Discussions that Help You Go Deeper With your Kids
By LESLIE LUDY
In a recent article, I shared about a documentary that told the story of over one hundred teens being treated by the health department for a wide-spread outbreak of a serious sexually transmitted disease, because dozens of them — many as young as twelve — were engaging in extreme sexual behavior without their parents’ knowledge. In nearly every case, the parents simply were not paying attention to what was really going on in their children’s lives and hearts.
Part of the documentary showed a public gathering at which a representative from the health department, several community leaders, and a local pastor met with the parents of the young people to discuss what had led to the STD crisis. The parents were quick to point the finger at various cultural influences for the behavior of their children. “The media is to blame,” said some. “It’s the influences of cliques and peer pressure,” insisted others. During these discussions, the pastor turned to the health department representative and quietly commented, “These parents don’t understand. They are pointing fingers everywhere else, but it’s themselves they should be pointing at — they don’t talk to their children.”
The documentary producers interviewed several parents about their relationship with their children. Many admitted that although they provided their kids with a good home, material possessions, and great learning opportunities, they did not have open communication with their kids. “When I get home from work, I go to my room and listen to the radio, and she goes to her room and watches T.V.,” said one single mom. “We spend time together,” commented a father, “But we never really talk about anything important.”
As I watched the heartbreaking account, I kept thinking how much pain and suffering could have been avoided if these parents had simply known how to reach the hearts of their children.
Having worked with teens and parents for many years, I’ve become a firm believer that meaningful conversations with our children must begin while they are still young. It doesn’t work to keep things shallow and fluffy during the early years and then suddenly try to tread into deep waters with them once they turn thirteen. Reaching their hearts is something we must do with our kids from an early age.
Engaging in significant and spiritually deep conversations with our kids is an art form. But the good news is that we have been equipped with everything we need to reach their hearts and gain their trust. We simply need to tap into the grace of God and the special wisdom that He has given each of us as parents.
Having deep and meaningful conversations with our kids sometimes requires a bit of creativity. But if we are willing to put thought and energy into this exercise, it can be one of the most rewarding and eternally impacting activities we ever do as parents.
The very first time that Eric and I spoke to a group of teens about surrendering their lives to Christ, we had a tremendous response. Young people all over the auditorium whole-heartedly committed themselves to a Christ-centered life. We knew that this response had very little to do with our communication abilities (in fact, at that time we were new and inexperienced at public speaking!). Rather, the young people told us that no one had ever challenged them with a deeper message before. “Our youth leaders are always trying to entertain us,” two of them told us afterwards. “They’ve never challenged us to change. Honestly, we’ve just been waiting for someone to call us to a higher standard.”
If there is one thing that Eric and I have learned over the past twenty years of working with young people, it is that they are far more capable of grasping deep spiritual truth than we often give them credit for. When we adults only focus on befriending and entertaining them rather than pointing them to the consecrated life God has called them to, we do them a huge disservice.
The same is true for young children. As I’ve said in previous articles, we often assume that kids are not capable of grasping the fullness of the Gospel or the deeper aspects of the Christian life. And while it is true that they may not be ready for a seminary class at the age of five, they are far more ready to receive the deeper aspects of God’s Truth than we often give them credit for. In Set Apart Motherhood, I shared about one key aspect of the Gospel life that our children began to grasp even at the age of four or five:
As they are newly planted in Christ, our children need to learn the principle of reckoning themselves “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord”—the concept of the “old man” and the “new man” (Rom. 6:8-13). When Eric and I see a sinful behavior pattern surfacing in their lives, we will often ask our kids where “old Kipling” or “old Harper” is. We remind them that their “old man” is dead and buried, and that they are now “new Kipling” or “new Harper” who is in Christ Jesus. In their new position “in Christ,” they have the power to “reckon [themselves] dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). This may sound like a complicated truth for preschoolers to grasp, but we have found that our kids truly do “get it.” They are aware of the difference between their “old” and “new” man. The old man has no ability to overcome sin. But now that they have been made new, old behavior patterns no longer have to control them. Through Christ, they have been given the power to choose right behavior over sin. When we remind them of these truths often, we see an incredible difference in the way they live.
Often our kids’ ability to understand deeper Truth boils down to our expectations and effort as parents. If we never teach them anything beyond “Jesus Loves Me” in the early years, they will likely not have a very full understanding of the Gospel or the Word of God as they grow older. But if we continually guide them in the way of truth, they will begin to grasp key principles that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
So if you have been keeping your discussions about God relatively shallow and fluffy, allow Him to show you creative ways in which to communicate deeper truth to your kids. Most importantly, don’t lower your expectations, but instead raise them higher. When you expect more from your kids, they will rise up to meet those expectations. More often than not, they are eager and ready to learn and grow, if only we will give them the opportunity to do so.
