“Where do you see gaps in our public education system?”
It’s nearing our bedtime and although we’re winding down from a long afternoon of back-to-back classes and meetings, I’m hoping to squeeze in one more thought-provoking conversation in the day.
My son looks at me from across the table. “Children don’t have real-life skills.”
“What do you mean?”
“They don’t know how to do relationships or carry conversations.” His words roll through synapses. My husband sits engrossed in a project across the room, the sporadic tap-tap of keys on keyboard a dull accompaniment to the whir of the furnace in the background.
“You know,” I let the word ‘know’ drawl, “the concept of ‘socializing kids’ is a big deal to parents and educators. What’s your solution?”
“It’s easy. Parents need to choose their own inspiring, growth-minded friendships, and then make sure that their children are around to listen to the conversations. If parents invited their children into their adult conversations, then they’d learn ‘socialization.'”
“You mean that instead of being told how to communicate, they’d learn it in real-time. The training would be organic as opposed to being taught from a curriculum. Rather than coming off as instructional, training to listen, empathize, ask great questions, think, search for solutions and wonder aloud is integrated in the context of relationships.” I lean back in my chair, mulling over ideas.
My daughter chimes in, “Imagine if we put a whole bunch of toddlers or preschoolers together for a long time, with no adult interaction, and we let them teach each other how to talk and act? You know, so that they can be ‘socialized.'” Her visual causes me to both smile and sigh. She goes on, “Mom. This is why I don’t go to youth group. To be honest, I don’t want to learn how to talk and act like my peers.”
She yawns as the conversation ebbs, the three of us lost in thoughts. Ezekiel gathers a small folded pile of laundry from the couch and hugs me on his way to bed.
These conversations are the fruit of years of cultivating communication that’s honest and intimate… raw and real. Communication that challenges us to question the status quo. While far from perfect, I’m grateful that my young adults want to engage in these stir-the-pot and search-for-a-solution exchanges. So, how did we help our children expand their vision for what’s possible in relationships and meaningful communication?
- Be hospitable. Invite people into your home. One thing I was adamant about is having everyone around the table together. No “kid’s table” and a separate “grownup table.” And then we were intentional about making sure the young people were seated in the midst of the grownups as opposed to them at one end and grownups at the other end. We haven’t always succeeded at this, but it’s one of our top values. Of course, it doesn’t always need to be dinner. Simply having a friend or two and their children over for a cup of tea is a prime opportunity to include everyone in the conversation.
- Have your young people serve alongside you. When our children were preschoolers, we had them serve alongside us in the Infant’s or Toddler’s room at church. By having them near us, we demonstrated what it looked like to love and care for those younger than them. We were also part of a Parent’s Date Night in which our children had an opportunity to help care for younger children alongside the adults. Whenever possible, have your child with you when you serve and make sure they’re given a role. By nature, we all want to contribute to the world, and there’s no age limitation to this desire. Find ways to foster the servant-heart in your child.
- Demonstrate the value of looking people in the eyes and listening with your heart by looking them in the eyes and engaging fully in conversation with them. Be at eye-level with them. Interact. Ask them questions about what they’re talking about to get them to think deeper about their topic. Which brings me to…
- Use those three magical words, “Tell me more.”
- Be intentional about inviting enthusiastic, visionary influencers into your lives. In fact, one of our favorite pastimes is engaging people in conversations about their career field or their passions. We may not ever be in politics or medicine or the military. We may not compete in Ironman races or the Olympics. We may not become truck drivers or teachers or retail sales clerks or lawyers. We may not write books or adopt children. Or, we might. We never know what conversations are going to spark inspiration. And even if we don’t decide to go to medical school and become a surgeon, it’s incredible to listen to the stories of others and learn more about the world through their eyes.
- Teach your children to go through life with the attitude that they have something to learn from everyone. Again, they learn this best when they see your teachable attitude. When they see you authentically engage, first with them, and then with others with a spirit of curiosity, they’ll learn to value a sense of wonder, too. Yes, we taught our children to use discernment. Some people teach us what not to do. And we taught them that there’s great wisdom in learning from other’s mistakes.
- Eat meals together as a family. We use this time to share our “high-low’s” from the day. To tell stories. What was a story that brought you joy? What was something that wasn’t so fun? Any interesting conversations? Did you learn something new? Anything strike wonder and awe in you? Did something cause you to be angry? (This is a good thing in our family… but that’s another post.) What inspired you? Did you experience something that raised questions for you? Did anything cause you to expand your vision or dream big dreams today? By making these types of conversations a normal part of your relationships, children learn to interact the same way with people outside the home.
- Choose your child’s friends wisely. I know, I know. Society says to teach our children to choose their friends wisely. However, we don’t know what we don’t know. Since leading our children is a stewardship, I’m not going to be haphazard about who they (or we) hang out with. We taught our children the truth behind the saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend time with.” Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Teach your children to exercise the same character qualities that they’re looking for in their friends. Teach them that they can be friendly to everyone but that they don’t need to be friends with everyone. Have them make a list of everything they’re looking for in a friend — and then teach them the value in becoming that person.
How about you? How do teach your children to love others well? What do you do to grow yourself to become someone who loves people well? What are some other ways to develop yourself and those you lead to engage, ask great questions, listen, and build authentic connections?