What role does listening play in building trust with my child?
I love my children deeply, but there are times when I feel an emotional or spiritual distance from them, like they are drifting a little out of reach. Sometimes one or both of us are distracted or busy. The distance may be the result of my own selfishness or irritability or a hurt that stems from anger. Sometimes we will have a hurtful exchange, or they may say, “You don’t understand,” or “You don’t listen.”
I have often been humbled to realize that there are important things I just do not know about my children. Those secrets are often used by the enemy of their souls to separate them from myself and their mother, and eventually from God.
Delve Into Hearts and Gain Understanding
To avoid this detachment in our family, I learned that I needed to delve into the hearts of my children and truly understand them. One of the most powerful ways to “discover” the heart of your son or daughter is to spend time listening to them.
I like to plan an event that we can do together, perhaps even a full day or a weekend activity, that includes a specific hour or two of intense, focused listening. I have taken my sons on camping and hiking trips for this purpose. I have spent days with my daughters, walking a lakeshore and having dinner, or spending time on a long drive with the radio off, talking. It can be as simple as going to breakfast together, or going to a quiet café or coffee shop for a couple hours. We agree to turn off our cell phones and give that time to each other. During this event or listening session, thoughtful questions are a powerful instrument to use in becoming an expert in understanding each child.
The Key to the Heart: Ask Questions
I try to ask questions, look them in the eyes, ask follow-up questions, hold my tongue, avoid lectures or exhortations, and try to probe down as many layers as I can. All I want to do is discover during this time. I don’t have to act or fix anything. Just careful listening is enough.
Listening my way into the hearts of my sons and daughters helps me identify the custom-made lies that Satan is using to try to destroy each one of them. Afterwards I can take their answers to my wife, and we can take them to the Lord together and plan projects, outings, assignments, and support that will help them. Each child has dreams, goals, and desires. Each child has fears, troubles, guilt, and hurts that they are unlikely to tell you unless you are skilled and diligent in asking questions.
The effect of these outings, sessions, questions, and projects is a growing bond between you and your children. They know you care about them. You understand them and help them understand themselves. They see that you are devoted to their good and helping them achieve their dreams.
20 Questions to Open the Heart of Your Child
These questions have been floating around for years, and I have found them to be very powerful. They are not original with me, but I have used them a lot and they are very effective.
- What foods do you like or dislike the most?
Goal: Break the ice and establish an easy, open atmosphere.
- Who is your best friend?
Goal: Discover who holds the greatest influence of their peers. (See I Corinthians 15:33.)
- Who do you most want to be like when you grow up?
Goal: Find out the type of character they are moving toward.
- What embarrasses you most in our family relationships?
Goal: Discover what you are doing or what is going on in the family that causes them to reject themselves.
- What is the greatest fear in your life?
Goal: Find out if Satan is binding them with fears. (See II Timothy 1:7.)
- What is your favorite activity?
Goal: Gain insights and ideas for activities and projects to do in a special time of fellowship with your children. These times can enhance your relationships with each other.
- What is your favorite song? Favorite kind of music? Favorite group?
Goal: Discern if they are embracing music with a destructive message.
- Outside our family relationships, who has the most influenced your life? How have they influenced you?
Goal: Determine who influences your children as a role model.
- What do you like to learn about the most?
Goal: Gain insights into their gifts and interests and areas in which to train them.
- What accomplishment in your life so far gives you the greatest sense of achievement?
Goal: Discover how you can build up their self-worth and put a spiritual emphasis to it.
- What irritation in our family bothers you the most?
Goal: Learn about the problems in the family that you need to work on, and later teach the children how to respond to sources of irritation.
- What makes you really angry?
Goal: Find out areas where your children have not yielded rights and expectations to God. Help them address those areas. (See Philippians 2:3-16.)
- What do you want to do when you grow up?
Goal: Discover what your children are moving toward. Help them develop a sense of destiny.
- What has been the biggest disappointment in your life so far?
Goal: Learn what is hurting them at times. Explain God’s purposes for disappointments.
- If you had the power to change anything about the way you look, would you use that power? If so, what would you change?
Goal: Find out if they are rejecting themselves. Gain insights for helping them see and appreciate God’s design in their lives.
- What do you appreciate the most about each member of our family?
Goal: Focus on positive qualities in the family. Later encourage them to share with the others what they appreciate.
- What biographies have meant the most to you?
Goal: See if your children are learning life stories from Godly people.
- What do you like to do the most as a family?
Goal: Learn how you can have family fellowship that your children will enjoy. Later, plan an activity.
- Encourage them to be honest. If you could change anything about me, what would you change?
Goal: Discover where you are damaging your relationship with them.
- When you get to the end of your life, what do you want to look back on and say that you accomplished for God?
Goal: Discover if they have a purpose in life.
After your session of listening, pray with your wife about some of the things you learned. These times of listening will bind your heart together with your son or daughter.
To continue following up after you session, take a little time during the week to discuss some goals or to spend time talking about one of the questions. Develop projects or thoughtful responses and goals based on what their answers were.
Demonstrate that your interest in them is not a one-time-only exercise. It is a lifelong pursuit of fellowship and love within your family as you build lasting relationships with each other.
Related Command of Christ
This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Ask, Seek, and Knock. (See Matthew 7:7–8.) To maintain good communication with his children, Ken invests time and effort in getting to know their interests and needs. Pursuing their hearts equips him to effectively lead his family.