Make Deposits in the Love Bank (Part 2)
By Barry and Carol St. Clair
Using the Checkbook
Before making deposits in our bank account, we need to know how the checkbook works. In our relationship with our children, unconditional love is our asset in the bank and our communication skills are the checkbook. These skills create a channel through which our love can flow. Our communications checkbook allows us to dispense love, acceptance, affirmation, physical warmth, and availability. In order to do that we must be aware of our need to move from superficial levels of communication to deeper ones.
Communication experts point out five levels of communication that can move us from surface responses to intimate sharing.
- Cliches. "How are you?"
- Facts. "What did you eat for lunch?"
- Ideas. "What do you think about that?"
- Feelings. "How do you feel when that happens?"
- Intimate sharing. "What is on your heart about that?"
This level of conversation occurs only in those few relationships in which a person can open his or her heart and share deeply.
Some people find it easier than others to move from one level to another level. But if we want to communicate deeply into our children's lives, then we must make significant love deposits to reach the level of most intimate sharing. All families progress to the first three levels. Others may move to Level 4. But only families surrounded by unconditional love enjoy the opportunity to reach Level 5.
If we have unconditional love for our children, then how do we communicate it to them? The communication skills that follow will help us do that more effectively. Based on Ephesians 4:22-32, they help us not only have a biblical basis for how we communicate but also give us practical advice as well.
Change our attitudes. The Apostle Paul challenges us "to be made new in the attitude of your mind" (vv. 22-24). To do that he says we must lay aside our old way of thinking and put on our new self, which is created to be like God. What we learned in chapters 1-4 reminds us how to do that. What's exciting is that when we deal with our children in less than ideal circumstances, we can have the confidence that we have the attitudes and thoughts of Jesus. Before discussing issues with our children, we have found it wise to be alone for a few minutes, not to jot down an outline of what to tell them, but to focus on Jesus, asking to have the mind of Christ. Say something like this: "Jesus, I want to respond to my child in exactly the way you would respond." This tool, more than any other, sets the tone for the way our children will respond to us.
Speak honestly. "Putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully" are what the Apostle Paul recommends (vv. 25-26). The reason this is so critical in the family is that our children
don't respond to our fact-filled logic, but rather they respond to feelings. Just as importantly, they don't respond to wellcrafted speeches, but rather they respond to our behavior. They know whether or not we are being honest. We must make a practice of always dealing with our children honestly. I (Barry) remember my mother's amazing ability to know what I had been doing. She would say something like "What were you doing at ________." And then I knew that she knew exactly where I had been and what I had been doing. I never have gotten the courage to ask her, "How did you know that? Do you have a spy network or were my jeans bugged?" None of us wants to be dishonest. We just slide on the truth if we think it will make us look bad or hurt other's feelings. A few verses earlier, the Apostle Paul said, "speak . . . the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). In the context of genuine, unconditional love the truth may hurt, but it will not wound. Always communicate honestly with your children.
Express thoughts positively. The Apostle Paul encourages us to avoid "unwholesome talk" (v. 29). We easily fall into the habit of negative comments. It became so bad at one point in our family that every time one person said something negative, the person who heard it would yell out "NUB." When any of us got five NUBS, punishment followed. (NUB stands for "Not Up Building"). It took us a while, but we broke the habit. Even now, years later, if one of our kids says something negative, another will shout, "NUB!" During the "NUB" phase we discovered three clues to curb negative responses.
- Don't cut. Sarcasm, cynicism, and especially teasing begin as funny comments, but turn into a downward spiral of hurtful, cutting remarks. Making cutting comments about others is a severe form of insecurity. We cut others down in order to build up ourselves.
- Don't judge. Criticizing others for their behavior sets the one criticizing above everyone else as better. judging others is a severe form of pride. As one person said, "God created only one universe and only one Messiah to rule it. And you are not him!" All of us fall into that trap. The value of family is that it helps us resign as ruler of the universe.
- Don't threaten. One student told his parents, "I am sick of your rules. I am going to join the Marines." He didn't quite have a grip on reality, but it was a threat. Threats set up an "us versus them" situation. We are family. We always want to be on the same side.
We need to have our family focus on making only comments that "build . . . others up according to their needs (Eph. 4:29). These positive comments "benefit" the family. To offset the NUBS, the person who made the negative remark had to replace it with a positive one (an "UB," if you please). As you might imagine, this was sometimes strained and painful, but we all got the point.
Also during this time we learned three clues to encourage positive responses.
