(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
Sitting down and having heart-to-heart talks with our children is good, but did you know there is probably an even more influential talk that we often ignore or don’t think of? It’s what we call “everyday talk” that flows naturally throughout the day.
One parenting book author made a very wise observation that has helped me in my everyday parenting. He said this: “The most powerful personal influence in your child’s life is everyday talk.” What we say to our kids when we are making them get out of bed (or when they are making us) is important.
What parents scream when children spill something or break something will impact them.
What comes out of our mouths when our kids want us to observe something they created will make them feel cherished or make them feel unimportant.
Each answer we give or don’t give when they ask “why” a million times will slowly affect their worldview.
There is a lot of small talk that fits into the little things we are doing throughout the day. God actually commands us to have these “everyday talks” with our kids? God wants us to talk to our kids about him “when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
This is everyday talk, but notice what comes right before that. The Bible says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). In other words, they must be in your heart first before you “teach them diligently to your children”.
Fuel for Our Everyday Talks
If we are to have good mini-conversations with our children throughout the day we need something to draw from; there has to be something “in our heart first”. If we are constantly giving we will eventually run out of things to say and teach; then we run dry. Our knowledge, wisdom, and energy are not drawn from an infinitely deep well. One of the basic principles of this book is that we can only pour out what’s in us. We can only give what we posses. What comes out of us comes from the overflow of our hearts, and so does our everyday talk.
Many things happen throughout the day that we can talk to our kids about. Even when we don’t intentionally comment on those things, our curious little learners are asking questions. We need to be aware that this talk exists, that it should be used wisely, and that it should not be wasted.
For some parents it might feel strange to talk about God throughout the day, but if we are not talking about God often in a natural way, our kids will see that God is only important to us at certain times and seasons.
It’s sad that so many children in Christian homes grow up thinking that God is important on Sundays and right before meals, but the rest of the time he is irrelevant. Keep in mind this “everyday talk” about God is guided by everyday situations we encounter with our kids. These are not forced conversations about God and the gospel.
Everyday talk about God doesn’t mean we are preaching to our kids 24/7; we are simply talking naturally about God and his creation. You can simply say, “Wow! Isn’t God amazing” while staring up at the stars. We don’t have to say anything else. Maybe you and your child stumble upon a strange insect and you say, “Isn’t God creative?” If you know God, it is hard to live in God’s world and not talk about him.
After thinking about this idea of how important everyday talk is I had the opportunity to practice it the very next day. My daughter had picked a magnolia flower for us that night, and the next morning she picked up the wilted flower off the counter and asked, “What happened?” She was sad about the state of her flower. “It’s dying sweetie,” I said, touching her back trying to comfort her.
She responded with her favorite question: “Why?” “Because it was taken away from its life source,” I said. Her next question after “why” is usually the same. She again asked, “Why?” Instead of trying to articulate the science I had long forgotten, I took her mind somewhere else, somewhere more important. I told her, “Jesus is like a tree and we are like flowers. When Jesus is not a part of us, the same thing happens to us; Jesus is our life source.”
This came from Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches (John 15). I’m not sure how much she understood, but it was something. My kids have proven to me time and again that they can remember little things and believe with childlike faith.
It wasn’t a planned talk. But in a way I was prepared for that talk because I was thinking about the importance of everyday talk, and because God has taught me that truth in his Word. We should be looking for opportunities to point our kids to truth. God’s Word should be so lodged in our hearts and minds that we can’t help but talk about him when we can with our children.
An important aspect of everyday talk is listening. The Bible tells us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). It’s way too easy for us to act like we are listening to our children when we are really not. You know what I’m talking about. We are there, but not really there.
We must be active listeners, just as we are expecting them to be. Everyday talk can’t be one-sided, meaning a parent talking, commanding, and demanding all day without listening to their child’s feelings and thoughts. We must care enough about our children to listen to them. Do you want your child to be a good listener? I do too, so we must model that for them. Don’t forget to pair everyday listening to your everyday talk.
A way to practice everyday listening is when we “lie down” with them before they go to bed. We can ask them what they would like to talk about. If they don’t have anything, ask them to give you a summary of their day. This can give them opportunities to practice opening up to you and sense your care and interest in them. Setting this foundation can help tremendously when the teenage years approach. Listen, talk, and laugh with them.
