September 20, 2016

Front-Loading the Effort

My two daughters have always talked a lot. In fact, from the time each “found” words as a baby, it’s seemed as if the only time one or the other isn’t talking is when they’re asleep…and at least one of them occasionally talks then too! Whether it was wondering about some aspect of the morning’s Bible reading, narrating the detailed plotline of a Barbie game they’d taken hours to design, racing in from the yard to describe the antics of the squirrel family inhabiting our big tree, or getting off on some meandering rabbit trail during a read-aloud time, the questions and exclamations seemed to fly non-stop. And now that they’re teens, they’re actually still talking; in fact, we sometimes get so deeply engaged in conversation that we almost lose track of a day’s to-do list or go well past “lights out” time in the evening.

I am not an indulgent parent; I don’t let my kids interrupt my conversations with others, and after they’d given up afternoon naps, I instituted a daily “rest time” in which they were required to silently watch one of our age-appropriate DVDs so I could have an hour of quiet. And even now, I will say, “Girls, my ears are tired; can I have some time?” But I’m not a saint. I have my fair share of moments when a child is talking to me while my mind is elsewhere. And I’ve also found myself occasionally hollering, “Would you just be quiet for five minutes?!”

Thankfully, though, I’d latched on from the very beginning of my kids’ lives to one key point various writers and speakers counsel about communication in the parent-child relationship – namely, that kids need and want the security of knowing they’re actually heard by their parents.

Setting boundaries is entirely appropriate; a child must know he cannot always be the center of attention and that his parents are not at his beck and call. But even in the exhaustion of raising young children, we must be careful to distinguish between boundaries and self-centeredness. Training my child to wait quietly while I finish a conversation in the church lobby is appropriate, but putting him off for half an hour while I play a Candy Crush on Facebook is not. Expecting a child to entertain herself for age-appropriate periods of time is healthy, but keeping her at bay all day is not, even if the cause of my busyness is a need to complete legitimate household chores; instead of brushing the child away, I need to include her in the work and talk with her during the process.

Choosing to be engaged in the communication process with our kids – actively listening often, knowing when and how to set boundaries – is hard work. It requires patience and perseverance beyond our own strength. But remember that kids – of all ages – need and want their parents in this regard. And front-loading the effort when they’re young really does pay the dividends you’ll want later on: teens who remain open with you. Your ears will still tire then, but you’ll be thankful for it.


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