Our primary job as parents is to disciple our children— to help them see that they’re sinners in need of a Savior, to introduce them to Jesus, to teach them about Him, and to show them what it looks like to follow Him. 

We need to communicate clearly with our children if we’re to fulfill this calling. Our communication should serve and not hinder this essential mission.

Communicating with our children can be challenging. Exhausting at times. There are so many different situations and each child is unique— we must be wise in how we communicate to each of our children. It’s not a one-size-fits-all formula for each family or each child.

Jesus communicated differently with different people

Think of Jesus. How did he talk to people? As I look through Scripture I see that He communicated differently with different people. 

  • I read that He wrote in the sand to the adulterous woman. It wasn’t for anyone else to know but her.
  • He was blunt with the Samaritan woman at the well, telling her everything she had done.  
  • He asked his disciples questions, leaving room for them to think for themselves.
  • He made abstract ideas more concrete by speaking in stories.
  • He gathered around the table, even reclining at times. 
  • He took the children in his arms and laid hands on them. 
  • And he called Peter out onto the water. 

Jesus knew the hearts and minds of the people (John 2:25). He knew how best to communicate to them. And he knew that different situations and different people call for different ways of communicating.

Communication needs vary from child to child

One day my husband asked our son to empty the dishwasher. 

He did. 

He listened well— a little too well. He took the dishes out of the dishwasher and placed them on the counter. Not in the drawers or the cupboards. 

When my husband questioned our son about not completing the task, he answered, “You told me to empty the dishwasher. That’s what I did. You didn’t tell me to put the dishes away.” 

This wasn’t a snarky remark or meant to be disrespectful. This is just our son. He takes what we say very literally. 

My daughter is the complete opposite. If you asked her to empty the dishwasher, she’d empty it, put the dishes away, clean the counters and maybe sweep the floor. She can read between the lines and figure out what we’re really wanting from her. 

Watching my two children take the same instructions to clean the kitchen differently woke me up. It showed me that my kids need different things from me. It taught me to take different approaches in communicating with my children. With one child I must be very direct and specific; with the other I can be more vague. 

One of our jobs as parents is to know our children, and therefore know how to best communicate with them. If you’re stumped, ask Jesus for insight— he both knows and loves your child more than you ever could.

Jesus knew that different situations and different people call for different ways of communicating.

7 ways to change up your communication

There are many different categories in which we need to communicate with our kids. Chores, doing homework, discipline, questions, deep topics, difficult topics, miscommunication, driving, rules and boundaries, expectations, emotions and so much more. 

Again: It’s not a one-size-fits-all formula for each family or each child. Here are a few examples in which you can communicate differently with your children and why it might be helpful. 

Get down on their level

Especially for little ones. You are literally closer to their ears and they aren’t as tempted to run away. 

Look them in the eye 

Not at your phone while you’re talking and make sure they’re not looking at theirs either. 

Don’t look them in the eye

I know I just said eye contact, but sometimes— for boys especially— no eye contact will help them open up. The car is an excellent place to ask questions or have tough conversations without a lot of eye contact. Building LEGOs or coloring is a great activity to do together while talking. 

Before bed

If you know you need to talk with your child, start bedtime a little earlier. It seems they always want to open up when you are ready to shut down for the night. 

After eating

If we try to talk to our preteen when she’s hangry, chances are we’ll get some attitude or eye rolls with it. Give them some food first. Sometimes the biggest contributing factor in a frustrating conversation is that someone hasn’t eaten.

Give them space

Some kids (and adults!) cannot process quickly. Set the stage for them— tell them you would like to talk, what you’d like to talk about, and when.

Once you’ve broached the subject, if you can still sense they need some time, give it to them if possible.

Lastly, as my son once advised me, give them a deadline. Be specific and clear. Don’t leave the conversation open to imagination or interpretation. 

Ask them to repeat instructions

If there’s one style that should almost always be used when communicating with your children, it’s this one. After you’ve given your child an instruction, have them repeat back to you what they heard. What you say and what they hear can be two very different things. You can circumvent a lot of frustration by simply asking your children to repeat instructions back to you.

You may quickly learn that your daughter only hears two of the five things you’ve asked her to do. Lesson learned— only give your daughter a maximum of two things to do at a time. 

Or if you tell your son to leave the party by ten so he can be home by ten thirty, he might hear, “Leave the party at ten thirty.” By asking him to repeat back to you, you’ll be able catch the misunderstanding. 

A tool in God’s hands

Pray for wisdom in how to best communicate with each of your children— not just to make life easier for yourself or produce more obedient children— but so that you can be a tool in God’s hands as he shapes and grows them. Fight to communicate well so that your children might hear wisdom and grow in understanding. 

Look to Jesus. Recognize the different needs of your children. Try a new technique or strategy. Lay aside pride and count your children as more significant than yourself (Philippians 3:3). May God speak through us to each of the children He’s entrusted to our care.