When my youngest was two, he annoyed his older brother continually by taking his toy and running away. My oldest would chase him, screaming and angry, trying to get back what belonged to him. Can anyone relate?

My younger son simply wanted to play with his big brother, but he didn’t know how to ask or how to play appropriately. His misguided attempts caused tension and frustration— his older brother didn’t trust him to play. 

Hearing them scream and fight frustrated me as I tried to cook or clean up or, you know, do anything

All this chaos, simply because a small child couldn’t communicate.

Communication is key in every relationship. So much frustration could be resolved by simply explaining our thoughts and emotions. Many adults still struggle with this, so how can we train our children? 

Here’s the good news: we have a perfect Father is heaven who trains us daily to be like Him. By following His lead, we can love our children well and teach them to communicate effectively.

1. Meet them where they’re at

The Lord looks to our development and meets with us appropriately. Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews all discuss the maturity of the Christian and their readiness to transition from milk to solid food (1 Cor. 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:2-3; Hebrews 5:11-14). Therefore our teaching must meet the child’s level too. 

Both of my children needed to learn to communicate their needs to keep this same fight from happening again— but both their needs and their communication skills were different. 

I had to teach my two-year-old:

  • how to communicate that he wanted to play
  • how to play in appropriate ways

I had to teach my five-year-old:

  • to be patient with his brother
  • to find a way to incorporate his brother into the play at his level or to ask me for help
  • to not chase his brother around and reinforce the behavior

Consider your child’s development. Maybe even take the time to read into developmental stages so you know their capabilities and can meet them there.

For a one-year-old, one word sentences are appropriate. Everything they want— indicated by pointing, screaming, etc.— we must teach them to request by naming the item, ie. “Milk?” 

As they grow, teach them to communicate at an age-appropriate level, ie. with simple two-word requests, such as, “Milk please?” 

Soon enough, you’ll need to teach them more complex sentences, such as, “Mom, may I have milk, please?”

As your child grows, his or her needs will change and become more complex but the principle is the same: discern their level and meet them there.

By following God's lead, we can love our children well and teach them to communicate effectively.

2. Be patient in instruction

When it comes to recurring sibling conflicts, we’re all tempted to simply take the path of least resistance. If I had ignored them— or permitted my oldest to take the toy back— or told him to just let the younger one have it— neither would have learned how to prevent the problem constructively.

My oldest might simply hide in his room to play. My youngest might learn that taking toys is acceptable. 

Through patient and faithful instruction, I’m blessed and called to teach them to engage with one another appropriately. It may take twenty of the same interactions— give or take a few!— but don’t give up or give in. Consider how patient the Lord is with you.

God pours out His grace and love for us while we are still sinners (Romans 5:8), but once we come into His family He loves us enough to teach and instruct us. He teaches us and refines us because He loves us. 

Even as adults we still fail to communicate our needs constructively. This is a lifelong learning process— without a successful model or positive instruction it may never be achieved at all. As parents we must faithfully and patiently instruct our children in what is good— including how to communicate well.

3. Sacrifice your time for them

God wants nothing more than for us to come and meet with Him. Jesus sacrificed everything (Philippians 2:7) that we might have life. He came down to us. He gave us His Word and His Spirit that we might hear His voice and grow in Him. 

To teach my children I had to get down and play with them. By playing I was teaching my oldest how to incorporate younger children while also teaching my youngest appropriate play skills. 

The best way to communicate with your child and develop their communication skills is to simply be with them. Make the sacrifice. There’s just no way around it: if you want to disciple your children, you must sacrifice your time for them.

Most children learn through observation. By watching you, they learn to engage with you and others productively. Play with them on the floor, read books with them, show them how to use items appropriately. 

Children learn from other children, yes, but consider this: would you rather learn how to behave from Jesus through the Bible? Or from your neighbors or coworkers or in-laws? The point is that there’s a marked difference in quality of instruction from one to the other. Parents can model and teach in a way that other children simply can’t.

So make the time to get down on the floor with your children— just as Jesus did for us.

4. Seek to know your children

God knows our hearts. He knows our needs, what tempts us, and what gifts He’s given us. We likewise should seek to know our children. 

If I’d thought my youngest child just wanted the toy and my oldest just didn’t want to share, I would’ve never gotten to the heart of the issue. I would have lost a beautiful chance to teach them to communicate. 

If we know why a child is acting a certain way, we’re able to teach them how to request what they need or how to cope with their emotions— rather than just disciplining them. This also helps ensure that we’re disciplining them appropriately. 

Watch your child, watch the events that lead up to their behaviors. They may be too young to understand why they’re so upset, but you’re not. You can learn if your child needs time alone, is more provoked when they’re hungry, or could use preparation before transitions. 

When you have this information you can teach them the communication skills specific to their needs and frustrations. You can also use this knowledge to teach them in ways that encourage their strengths and aid them in their weaknesses. Give them skills they feel confident in and teach them through methods they enjoy. 

Walk in His ways as you teach your children to do the same

We know the more we meet with our Father the more we grow to be like Him. He constantly works in our lives so we can love Him and love others. Walk in His ways as you teach your children to do the same.

Meet them where they’re at—  be patient in instruction— sacrifice your time for them— and seek to know their gifts and strengths. By the grace of God, may we raise children who communicate well for themselves, for others, and for the advancement of God’s kingdom.