- Choose words carefully. Instead of blurting out whatever comes to mind when we get frustrated, we need to think about the right words to say. When anyone in our family "blurts," we say, "Let's go back and try that again." In time our children learned to move from "Dad, you're bugging me!" to "Dad, this is beginning to bother me a little. When you do that with my friends, it embarrasses me. Would you not do that?"
- Control the tone of voice. The tone of voice can communicate a wide range of emotions. For example, if someone says, "Great," what does that mean? By the tone of voice it can communicate discouragement, anger, nonchalance, or enthusiasm. Choose the tone that will express the emotion you want to communicate.
- Choose the right time. In their youthful enthusiasm kids always want to talk about it NOW or NEVER. To learn to communicate positively, we need to teach them through our example how to pick the appropriate time to talk about an issue. We can teach them to say, "Mom, I know you are busy now Could you tell me when we could talk about something that is on my mind?" Yet from our side we need to be quick to drop what we are doing in order to give our children the focused attention they need RIGHT NOW.
One final note on speaking positively, especially to dads: It is OK to say "yes" to our kids. I find so many dads who respond with "I don't care what you say. The answer is no!" They could just as easily have said "yes" without jeopardizing anything. We need to say "yes" to our family every time we can.
Listen actively. Nothing frustrates children more than parents who don't listen. A predictable grunt, a pat answer, or an inattentive response causes our kids to want to yell at us, "You are not listening!" To get rid of that accusation and to improve our listening skills, use the "Stop! Look! Listen!" method.
- STOP what you are doing immediately.
- LOOK the other person in the eye.
- LISTEN with both ears from the edge of your seat.
Once our children have our total attention, then we can complete the loop of the conversation by asking questions that clarify and keep the conversation moving.
"That's interesting. Tell me more."
"I'm interested in your point of view Explain it to me."
"That seems like something really important to you. Tell me why."
As the conversation moves along, try to identify feelings and problems that go deeper than the surface conversation. Our children need us to help them identify their feelings and then verbally express them.
When our son came in and said, "Girls are weird. I'm never going to date again," it didn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that he had some strong feelings. We could have made one of several knee-jerk reactions (and we have in other conversations):
"I agree. Girls are weird, especially that one. I'm glad you're not going out with her again." "Son, I don't want to hear you talk about girls that way "Sit down over here and tell me every detail."
In order to listen actively, complete the conversation loop. Move to Level 4 or 5 communication. To do that, we said, "It sounds like you and Sara [not her real name] had a frustrating evening." Maybe at that point he will talk about it. Since he did not, we asked, "Do you want to talk about it?" He did. We tried to listen for his feelings. Then we gave him some feedback that didn't pass judgment on him or the girl but empathized with his feelings. We let him know that we understood his feelings. We discovered that he felt as if he didn't understand girls and that one had hurt him previously. We tried not to offer advice, to overanalyze the situation, or to ask too many questions. Once he got it all out, then we offered some suggestions to help him think through his feelings.
This kind of active listening unravels the threads of anger, frustration, and hurt, and it gets to the heart of an issue.
Avoid conversation stoppers. Offering another practical way to communicate, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Eph. 4:30), and then he followed that with the kinds of things that grieve the Holy Spirit: "bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (e 31). All of these relate to the kinds of negative emotions that. can lurk behind a conversation. Those emotions can destroy communication and a relationship.
A fourteen-year-old daughter dashes in and announces emphatically, "I'm not going camping with the family this weekend because I want to go to a party. I'm going to stay with a friend." When the mother hears this, if she is struggling with any of the negative emotions mentioned above, then she will yell back something like this: "Oh, no, you're not, `Miss Priss.' You always think you can have your way. Well, you, can't. The answer is no, and that's final. I'm not talking about it anymore." The daughter storms to her room and slams the door. The door was slammed on communication as well. Out of the list of "conversation stoppers" below and on the next page, how many did the mother use in the above conversation?
- breaking a confidence
- withdrawing into silence
- using sarcasm
- name calling discouraging
- responding defensively
- not thinking before speaking
- bringing up the past
In that brief conversation, the mother used all but breaking a confidence. She condemned her child and reflected her own negative emotions, revealing that her own needs were not being met. These responses communicate volumes to her daughter, who then cuts off all further meaningful conversation.
All of us get trapped into these emotions sometimes. As we listen to our conversations with our children and hear these negative responses coming out, let's ask ourselves what emotion is at the root of them and then ask the Holy Spirit to remove the negative responses.
