It is so important to be actively engaged with your children. It is so essential to their development that it should always be at the top of our list of priorities. When we have spare time to give, your spouse and your children should be the first place that you look to invest in. That is not always ideal. I get it.
Many of you have jobs that keep you out of the house for a large chunk of your day. You work eight to twelve hours a day. The shift is long and the commute seems even longer. You get home from work, and all you want to do is crash. In your mind, you deserve a break. You have definitely put in as much hard work as can reasonably be expected for the day.
Your kids are loud. They yell and scream constantly. They fight with each other for what seems like a never-ending period of time. Sometimes you want your kids to shut up and give you some space to think. You make a mental note to look for more overtime at work because, at least there, nobody is fighting. Sometimes we even justify this by talking about what a hard day we have had or how badly your child needs to learn to entertain themselves. I tell myself these very same things all the time. Then, about an hour or so later, I remind myself of how bad this approach is for my children who need to have someone listen to them.
Dr. James Dobson tells us that, “the amount of live language directed to a child (not to be confused with television, radio, or overheard conversations) is vital to her development of fundamental linguistic, intellectual, and social skills.” (The New Strong-Willed Child, 96) This quote was regarding fourteen-month-old children. However, this need never goes away. It is tempting to use the television as a babysitter. However, from an extremely early age, our kids need us to pay close attention to them.
They need us to listen to what they have to say. It really does not matter whether we think their comments are important or not. It is important to them so it should be important to us. There are going to be a lot of questions that pop up in their heads over the course of a day. Their brains are expanding so fast and they are trying to figure the world out.
I suppose we could just leave it all up to google to answer these questions, but that is not ideal. Neither is YouTube. Your children are going to see you as the expert in all things and will come to you for answers or to simply unload their emotions. While we obviously do not have all the answers, we should at least show an interest in finding them. Did you get this? You do not have to have the answers at that moment. You just need to be willing to listen to the questions. You can always track down the answers later.
Beyond that, they also need us to validate what they are saying. Do you know what that means? I don’t ask this to insult your intelligence though. I did not really understand it until a few years ago. When I worked for Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services in Carmi, IL, the director at the time, Doug Devore, clued me in. During our Crisis Prevention and Intervention training, he stated that validating a child’s words and thoughts is as simple as making them feel like they are important. No matter what they are saying, whether it is interesting to us or not, it needs to hit home. Your child needs to feel like you are truly valuing what they have to say.
It is not enough to just nod our heads to give an indication that we hear them talking. That can be very dismissive and children will pick up on it. There must be an engagement to the conversation on our part. We need to be willing to sit down whatever it is that we are working on and turn our attention to them, even if just briefly. This is an area that I struggle in badly. I often find myself making comments like, “Yup, that’s true” or “I know Bud, I know” when my children are attempting to communicate something with me. See how dismissive that is. I am sure they do too.
It is silly to think that whatever it is that I am doing is that much more important than listening to my children, even when that thing is writing this book. The amount of time that we have to live out our life is significantly greater than the amount of time that we have to mold theirs. These other projects can fit into the margins of this life. Our children do not belong in those margins. If your child is telling you about something that happened to them at school, it would be a good idea to ask them, “How did this make you feel?” That is what I mean by validating their feelings. John Trent says, “When you think about it, what can one human being do for another human being that shows more respect or honor or value than to really listen to that individual? It’s a fact: love makes time to listen.” (Leaving the Light On, 62)
When your child is telling you something, stop what you are doing and listen. Make a point to connect with their eyes while they are talking. For that matter, you should do this with everyone. You should do this with your spouse as well. However, this book focuses on our children, so let’s keep the scope small for now. Try this out. The next time your child comes up to you to engage in conversation, stop what else you’re doing and focus solely on your child. Set your phone down and connect with your child’s eyes. Heck, maybe even reach out and take a hold of their hand. After all, eventually those hands will be much bigger and engaged in other things.
Life is Strange. Live it Well.