Monthly Archives: August 2013

Charlie Brown’s Mother – Why Kids Don’t Hear Us Anymore


“I KNOW I can hear myself talking.  I am SURE that I am speaking English.  AND, I can see you RIGHT THERE!”

That was the one-way conversation I was having the other day with my 7 year old.

Have you ever felt that frustration of talking to kids who are just not hearing anything you are saying?  Many parents, teachers, and Children’s Ministry leaders feel that frustration every day.  “WHY are they not listening to me?”

I have been thinking a lot about why my own kids and the kids I minister to outside of my home aren’t appearing to hear me, and I have come to a conclusion.  It’s my belief that children are slowly tuning us all out.

Dr. Kevin Leman jokingly says that children nowadays are “unionized”.   I believe him.  There is very little that I witness with my children at home that I don’t see in the general kid population.  In general, kids are slowly tuning all of us adults out.

But why?

Well, I have made a few observations that are gleaned from my own introspection and my observation of those around me who are attempting to communicate with kids.  Here’s why the kids don’t hear us anymore.

1.  We yack too much. 

Most of what children hear throughout their day is a series of commands, one after the other.  After a while, it all sounds like noise to them.   Here’s what we need:

Less ordering, more engaging.   If the orders and commands are coming too fast and too furious, they begin to sound like droning machinery.

For example, if you are trying to get your little boy to get ready to go to the park, here’s what you could say:   “Okay Dylan, we are going to the park in a few minutes.  What do you think we need to bring with us?”  It works way better than, “DYLLLAAAAAHHHNNN!!! LET’S GOOO!! Get your coat!!  Where’s your hat?  Get your shoes!!  Where’s your sand bucket! Go to the bathroom!”

Dylan needs to be engaged in a conversation instead of just being barked at.  After all, Dylan is a little human who just lost you after “coat”.

Less commands, more conversation.  Sometimes we need to give the commands once clearly, and that’s all.  We need to allow the mistake to be made, and the consequence should be swift and immediate, and true to our word.  Instead we often just keep yelling out the commands without any corrective action.  Soon they just become a bunch of things with no meaning rather than words that should snap a kid to attention.

Less talking, more listening.   I find that people in general have poor conversation skills.  There is way too much talking and feeding our own need to be heard, and way too little listening to the person with whom you are conversing.

We need to sit and listen to children more.  We need some moments of real conversation that don’t involve us barking out orders.   What are they thinking about?  What have they done today?  Why are they doing that thing that you don’t want them to do?  Perhaps if you take the moment to allow them to give their perspective, they may have something remarkable to say, and they may perceive you as someone that is interesting to chat with, making you also interesting to listen to.

2.  We are annoyingly loud.

A lot of the time, when we talk to children we address them as if we are preaching at a tent meeting to 600 people without a microphone.  We don’t always need to be at top level.  Sometimes we need to tone it down a smidge… okay a lot.

If we are giving commands to children, they should not be made to feel as if they are lining up to be sent to the stockade.    When we are communicating a message, it’s important to use different tones of voice.  There is no need to constantly yell at kids.  One of my good friends is a school teacher, and she is able to snap a large group of kids into listening mode with a very quiet and calm voice, because they are now intrigued by what she is saying in such quiet tones.

So, in short, tone it down.  Goodness, with all that noise, I’d tune you out too.

3.  We are boring.

Sometimes we as adults need to get ourselves a sense of humour.  To that humour we need to add imagination.  To that imagination we need to add creativity.  Trying to imagine what would happen if aliens landed on the front lawn is not a useless exercise.  It’s a moment to allow a child’s sense of silliness and wonder to rub off on you.  To a child, that’s meaningful conversation.  So try not to be so boring.  Do something silly, for goodness sake.   Silliness engages children, and an engaged child is a listening child.

When I watched Charlie Brown as a kid, I remember thinking that the mother had nothing interesting to add to the real important story that was happening closer to ground level.  Her words were, “Wah-wah, wah-wah…” and totally undecipherable.  Whatever she was saying was not relevant.  It’s funny in the cartoon because it’s so true.

Are you relational with your children? Do you take the time to make yourself familiar with their culture (and they do have one).  Sometimes we can’t help but be perceived as irrelevant.  After all, we’re old.  However, it’s always fun to throw your kids for a loop when you actually know what Moshi Monsters are, or that One Direction is not just something written on a road sign.  Take the time to be an integral part of the story that is happening closer to ground level.

4.  We are disrespectful.

Yes, I said that.  WE are disrespectful.  We want our children to be respectful to us while we model disrespect to them.

Picture this:  Your spouse is sitting at the computer, reading a really good blog post about something that interests them.  Then you come charging into the room and demand, “Get off the computer!  I’m ready to go!”   Your spouse would have some choice words for you right at that moment.

It seems ridiculous to use that approach on our spouse, but then we use that approach on children all the time.  The difference with kids is that they know that there are consequences for speaking back to their parents in those moments, so their only defense is to tune you out and ignore you.

It’s not okay to treat kids with disrespect.  Let’s respect their privacy.  Let’s respect their personal space.  Let’s respect their feelings.  Let’s respect their need to play.  If we constantly model a disrespectful tone to our children, we can’t complain later when the same words come back in our direction like a boomerang.

