By Pastor Royston Smith
“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?” — Psalm 127: 3. Children are precious to God. They are curious, energetic and vulnerable so they must be carefully nurtured. It is important that their ‘Voice’ is heard. The way we communicate with children helps to shape their development and becomes a part of their legacy. Children learn by example, adults have a responsibility to model appropriate ways to share feelings, concerns and ideas. This must be done such that their excitement and curiosity are not stifled. Their word must not be drowned out; they must always feel and know that they are being listened to. The result will be well-adjusted children who understand their value. “Children must be seen and not heard” is an all too familiar proverb used to silence the voice of children.
The Bible records an occasion when mothers took their children to Jesus, expecting Him to bless them. His disciples, thinking Jesus might find the children annoying, turned them away. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” — Matthew 19:14. Jesus’ response showed us that children are to be valued. They are just little adults in training and as such, need to be surrounded by positive role models. Many adults invest time and other resources to teach children the necessary skills for life, yet few realise the many lessons we can learn from them: trust, excitement and sincerity. Every effort must be used to ensure that children’s thoughts are understood and validated. So, how do we do this?
Model appropriate communication. Children must be encouraged to express themselves in an appropriate manner. There are many teachable moments which should be used to consistently model appropriate communication. We often fail to model that which we expect of our children. Instructions to children should be given using simple, clear and age appropriate language. It is good practice to have the child explain the instructions received to make sure they understand what is being asked of them. This avoids unnecessary disappointments and frustrations.
Avoid interrupting. Be patient when children are trying to express themselves. They may not always speak quickly or clearly and often they seem to talk in circles. Instead of interrupting or hurrying them along, offer encouragement as this will reduce any anxiety. Proverbs 18: 13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
Read between the lines. Remember that much more is said with our actions than with our words (refer to the devotional ‘Look & Listen’). Pay attention to visual cues as they give insight into how a child might be feeling. Likewise, be aware of your own visual cues, regardless of the child’s attitude, try to control your emotions, in order to avoid sending messages of boredom, indifference or anger.
Maintain eye contact. Irrespective of age, maintaining eye contact is a very important part of non-verbal communication. A child receives the message that adults are interested in what they have to say when eye contact is maintained. This will encourage them to engage in conversation.
Praise more; criticize less. Frequently using encouraging words to children builds their self-confidence. Whereas, too much criticism causes children to think nothing they do is ever good enough. Children who live with constant criticism develop a habit of condemning others. Words that cultivate growth and build self-esteem should be a part of our staple diet. Focus more on praising effort as opposed to results. This will foster a positive work ethic as they grow.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” In order to improve relationships with our children, our communication needs to improve.
Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us how precious children are to you. Please help us to be patient as we listen, and gentle as we speak with them, in the name of Jesus, amen.