two children to have an issue or some problem. Maybe one child hits the other or takes a toy away from the other. So, the other child runs to mom and dad to report the grievance. This is where communication is an important step.“There are various types of communication that are tempered according to the age of a child.”
There are two sides to every conflict. You need to understand exactly what happened and then most importantly, why that something happened.
Communication needs to be a priority in all areas of life but especially in the parent-child relationship. Parents cannot simply push communication to the side or pretend it does not matter.
Communication that Draws Out and Teaches
It was always difficult to do school shopping for my youngest son. I would take him to the mall or the store and ask him, “Now what kind of clothes do you want?” or “What about these trousers?” To which he’d often respond, “Well, I guess so,” or “I don’t know.”
So I would buy him certain clothes and then he wouldn’t like them. We finally worked out a way where we could communicate as to the style and kinds of clothes he liked. I had to draw that communication out of him. I had to train him to clearly express himself rather than mumble. It reminds me of the scripture in Proverbs 20:5.
5) Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.Proverbs 20:5 (KJV)
I read an illustration once on the idea of discarding un-biblical methods. It is an illustration of a mother and her little girl in an airport waiting for a flight. It was evident from their demeanor and appearance that they were well off. It went like this:
“The child whined on, demanding this and that, refusing to be pacified. Her mother tried to settle her. The child was implacable. Then it happened. Exasperated, her mother finally turned on her. ‘I am sick of you,’ she said. ‘I hate you. Go away. Find someone else to yell at. I don’t want you. I can’t stand you. Get out of my sight,’ she gestured. With that, she picked up her things and moved away from her daughter. The little girl was frightened and tried to get close to her mother saying, ‘I’m sorry, mommy. I love you mommy.’”
Obviously, that is not good communication. There are various types of communication that are tempered according to the age of a child. In the above illustration you have communication in the form of correction.
How would you handle the little girl running wild in the airport departure lounge? The communication of hate and rejection would not fare well.
Communication has to take place with that child so that there is an understanding of proper conduct in the presence of other people.
Remember, communication can often be used to draw out lessons for children and to teach them.
One of my sons had a problem one time at his Christian school. It appeared that he was caught smoking a cigarette with another student friend. The principle called me and asked me to come to the office to discuss it.
My son was given detention for violating school policy. I realized that there was an opportunity for communication not just about violating school policy but a form of serious communication with him about the dangers of smoking. This is what I call “concerned communication.”
I related to him about my own family and all the cancer deaths we’d faced over the years. I lost my dad at the age of thirty-seven from lung cancer. My mom also died relatively young from lung cancer. Here was a great teaching moment.“We don’t want our children getting the idea that the sole purpose of communication is to correct them for their errors. It is important to talk with them about all the various matters and concerns they have each day.”
My wife and I asked him, “Why do you want to smoke?” We allowed him to communicate with us as to his motivation and reasons. He wanted to try tobacco but I think it was also a desire to fit in with a few of his friends. He never got bound up in the habit even to this day. Of course, we’re glad for that.
So, this is concerned communication to help a child understand the ramifications of his actions not only for his own health, but ramifications in the lives of his family and friends. As Ted Tripp mentions in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart…
“A regular habit of talking together prepares the way for talking in strained situations. You will never have the hearts of your children if you talk with them only when something has gone wrong.”²
The Importance of Conversation
We don’t want our children getting the idea that the sole purpose of communication is to correct them for their errors. It is important to talk with them about all the various matters and concerns they have each day.
You could ask them: “How did your school classes go today?” or “How are your friends?” Also, “Is there anything I can help you with tonight?”
Communication can be engaged with our children much in the same manner as we would talk with our friends. It’s good to discuss current events or even talk about tragedies that happen in the world.
Sometimes children are very concerned about such things but they won’t express their fears or concerns to you about a deranged person who opens gunfire in a movie theater or even in a public school for example.“It is very important for parents to learn how to patiently listen to their children.”
I remember the first time I attended a funeral. It was my father who died of lung cancer at the age of thirty-seven. I was nine years old and I remember walking into the room where my dad was laid out in his army uniform.
I overheard some of my relatives say, “Little George should not go in there and see his dad like that.” I told them that I wanted to go into the funeral home. Children cannot be sheltered from some things. I did understand something about death.
My uncle took me aside and talked to me about death and why we had to have a funeral. It was a good communication for me at that very young age.
Parents must also communicate spiritual things to their children. This is critical to biblical parenting (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4, Deut. 6:7).
Parents are to teach children about the existence of God, heaven and hell, and what it means to be saved.
Concerned communication then tends to build the fear (healthy respect and reverence) of the Lord in the heart of a child.
27) The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.Proverbs 10:27 (KJV)
Ask Questions and Listen
You can also communicate in the form of asking questions to get at the heart of a child’s desire. It is very important for parents to learn how to patiently listen to their children.
