As mommas we spend much of our days talking to our kids. We tell them to come to the table, to clean up their toys, get dressed, and so on. There are so many opportunities throughout the day to communicate instructions.
But what about conversations? Not the one-sided commands that we have to issue. I’m talking about the times when we get to enjoy the back and forth of talking with our child.
Both ways of talking to and with our children have value. But only one provides opportunities to engage with the heart and mind of our child. I invite you to a conversation I had with Heidi about the different ways we engage with our children in meaningful conversation and why one way offers unique benefits over the other.
Ways We Talk
Over the years, Heidi’s research for ABCJesusLovesMe led her to conclude that there are 2 main ways we talk to our children.
- Instructional Talk is the way in which we communicate things we need a person to do or how to behave. Instructional talk is necessary, one-sided, started by the parents, and is true for the present moment only.
- The other way we talk with our children, Heidi labeled Relational Talk. These are conversations, not instructions. This is the time to ask questions of your child, offer choices, and describe things, people, or activities. Relational talk can refer to the past, present, or future and doesn’t have to just include talking. It can happen when we’re reading, singing, playing, engaging in imaginative play or telling stories.
Why We Talk
So why is it important to know the difference? Research shows that engaging in conversations with our children, Relational Talk, enriches their vocabulary, can promote higher IQ’s, mature social skills and help with early literacy. It also aids in emotional maturity.
The meaningful conversation of Relational Talk helps us foster fertile hearts and minds where a love of God can take root. Desiring our children to want to serve and love others out of the overflow of love they have for God, we can be mindful and intentional to have meaningful conversations with our children that include God.
How to Have Meaningful Conversations
In the podcast, Heidi shares how she would use both Instructional and Relational Talk in the scenario of getting a preschool-age daughter ready for a play date.
Here is another example.
The grandparents are coming for supper soon. While you have prepared the meal, your 6-year-old has been quietly playing with Legos and has created the newest masterpiece. In the process, Legos have attempted to take over the living room floor.
Instructional Talk: Pick up your Legos. Your grandparents are coming soon. Hurry up! You’ve made a mess.
Relationship Talk: (Mom goes to the child and bends down on his level.) Tommy, I really appreciate how you played so quietly so that Mommy could focus on preparing supper for Grandpa and Grandma. The timer is going to go off in 2 minutes. Tell me about the creation you made. (Listen) I can tell you worked very hard. So that we can be good hosts to Grandpa and Grandma, I need you to pick up your Legos. Do you want to leave out what you made to show them or do you want to put away all the Legos?
For an older child or teen, asking questions about their experiences can be a great start to Relational Talk. Oftentimes the older a child is the longer it takes to get the conversation flowing. Stick with it! Ask him about his friends, hobbies, even thoughts on a current event. Feeling that you respect them enough to ask their opinion can pave the way to deep and meaningful conversations with a teen. Take the conversation to the next level by asking them about a passage of Scripture. Share what the Lord has been teaching you and then compare notes. Be patient and remember that if this is a new way of communicating for you and your teen, it will take time. But God will bless your effort!
Which Talk to Use When
While Relational Talk is vital for growth and development, Instructional Talk is important to develop a heart of obedience.
If you need the child to quickly use the restroom before you leave the house or not touch the hot stove, concise direction is required. Instructional talk is important for simple instructions and safety. These are the moments that explanation is not needed but obedience is.
In contrast, because Relational Talk takes more time, use this conversational tool for opportunities of play, day-to-day interaction, and in explanation.
Go Forth and Have Meaningful Conversation!
It’s your turn! While Instructional Talk is necessary, there are countless ways to engage in the vital Relational Talk throughout our days. The key to remember is that while these meaningful conversations do take more time, it’s up to us to choose to use those opportunities! God gives us all the same 24 hours. How can you choose to spend some of that time communicating with your children in a way that engages their hearts and minds but also their love for God?
We’d love to hear how you incorporate these 2 kinds of talking into your day. Is one more challenging than another? Do you find you naturally lean on Instructional Talk over Relational Talk? Or maybe it’s the other way around and you really have to be intentional to give clear, direct instructions?
Comment here or on the Parenting to Impress private Facebook Group and let us know how learning about engaging your child in meaningful conversation has changed how you think about talking with your children.