The easiest way to make someone talk is to ask a question. There is an important phrase that will help us unlock the secrets of our child’s emotional heart. Don’t wait until the age of 16 to try and make this work. Start when they are young and keep asking, “How did it make you feel when____?”
If they answer “angry” don’t argue with them. That’s how they feel. Tell them you would probably be angry too. If your child feels hurt, don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Doing these things will cause them to shut down and stop communicating because we don’t understand. Let’s be understanding. We know what it feels like to be angry, hurt, and annoyed.
Let them do the talking: We men want to fix everything, and fix it quickly. Sometimes our children (especially daughters) just need our sympathy. Building this trust and bond through communicated feelings will be like a bridge for you both for the rest of your lives. We want to stay connected at a real and deep level until they find their mate and can lean on them.
No Unwholesome Talk
God’s Word says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Notice with me the word unwholesome. Are we aware of how we talk to our children? Do they have to put up with any “unwholesome” speech from us?
For example, maybe you find out your daughter is devastated because her pet fish died. Since we’re not wrapped up in this issue emotionally we might say something like, “Don’t be so down. You are making others around you sad. God doesn’t want you to be sad. You need to hurry and get over it.” This is “unwholesome” talk.
We didn’t take time to hear her out or even ask how she was feeling and comfort her. Sometimes because our everyday life is busy we rush those everyday talks. May we take heed to another warning in James that our tongue is like “a fire”, “deadly poison”, and man has tamed every kind of beast on this earth, but “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:1-8). We need God’s help with our words.
Imagine this possibly familiar scene: With dinner guests expected in thirty minutes, Mom arrives home from the store with the kids and about 10 bags of groceries. The kids notice mom is tired and a little stressed about getting all the work done before they arrive. She parks the car, the kids jump out, mom takes a deep breath, gets ready for fast-paced dinner preparations, and they all enter the house.
Well, only mom enters the house with arms full of groceries. The kids go outside to play with a ball and a snail that caught their attention. They are busy entertaining themselves and it gives mom time to get work done around the house.
What is wrong with this picture? We might think, “Nothing, because it’s good when kids safely entertain themselves and give us time to do work that needs to be done,” but let me point out one thing that is missing—character!
Each child is old enough to understand mom’s stress level and the work she must accomplish in just thirty minutes. They are also capable of helping prepare the house and food for guests, but neither one offers help or seems concerned about mom’s stress level. In that moment God is revealing the kids’ lack of character. They haven’t rebelled or disobeyed, but they have revealed their lack of servants’ hearts.
Their character problem means that something other than God has captured their hearts. They live to please themselves. Washing dishes, picking up toys, and helping set the table doesn’t give them pleasure, but adventures in the yard with a ball and a snail does.
Our character is shaped by what we worship. The gospel has power to shape and direct our worship of God, which guides and forms our character to be more like him. You have probably heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” The same goes for worship: You become like what you worship (Psalm 115:4-8).
We must help our kids see the connection between character and worship. What they love and desire will shape their character and actions. We must take advantage of opportunities throughout the day to remind them of the gospel, which portrays Jesus’ love and sacrifice for others. We are called to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). God’s Word says, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
We need to take the opportunities God gives us throughout the day to talk little by little about character and integrity. We want more than kids who know how to act in public. We want kids who have a heart for God and others even when no one is around.
Changes with Stages
Our everyday talk must change and adapt to the ages and stages of our children. As they are changing and developing, our conversations with them must also. The Bible uses an illustration describing God as the potter and we are the clay. When is clay the most moldable? At the beginning, just like our kids. They have the tendency to harden and set as time goes by. The best time to start being intentional with the gospel in our everyday talks is at the beginning.
At this age we want to focus our everyday talks on the issue of authority. Our kids are born into a world of authority, and they are born with the natural tendency to fight it and desire to rule themselves. We sternly but graciously need to help them understand that we as parents have been placed by God in their lives as their authority (Colossians 3:20).
God’s authority is good and beautiful, and we must help them see that at a young age. The best way to do that is gradually with our conversations and commands throughout the days and years. It’s better to establish an understanding of authority and respect with a three-year-old than a thirteen-year-old. Our everyday talk with them is crucial during ages one to five.