Respond kindly. The final instruction that the Apostle Paul gives us in Ephesians 4 is to respond with kindness,' compassion, and forgiveness to those around us (v 32). When those three characteristics drive our conversations, we will respond to all people, and especially our children, with the spirit of Jesus Christ. Often we make a harsh response when kindness is what is needed. Frequently emotions run high, causing everyone to lose perspective when what is needed is the compassion of Jesus to focus us on His love. Many times we say and do things that hurt others, which calls for asking forgiveness. Without these three qualities to guide our conversations, we easily get confused about how to respond, especially when the conversation is not pleasant. But with these qualities we can ask questions, offer advice, listen with a sympathetic ear, and assert our viewpoint when necessary, so that we respond lovingly to a volatile child.
We have found that when we adhere to the following guidelines, we have been able to express kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to our children.
- Never argue with a child's feelings.
- Don't be threatened by a child's ambivalent attitudes or strong feelings.
- Discern the difference between accepting a person and approving his or her behavior.
- Always communicate respect.
- Reply sensitively to sensitive subjects.
- Make family decisions with the entire family.
- Overlook irritating and unfavorable behavior when your children are tired or under stress.
- Say no only when that is the best and. only response; then stick by it.
- Ask forgiveness as often as necessary.
- Keep talking since silence solves nothing.
Mastering these communication skills deepens our awareness of our children and our sensitivity to their needs. Then we will not only understand their heart feelings, but we will bond with them at the deepest level.
Making Profitable Deposits
Avoiding unnecessary withdrawals and mastering communication skills certainly make a difference in the investment we make in our children. But, truthfully, those prove to be totally inadequate unless we spend the necessary time with our children. Only when time spent becomes a daily reality in our homes, can we have the confidence that our children will grow up with a passion for God.
Moses instructed parents on what to teach our children.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. (Deut. 6:4-7)
Then he gave clear direction on when to teach our children.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut. 6:7)
Think about it: When else is there?
Since the average father spends less than thirty-eight seconds a day in direct contact with his children, we need to develop the habit of spending both quality and quantity time with them. If we go into a steak house and order a big juicy sirloin, we will not be very happy if the waitress brings out a big plate with only a one-ounce steak on it and announces, "We specialize in quality, not quantity." [James Dobson, "Focus on the Family" video series] Why should our children feel any less appointment when we don't spend quantity time communicating with them? Every time we get with them and loving communication occurs, we make deposits that will generate large interest payments in the future
Ginny, our eleven year old, wrote this note on our last trip to the beach:
"I've always enjoyed being with my mommy after school when she picks me up and takes me to get something to eat, and on Wednesdays we go to piano. I've always loved being with her."
That time investment has paid off with our other children, and it will pay off for Ginny. And it will pay off for every child whose parents implement this "when else is there?" strategy in practical ways.
"When you sit at home..."
With kids going in several directions, seemingly at once, making the time to sit down together is hard work. We have found it necessary to make specific daily and long-term plans to spend time together.
We use mealtimes to talk. Plan carefully for those mealtimes when all of the family will be together. Prepare a good meal. Turn off the TV Take the phone off the hook. Begin the meal with a blessing. After the food goes around the table, ask each person to talk about what happened during the day. Begin with a different person each time so the talkers don't dominate. As each one talks, ask lots of questions. This keeps the conversation going, and soon everyone gets into the action by talking to each other. This Level 2 conversation helps us as parents stay informed on what's going on in our kids' lives. Meanwhile, our children will build relational and communication skills including manners, listening, and sensitivity to others.
Sitting around the table, we can initiate Level 3 conversation by asking thought-provoking questions: "What did you think about on the news tonight?" "How do you think we can act on what the pastor said in his sermon today?" Your children's observations will give you keen insight into what they think.
After dinner play The Ungame (available at most Christian bookstores). Designed to stimulate conversation, it will quickly move the family to Level 4 conversation. Keep some of the questions from the game in a basket near the table. If The Ungame is unavailable, make up questions. Use these for starters:
- Tell about a time when you felt proud of yourself.
- If you could change your age, what age would you rather be? Why?
- If you became President of the United States, what two things would you do first?
- How do you look when you get angry? Why do you think you look that way?
Questions like these initiate personal sharing that reveals thoughts, and feelings.
"When you walk along the road..."
We have a lake in our neighborhood. In the twenty-seven years we have lived here, we have walked to and around that lake thousands of times. It's our way of taking a few unhurried minutes as a couple or with our children. Just walking along encourages conversation.