Here are a few suggestions and ideas to help spark creative, deeper conversations with your kids at every stage of their growth and development:
1. Find the Right Moments
Knowing the best time to engage in meaningful conversations with your kids is critical. If you attempt to have a significant chat with your son right as he is rushing out the door to play with his friends, you’ll likely be met with resistance. If you try to get your daughter to share her deepest thoughts with you when she’s so tired she can hardly stay awake, you won’t be very successful. I find it helpful to schedule special talk-times in advance with my kids so that distractions are removed and I know I’ll have their full attention. Sometimes I’ll take twenty minutes to talk with my eight-year-old daughter over tea and cookies right after school. Often my ten-year-old son and I will go on a walk or bike ride together in order to have an uninterrupted conversation.
Of course, we should also be ready to take advantage of those spontaneous moments when are kids ask a deep question or have a sudden desire to talk about spiritual things. There are many times when I must deliberately choose to drop whatever task I am doing in the moment in order to respond to the unexpected readiness of one of my children to have a deep or significant conversation. Questions like, “How will I know who to marry?” or “How do I know for sure that I’m going to Heaven?” are prime opportunities to share life-changing truth with my children. Part of the art of going deeper with our kids is not only planning times to have meaningful conversations with them, but also being ready at all times to respond when their little minds start grappling with important issues.
If you have a lot of children, remember that it is important to find time to have deeper discussions with each of them individually. Communicating truth to them as a group is important, but they will be far more ready to open up and share what is going on in their hearts when they feel that you are ready to engage with them as an individual. With six kids, this is easier said than done for me. One thing that is helpful for me to remember is that taking time to talk with my kids individually doesn’t need to be a long or complicated ordeal. Even twenty minutes of focused attention from Mommy can mean the world to a child who has a lot of siblings! Significant conversations can happen at night before bed, right after school, or driving in the car, as long as we are purposeful about engaging with our kids.
Every evening after the younger children are tucked into bed, ten-year-old Hudson joins Mommy and Daddy for a special snack and time of listening to an audiobook together — usually a Christian biography. After listening, we often ask him questions about what he’s learning from the story and allow him to voice any thoughts or ideas he wants to share. It doesn’t take a lot of time or planning, but these special times alone with Hudson are invaluable to his spiritual growth.
“Mommy date nights” and “Daddy date nights” with one child are also excellent opportunities to talk about important subjects with our children. Even a special night with Mommy or Daddy once a month can make a lifelong impact on them.
2. Ask the Right Questions
Some children are always ready and eager to talk about deep subjects. My five-year-old daughter, Avy, seems to continually bring up deep issues. A few of her recent musings:
When is the earth going to burn up? I hope it’s not soon cuz then I’d miss our next vacation!”
“Do the people in this store know Jesus? If they don’t, they’ll go to hell. What should we do about that?”
“How will I know which person to marry? Do you ask God and He will tell you in your heart?”
“Why do I still do bad things even though I know Jesus?”
Avy is a deep thinker and is always ready for a conversation about important decisions, the end of the world, and the fate of her eternal soul. With some of my other children, however, a bit of creativity is required in order to steer them toward significant subjects. Sometimes I find myself frustrated that the only thing they seem to want to talk about is their next Lego project or what theme they want for their next birthday party. In these scenarios, I try to come up with creative ways to steer the conversation in a more significant direction. Here are some examples:
“I really like all your Lego ideas! Can you think of any ways that you might able to use your Legos to help people learn more about Jesus?”
“Wow, your next birthday is coming up soon. You are really growing up! Have you thought or prayed about what God might want you to do when you get big?”
These questions don’t always lead to a deep discussion, but more often than not, my kids are willing to engage in a spiritual discussion if I simply frame the conversation correctly. Rather than just lecturing them about Truth, my goal is to ask poignant questions that cause a hunger in their soul for something deeper. Here are a few additional questions to try:
“Has God been speaking anything to your heart lately?”
“Was there anything in that Bible story that relates to your life?”
“Is there any area of your life that you feel you need to work on?”
There is a fine balance between getting my kids to open up and share their thoughts and emotions and speaking Truth into their lives. While I certainly want my children to share what they are thinking and feeling, I also don’t want their feelings to be the foundation from which they reason and make decisions. Truth must be the bedrock of their soul and decision-making, regardless of their feelings. So whenever I engage with my kids on the basis of what they are thinking or feeling, I am purposeful to follow it up with questions such as “What does God say about this?” or “Is there anything in the Bible about this?”
Allowing our kids to share their feelings is important, but it should only be a catalyst that leads to embracing and understanding God’s truth at a deeper level. My desire is that my children would grow up learning to consult the Word of God, rather than their emotions, for every decision they make. Questions like “What makes you feel happy?” or “How do you feel about this?” should lead into deeper questions such as “What makes God happy?” and “What does God say about this?” Otherwise, I’m teaching my kids to exalt their own emotions over the timeless unchanging Word of God.
What a privilege to lead our children into a deep and thriving relationship with Jesus Christ! May we not take the easy road and keep things fluffy and shallow with our kids. Ask God for the courage to dive deeper into the important subjects with your children, and He will be faithful to guide you each step of the way.