We want to listen in such a way to let them know that we are really interested in what they feel and allow them to express their feelings without interruption.“So many parents are tempted to halfway listen and then start offering advice and correction before they really comprehend the hearts of their children.”
So many parents are tempted to halfway listen and then start offering advice and correction before they really comprehend the hearts of their children.
You have heard the adage: “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.” There is truth to that especially in the area of parental communication. Too often a parent will be harsh and scolding in their approach.
While there is a time for more stern words in instances of discipline, the Bible tells us the need to use pleasant words.
22) Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.
23) The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.
24) Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. Proverbs 16:22-24 (KJV)
Using offensive or cutting words and innuendos will not win the heart of your child. It will drive away opportunities for constructive communication.
Peace and Love
It is important to have a safe and secure atmosphere in the home. Atmosphere is essential to sustain any form of life. Every home has some kind of atmosphere good or bad. Imagine living in a house filled with mold. You would breathe that mold and it would inhibit your good health.“Using offensive or cutting words and innuendos will not win the heart of your child. It will drive away opportunities for constructive communication.”
Now, imagine living in a home where hate abounds, and cursing, bitterness, screaming, and condemning language. Some homes are just that way. Such a home is a bad atmosphere to build love and acceptance in.
Is there peace in your home? If God’s presence is welcome and acknowledged, there is a good chance that you have peace in the home. It is a home with a good atmosphere where parents and children love each other and seek each other’s good.
Parents to a large degree are responsible to maintain a spiritual atmosphere in the home, and good communication is an expression of love. People know when you love them by how you talk with them.
I have a pastor friend by the name of Tony. Whenever I speak with him in person or on the telephone, he never fails to say, “Brother I love you.”
One time I spoke to him concerning an invitation for him to speak at a future Bible conference in our church and he replied, “Thank you for thinking about me.”“If God’s presence is welcome and acknowledged, there is a good chance that you have peace in the home.”
These are good keys for eliciting communication in your children. They will eagerly listen if they know that you love them. Love keeps the communication lines open. Such a love gives them a sense of acceptance. If they know you really care, they will open up to you concerning their deepest longings and feelings.
A person needs to learn how to communicate by showing a sincere, genuine interest in what another person is saying.
Human nature makes us always wants to assert our own experiences or problems when we hear another person express theirs. Some people think listening is what you do between opportunities to say something. So they don’t listen very well.
Teenagers have a desperate need for open friendship communication from someone who takes the time to understand them. Surely the parents should be those kinds of people that want to communicate with them rather than other unsavory people.
Many young ladies have gotten into a mess because they met a young man who gave them attention and communication.“Communication involves a mutual trust. It is through loving communication that our children learn they can trust us. They realize that we want the very best for them. .”
Many young men have allied themselves with ungodly friends and gotten into trouble simply because these friends offered acceptance and friendship that parents did not offer or give the time to offer.
Communication involves a mutual trust. It is through loving communication that our children learn they can trust us. They realize that we want the very best for them. According to Tripp,
“It means seeing character development as more important than short-term gratification. Only biblical communication will expose these important life issues. The more you talk with your children, helping them to understand themselves, their temptations, fears and doubts, the more you prepare them to understand life in the world.”³
Conclusion – Encouragement and Forgiveness
We should always purpose to communicate encouragement to the hearts of our children. One of the facts of growing up is the teaching moments that come from failure.
We learn very early that not everything in life is going to go well. We are going to lose sometimes. Things are not always going to turn out good. You are going to strike out in the baseball game. You are not going to be able to obtain everything you think you need in life. There is much heartbreak that comes in life as well.
Children need communication the most in the times of their greatest disappointment.
Another important form of communication is forgiveness. As Alexander Pope said in his Essay on Criticism, “To err is human but to forgive is divine.”
Children are going to make mistakes, sometimes they may be big mistakes. Parents also make mistakes and commit sins. There are times when parents and children will sin against one another.“Children need communication the most in the times of their greatest disappointment.”
I can relate at various times that I was too harsh or said a demeaning thing to one of my children. God convicted me of this and on more than one occasion I have asked one of my children to forgive me.
Without fail, they have always forgiven me. In turn our children also committed offenses toward us. They also came and asked us for forgiveness.
How did they learn to communicate like that? They saw the character of humility and brokenness is us as parents. Our hope was and always has been that our children would sense the spirit of Jesus Christ in us, and it is my hope and prayer that your children sense that same Spirit in you.
- Have you established effective ways to listen and communicate with your children or do you talk to them only when they have done wrong?
- How can you best communicate to your children the importance of good morals and habits?
- Do you sense that your children feel secure to approach you and discuss their problems? How can we communicate to them that we are open to needs?
- Have you learned to listen to someone else without interrupting them or cutting them off?
- List some communication talking points that instill encouragement in our children.
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1. Virginia Tech: Training and Technical Assistance Center.
2. Ted Tripp, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” (1995, Shepherd Press), pp. 90.
3) Ibid., 94.