By the time they reach this age, everyday talk can shift its focus to character. For example, remember the illustration about the mom with her hands full and the kids who didn’t care or notice mom needed help? Well, knowing character and everyday talk is important, we shouldn’t say, “Do you see how tired and stressed your mom is! Don’t you know how much she does for you guys and all you do in return is play when she could use your help?”
Those talks are not going to open our children’s hearts to instruction or make them want to receive our advice about growing in character. A better approach would be “What’s important to you right now?” If they answer, “Playing ball and catching snails,” then lovingly tell/remind them mom could use our help. We will be teaching them little by little that people are important, more important than our entertainment.
Building character is costly. It takes time and energy to pull children aside and talk to them about heart issues. Home is the place we form character and identify character issues in our children. Sometimes we don’t recognize bad character traits in our kids because we don’t recognize them in ourselves. We can’t give character to our kids that we don’t possess.
Ages 13 and Up
At this age our kids are ready to start making more and more of their own decisions. Our talks now lean more towards giving advice than commands. Hopefully by this age our kids will know we are approachable, we are for them, and our advice doesn’t just come from what we want but what God wants, which that’s always good.
Another thing I will only briefly mention is teenagers’ bodies are changing, and a new thing called hormones is now added to the mix. Our sons and daughters need our talks about these kinds of changes and feelings. They need more than just a one-time awkward talk about sex.
We cannot be silent while the world is teaching our kids how to think about sex and their sexuality. We need to take these opportunities as they come in bite-sized chunks, and communicate with our children about this important topic and what God has to say about it. Talks like this can be made easier when you are walking together or riding in a car because you don’t necessarily have to look at each other while talking.
Everyday Talk with Others
We are on display and more transparent than we think to our children. They are not only noticing and hearing how we talk to them, but how we talk to others. For example, they notice our body language and tone we have with their mother. They are watching how we respond to workers in a restaurant when they get our order mixed up. They are watching how we praise, encourage, scold, and complain around other people.
The most important person they see you interact with day to day is your spouse. Do they see you praise your wife? Or do they hear more complaints than thankfulness? Do our kids see their parents embrace and show affection? Or do they see distance and wish you both were closer and happier? We can’t tell our kids to thank their mom or serve her if we are not. Will our kids grow up wanting a marriage like the one they saw modeled?
What should we do if we haven’t been a good example in this area of everyday communication with others? Again, the gospel is our answer. When we have done wrong, we should ask our children to forgive us (this destroys our pride), cling to God’s grace for help, and trust that he can help us change.
One of my favorite illustrations of the home is that it is like a greenhouse, a place where the environment can be controlled for the safety of the young developing plants. It’s a spot that the weak and fragile can take root and grow strong. The parents/gardeners can prepare for the transition to life outside. Ideally, the day they make that move they are ready to continue living, growing, and maturing in God’s Word in whatever part of the world and context they live. The greenhouse provides a good environment to live out the gospel and see its fruit.
What are some of the things you are protecting your children from in your home? What are some areas that maybe you have relaxed on, causing things to creep into your home and into the minds of your kids that have no benefit or can even be harmful? Our family is designed to be a learning community. Our home is a greenhouse where trial and error is OK. It should be a safe place to learn and be trained.
When kids are young we can control who comes into their lives, but when they grow older they make friends and meet people we don’t know. Create a home where your kids and their friends would want to hang out. Moms and dads, don’t worry about things in your house getting used and abused. Like my friend Tracy Tyson said, “It is better for the stuff in our home to be abused than for our kids to be abused in someone else’s home.”
This means it can be dangerous to let your kids go to the house of someone you don’t know or trust. Nothing is more valuable than our kids. Open up your greenhouse to friends and neighbors. It should be a warm, safe, and pleasant place to be!
I enjoy painting houses, but I particularly enjoy rolling the big areas, because it is quicker and easier to see your progress. It’s the little detail work around the trim that’s hard, because it takes time and patience to see any progress.
I think it’s similar in our parenting. Working on the little details of our conversations takes patience and work, but, tedious as it is, it must be done.
Let’s not forget or miss out on the many opportunities we are given to influence our children with everyday talk. This is the kind of talk described in the Bible that says to teach them about God when you “ . . . walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
These small talks and moments throughout the day can be viewed as “informal worship”. We can talk about God anywhere and at anytime. When we talk about his goodness (gospel) it causes gratefulness in our hearts, which turns into worship.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.