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Three Essential Communication Tools with Our Children

Three Essential Communication Tools with Our Children

I remember telling someone, “I can’t control my kids, especially my seven-year-old. I have to get after him all the time. He doesn’t listen to me. Every morning before school, he starts to play and I have to talk to him three or four times. Then I threaten that he’ll be punished, but he doesn’t care. I get so mad because I have to talk to him over and over again.”

I knew I had a communication problem but I didn’t know what to do. I was talking, but my son wasn’t listening. Because he wasn’t listening, he wasn’t obeying.

Obedience always starts with communication. As I made changes, I evaluated the words I used. I remembered a well-worn story which was also powerful. A father and his small daughter were walking through the woods. The father said, “Stay on the path!” but the little girl ran all over the place. He kept saying, “Stay on the path!” becoming angrier each time, but she still didn’t obey. Finally, she looked up at him and with tears in her eyes and said, “Daddy, what’s a path?”

That story clearly demonstrated to me how I assumed my son understood me, but I realized he didn’t. Sometimes I even assumed he could read my mind.

Here are some ways I learned to make sure my communication reached my son. I hope they are helpful for you and your children:

Stand close to them while giving instructions. It’s hard to communicate when we’re yelling from the other room. Instead, we need to have eye contact. We also should have them repeat the instruction back to us so we know they hear us.

Don’t say more than twelve words at a time in giving instructions. I have a bad habit of giving my son, all at once, a list of things to do. “First, go clean your room, then come set the table, and don’t forget to do your homework before you go to bed.” How silly! By the time I get to the last command, he’s forgotten the first one. I learned to give him one duty at a time. After the first one is completed, I give the next direction. I also praise him when a task is completed.

Be specific in commands and rules. H. Norman Wright explains in Answer to Discipline that a specific rule lets the other person know exactly what you mean and lets him know instantly when he has broken it. (page 39)

We can be specific by breaking the command down into steps. For instance, we could say, “Picking up toys means taking this block and putting it with the other blocks. Now take this car and put it in your toy box,” etc.

If you want to know how you’re doing on these three objectives, tape record your interaction with your family. You may be surprised to find out how many words you actually say and whether or not you are specific.

By: Kathy Collard Miller is a popular women’s conference speaker who has spoken in over 30 states and 8 foreign countries including China and Indonesia. Her passion is to inspire women to know their value to God as His daughter and to trust Him more. One of her latest books is Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory. Reach her at

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