Yet since most of us don't walk as much as people did in ancient civilizations, driving in the car provides prime time for conversation. Not only can we use it to catch up on the "day-to-day stuff," but because we have our children's undivided attention, we can also move into deeper levels of conversation. In high school Scott had to leave at 7 A.M. to ' drive twenty-five minutes to get to school. Before he got his driver's license, we drove him. What an opportunity to talk! We heard about the pressures of tests, the frustrations of sports injuries, or the excitement of a weekend outing with his friends. We had some serious talks about the girl scene on those trips as well. We prayed every day, memorized verses, and talked about the Lord. We tried to max out this time by planning some of the conversation topics, but mostly we tried to make it his time.
For people who travel, taking our kids on a trip scores big with them. Usually we take them one at a time, but not always. We took Scott on a trip to North Carolina and saw the last game UNC played before moving into the dorm room. Katie went with Carol and Carol's mother to a weekend women's retreat, where all three spoke to the ladies. That ' only deepened the already close bond between the three generations of women in our family. Jonathan flew with Carol when he was about ten. With his siblings, Jonathan was quiet. Mostly he grinned and listened to everyone else. Yet the minute he sat down on the plane, he started talking and didn't stop until the plane landed. Carol listened in amazement. It was as if someone had let him out of the box and turned on his switch. Ginny, eleven, and Barry recently returned from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They stayed with friends, toured the capitol and the LSU campus, and ate out several times. Ginny got the Princess bear Beanie Baby as a gift. Throw in Barry speaking three times, and it was quite a weekend. We had plenty to talk about for weeks after that.
One of the most significant communication times with our children has been their "preteen trip" when they were eleven. For example, Barry and Scott went camping.
The first night we set up our camp and cooked "silver turtles." The next day we hiked up Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. After a long, hard climb, we arrived at the top exhausted. We lay on a big rock, ate and drank our snacks, and talked as we took in the breathtaking view. Later that day we found a "swimming hole," a freezing, fast-moving stream. Each time we went across, we tried to beat our record for how far we got swept downstream.
Carol and Katie opted for a cozy mountain cabin with a fireplace.
We worked so hard to get a good fire going. We laughed and laughed because it wouldn't start. We enjoyed visiting Babyland General, the home of the Cabbage Patch dolls. We shopped in a quaint village, visited a friend, and ate in a cozy restaurant on a rainy night. On these trips with all of our children, we took along James Dobson's tapes Preparing for Adolescence. We listened to some of the tapes in the car as we drove to our destination. We listened to others throughout the weekend. After the first tape on self-esteem, Barry asked Scott what he did and did not like about himself. Scott said, "There's nothing I don't like about me. I like everything." That was the end of that conversation! The others viewed themselves a little more realistically. Those weekends opened the door to many conversations about love, sex, and dating over the next few years.
"When you lie down..."
From birth we have made putting our children to bed a big deal. When Ginny, our youngest by eight years, was a toddler, she loved nothing better than to prop up on the pillows with a pile of books, snuggled next to Mom, Dad, or one of her siblings. We read, played, and talked about Jesus. 1 When we prayed, she covered her face with her hands and mumbled. Now years later, when we put her to bed, she has five pillows, books all around, and prays the sweetest prayers.
When Ginny came along, the older children began to relive their days of bedtime when they were her age. They shuffled through their old books to pick out some of their old favorites for their little sister. They even came to Carol, got into bed with her, and wanted her to read the old Dr. Seuss and Berenstein Bears books to them. We were reminded that those times of communication had made , significant deposits in their emotional accounts.
For the older children bedtime helps them unwind and talk about the issues of their day. Sometimes feelings come out that neither they, nor we, were aware of. Some days our children act irritable and picky. (Some days so do we.) When we ask them what's wrong, usually they don't know what to say. They may not even know why they are feeling as they do. On such nights we lie down beside that child and try to talk it through. If nothing else, our physical presence reassures them. A good back rub adds a touch that says, "I love you." On one such occasion Katie burst into tears, pouring her heart out about the hurt underneath her surface irritability. A time of prayer naturally follows, confessing any sin and asking the Lord to heal the hurt.
In our children's earlier years we used a back rub called "The Garden" to spur conversation. We began by "digging" out all of the hard soil and rocks-a vigorous rubbing of the back coinciding with confessions of the day (a fight with a sibling, a negative attitude). Then we "planted" rows of seed. These orderly pokes on the back created giggling while the child listed what he needed to plant (patience with a sibling, a positive attitude). Then finger movements representing the gentle rain and the warm sun soothed them off to sleep. "The Garden" provided a creative approach to talking and praying.
