When my son Richard was young there was no problem in getting him to talk. He would follow my wife around the kitchen and the house as she worked, talking about all the new things he was learning and doing. As he grew up and engaged with his friends, his focus of communication naturally shifted. For myself, our point of communication always seems to center around what we are doing.

So, when we went through our year of 12 Tasks, we had very specific things to talk about. It was this intentional time of connecting over doing which led to an ongoing pattern we still rely on to this day. We could both deal with our limitations as we tried to build a tree fort twenty feet off the ground. We could talk through the challenges of climbing a mountain. We could discuss the details of how to accomplish certain tasks and of course, I could encourage him as he worked through his memory or writing etc.

Nicky and Sila Lee, in The Parenting Book, focus in one section on the art of one-on-one communication. They say “we should not be put off by the fact that some of the conversation will involve disagreements. A shopping trip may show up our different tastes in clothing, divergent views about hair colors, or the desirability of tattooing or piercing every part of one’s anatomy. Grab the opportunity to discuss and discover their opinions. These are invaluable opportunities for talking about peer pressure, school, how they like to dress- as well as showing them that we want to give them as much freedom as we can.” (p. 135)

Our conversations may also result in other generational conversations with older individuals involved in our child’s life. When Richard arrived back with us for a year from Kenya and noticed that many of his peers wore ear rings, he asked out loud in front of his grandfather what we would think if he pierced his ears. His grandfather told him that he would no longer be welcome in the home if that happened. This led to a significant conversation with that grandparent about the importance of loving unconditionally.

The Lees, in their book, say “we may be afraid of running out of topics of conversation. If so, it is well worth thinking in advance of questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” such as, “What sort of vacation do you enjoy most?” or, “If you could be anyone, go anywhere, and do anything, what would you choose?” Keeping up to date with the topics relevant to our children will help us from becoming out of touch. This may mean watching our child’s favorite show, attending their games, or staying aware of world events. 

More than at any other time, it seems that our next generation is being alerted to causes they can participate in. Discovering which causes click with their heart is an important communication link. Their interests will change over time so this too is important so we don’t make wrong assumptions that disconnect us. 

Parents should not ignore simple communication skills like eye contact, reflective listening, positive reinforcement and tangible rewards. The Lees list six ways to become more effective listeners. 

  1. Give your full attention – this means turning away from the screens, papers, books or tasks to focus on what our child is trying to communicate. Body language is important in communication. 
  2. Cope with distractions – avoiding a break in the conversation to deal with a phone call or interruption will help our child sense their value over our other worries and concerns.
  3. Show an interest – listening to the interests of our child, whether sports, music, hobbies, studies or shows, helps keep them open for other times they will need to talk on a deeper level.
  4. Listen uncritically – criticism can crush but favor brings flourishing. A child will naturally try to please but if they start to feel they can never please they will stop communicating.
  5. Identify feelings – children can’t always identify how they feel but we can help them by giving them the words to prompt their expression of what is happening inside.
  6. Reflect back your child’s words – reflection shows understanding and this is done by repeating back to them what you hear them expressing. This will help them from feeling alone in their struggle. Asking about some of these things a few days later shows you heard and cared.

You have 6575 days in the first eighteen years of your child’s life. You have 4380 until your child is thirteen. Those days will form the foundation of your communication patterns for the rest of your relationship. Being intentional in establishing those patterns may make all the difference and 12 Tasks is one way to spend a concentrated year confirming healthy patterns that will bind you together during the years that threaten to pull you apart.