“I have learned to listen, listen, listen. It does not matter how tired I am.”—MIRANDA, SOUTH AFRICA.
“My challenge,” says Cristina, “is not just being with my daughter but being present mentally and emotionally despite all my other responsibilities and my tiredness.”
Create an environment of open communication. “I try to set the example,” says Elizabeth, a mother of five, “and my children open up to me. I also encourage them to communicate with one another and never to go to bed angry with a sibling. What is more, they know that I do not tolerate ‘the silent treatment’—their refusing to talk to one another.”
Do not tune your children out. “When my son was small,” writes Lyanne, “he was such a chatterbox that I tuned him out a lot. Then, when he became a teenager, he stopped communicating, and I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I worked really hard—too hard, in fact—to break down the wall. I spoke about this with an elder in my congregation. He advised me to relax and to ease gently into conversations with my son. I took his advice, and slowly things began to improve.”
Be patient. There is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak,” says Ecclesiastes 3:7. “When my children didn’t feel like talking,” says Dulce, a mother of three, “I made sure that they knew I was available when they were ready to talk.” Yes, instead of forcing communication, warmly and patiently invite it. This is the course the Bible recommends. “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.”—Proverbs 20:5, Good News Translation.
Be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking.” (James 1:19) Lizaan, quoted in the preceding article, says: “I had to learn to bite my tongue when my children came with a problem. I also had to learn not to be too quick to offer advice but to speak calmly when dealing with upsetting issues.” Leasa, a mother of two boys, writes: “I have not always been a model listener. At times, my sons’ issues seemed trivial to me, so I had to learn to be more understanding.”
“Let your utterance be always with graciousness.” (Colossians 4:6) “In order not to hinder our communication,” says Lyanne, “I have had to make a conscious effort to stay as calm and relaxed as possible, even when serious matters come up.”
If you fail to make a conscious effort to stay calm, you may lose your temper and shout, which can be harmful in more ways than one! (Ephesians 4:31) For example, shouting at a child may stifle communication and foster problem behavior. “A child is like a seashell,” says Heidi, who has a teenage daughter. “If you speak kindly and lovingly, the child will open up. If you shout and belittle him or her, the ‘shell’ closes and communication stops. To remind me of this fact, I have a picture of an open seashell on our refrigerator.”
Know your children. “My two sons are quite different,” says Yasmin, quoted earlier. “One is talkative; the other is reserved. With the quiet one, I learned that it’s best not to confront him directly. Instead, I talk to him while we are engaged in something else, such as a board game, or while he is talking about a topic that interests him. In that setting, I tactfully ask how he feels about a matter.”
What if a boy feels awkward talking to his mother about certain personal things, as did Misao’s adolescent son. “You just don’t understand me,” he said. She sought help from a mature, trustworthy male in her congregation. “He has become my son’s mentor, and now my son has a calm heart,” says Misao.
Do not confuse the role of parent with that of friend. “I made my teenage daughter my confidant,” says Iwona, a mother of two. “Although I knew it was not right, I fell into that trap and had to correct my mistake.” Although you want to have a warm relationship with your child, remember that you are the parent, the authority figure. When you maintain your dignity and show your maturity and stability, you make it easier for your children to honor you and to heed the Bible’s command: “Children, be obedient to your parents.”—Ephesians 6:1, 2.
“Love [your] children.” (Titus 2:4) Children need love as much as they need food and drink! So regularly reassure them of your love—in word and deed! They, in turn, will feel not only more secure but also more willing to talk with you and obey you.