As our children moved into adolescence, they thought they had outgrown those "tuck in" times. During Scott's early adolescence, he announced one night, "I can tuck myself in, I can say my own prayers, and I can kiss myself goodnight." It became a standing joke to see if Scott could get to bed, "tuck himself in," and go to sleep before we could get into his room. We playfully persisted. Barry would attack, taking a running leap at the bed. Then a wrestling match ensued. After wrestling and laughing, we offered up a brief prayer.
If you can stay awake, the time after your teenager's date or other activity can provide "when you lie down" talk time. When our kids. came in, we asked a simple question, "How was it?" That opened the door. They would tell us about what they had done. If something bugged them, they probably wouldn't blurt it out, but most likely it would slide into the conversation somewhere. Sometimes they desired privacy. We tried to honor that. As we identify their feelings and talk with them about those feelings, we make big deposits in the relationship account.
"When you get up... "
One child pops out of bed ready to attack the day. Another drags himself out of bed, one toe at a time, and then wants to eat breakfast with his head in the plate of eggs. With those two extremes and some kids in between, how can we communicate effectively when they arise, especially if we parents are not "morning persons"?
Our family struggles to find the balance. We try to establish some sense of continuity in our morning routine because of the value of that communication time for our whole family. We know that breakfast provides a time when all of us regularly touch base. We find out what each person faces for the day. We coordinate schedules. We share a verse or s thought from the Bible. We pray for God's blessing and guidance on the day. In spite of the wildness and the crazy .; laughing (even during the prayers sometimes), that brief time draws us together. Even with all of the effort it takes, our morning time communicates that we won't face anything that day that God and our family can't handle together. Now that two of our children are happily married and the others are getting older, we can see the value of time spent, focused attention, physical touch, and a constant awareness of the presence of God. The investment we made in their accounts has paid a bigger dividend than we could have ever imagined. Our hope and prayer is that it will be so with your family as well.
Ask a friend to give you honest feedback on how you communicate with your children. Then take that information and make a list of three ways you will improve loving communication with your children. Choose one from that list to do this week, building it into a specific activity that will require time and attention given to your child.
- Looking at the indicators of an overdrawn account on page 108, is your account overdrawn with your child?
- From the results of deposits of loving communication listed on page 109, would you say you are making the kind of deposits needed for your child to know he or she is unconditionally loved?
- Has your child made any of the statements on page 112 and 113 that indicates he or she has gone into "the cave"?
- If your teenager is in "the cave" or if your child could be there some day, what do you need to do now to get him or her out, or keep him or her from going in?
- Which checks do you have in your communications checkbook currently? Which ones do you need to add?
- What changes do you need to make in your schedule to have quantity time with your child?
- What aggressive plan do you have in mind to make profitable deposits according to the outline in Deuteronomy 11:19?
- Does your spouse think you have a realistic picture of your account? Courageously ask.
- Do an "Investment Analysis" by reviewing last week's withdrawals and deposits with your child. To determine the activity in your account, list all of the negative communication you had with your child in one column and mark it "Withdrawals." Then list all of the positive communication in a column marked "Deposits." Figure out your "balance" by subtracting withdrawals from deposits.
- To stop the withdrawals, analyze where your conversations got off track and why.
- Using your communications checkbook, write down one phrase regarding what you will do to:
- Change your attitude.
- Speak honestly.
- Express thoughts positively
- Listen actively.
- Avoid conversation stoppers.
- Respond kindly.
- Use the guidelines from Deuteronomy 11:19 to devise a plan for making positive daily deposits for your child.
- Make a large deposit by planning a special one-on-one time with your child this week. Think of an activity that he or she would like to do and then do it.
Bell, Valerie. Getting Out of Your Kids' Faces and Into Their Hearts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.
Campbell, Ross. How to Really Love Your Child. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1977.
Campbell, Ross. How to Really Love Your Teenager. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1981.
Mow, Anna B. Your Child from Birth to Rebirth. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1963. (Carol's favorite,)
Wikinson, Bruce. Family Walk. Atlanta: Walk Through the Bible.
These two articles comprise chapter five of the book, Ignite the Fire, by Barry and Carol St. Clair. It can be ordered through your local bookstore, through Reach Out's online store at http://reachout.gospelcom.net/catalog/item.asp or from their office by phone at 1-800-473-9456.
Another parenting book by Barry is Life Happens: Help Your Teenager Get Ready, which helps parents direct their teens in such areas as personality, spiritual gifts, life purpose, values, goals, use of time and decisions.
Copyright 1998 by Cook Communications Ministries. This chapter was taken from Ignite the Fire by Barry and Carol St. Clair. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved. It may be purchased from Reach Out Youth Solutions at http://www.reach-out.org .