I’ve heard many parents say that their kids have “selective hearing”.  In a way, I guess we all do.  We all tune out what is annoying, what is redundant, what is repetitive, what is rude, and what is too hard to understand.  But we do tune in the people who take the time to involve us, relate to us, and meet us where we are, because that is real conversation.


No-Sweat School Mornings

I do mornings.

For years until I was 42, I used to say that I was not a morning person.  I didn’t like getting up early, and I detested having to be coherent for any reason before 9:00.  I liked getting out of bed and just making it to work when required, and waking myself up gradually… say, by 11:00.

All of that changed when children entered the picture.  Two out of the three of them are morning people.  The youngest, in particular, is a lively hop-out-of-bed type of person who cannot understand why everyone else does not share his zest for all things morning.  Immediately upon his arrival in our home, he began to wake us no later than 6:00 a.m., bright eyed and bushy-tailed, banging loudly on our bedroom door.

So now I do mornings.

School mornings were a particular issue for me.  Being “The Insta-Mom”, I was thrown into the craziness of school mornings like a piece of meat to a pack of wild dogs.  It nearly ate me up.  I couldn’t seem to figure out which days I needed to pack what, how much lunch to give them, and what “currency” I need to use to coax each one to do what is needed.

So I now think I may have it figured out.

I’ve realized that the key to a good school morning is being ready the night before.  So, with the help of “The Get Yourself Organized Project” by Kathi Lipp,  I’ve come up with a list of things that I do on school nights to be ready for the morning. Perhaps it might be of help to you as you look forward to the back to school season:

1.  Set your alarm early so that you can beat the early kid to the punch.  It makes me feel immediately in control when I’m the one doing the waking.

2. Dump the nastiness out of the backpacks.  Do this either outside or over a garbage can.   Heaven only knows what might slither or ooze out.

3. Go through the kids’ agendas or homework to see what is to be done for the next day.  Then you have grounds to say, “AHA! Yes you DO have homework, you little stinker!” when they claim that the teacher never mentions homework.

4. Pack lunches (if the kid is older, make them do this). If it is something that just can’t be made the night before, do as much of the prep as possible.  It’s much better for the child’s nutrition if the lunch is not completely packed by a zombie mother.

5. Make the kids pick out their clothes.  It will avoid the bedroom looking like the back room of a fashion show the next morning.

6. Charge your cell phones and other electronic devices.  Put them where you can find them without having to use a “find-my-iPhone-because-I’m-braindead” app.

7. Defrost or at least plan out tomorrow night’s supper.  Kids can’t live on chicken fingers, even though they are quite happy to do so.

8. Put breakfast bowls and cereal or whatever on the table.  If a kid is big enough, you may be able to hang on to a few more minutes of zombie state while they fix their own breakfast.

9. Fill up water bottles.  Make sure that they are tucked in something outside the bag.  We have ruined many agendas and permission slips by putting them inside.  None of them are leakproof and they all end up upside-down in the backpack.

10. Set reminders.  I set reminders on my iPhone of anything that is needed for the morning that I might possibly forget.  I also tie random things to doorknobs in case I forgot step 6.

11. Find your keys.  Preferably get into the habit of hanging them or placing them in the same place every day.  Nothing worse than being totally ready and then spending 20 minutes looking for keys.

12. Empty the dishwasher.  I know it sounds out of place on this list, but it will make you feel so much better if you can throw breakfast dishes quickly into the dishwasher to get them out of the way so that you don’t feel like crying when you get home later.

13. Fill up your gas tank.  All of your saved time goes out the window if you have to stop and get gas on the way to work.

14. Shut off the computer about an hour before bedtime. (I still haven’t mastered this.  I’m typing this at 12:14 a.m.)  Apparently the light from your computer will trigger stuff in your brain that will do something or other to keep you awake.  (I really absorb scientific information like a sponge.)

15.  Go to bed at a sensible time.  I have a good friend who used to say to her sons, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.”  I would say for a mother of three, nothing good happens after 10.  After that, you should be ten-toes-up in bed, halfway to La-La-Land.  Don’t lie there and watch the news either.  Nobody wants to go to bed dreaming they being attacked by angry demonstrators or in the middle of a drug bust.

16.  Match up mittens.  We have a bin in our front entrance that is like a singles bar for mittens… each mitten is in there trying to find its mate.  To alleviate this problem, just buy many of the same mittens so that there’s always a matching pair.  (Also check up the sleeves of the jacket they wore the day before.  You might find the rogue mitten there. )  There have been many mornings when I have dragged myself back into the house after putting the kids on the bus, only to have to gather up the contents of the mitten bin, which has been dumped out onto the floor in desperation.

17. Make sure boots and other winter stuff are dry and have not been used to add detail to a snowman in the front yard.

18. Remind your kids about how smart they are.  Hopefully they will fall back on that when they have an opportunity to make a dumb choice the next day.

19. Read the Bible to the kids. Make sure that the last thing they hear about is how much God loves them.

20. Finally, pray with them. Let them finish the day talking to the One who made the day happen in the first place. It puts everything else in perspective.

After you have checked all of these off your list, my best advice is to expect the wildcards.  Children like to throw wrenches into your perfectly-planned mornings.  They like to tell you as you are running to catch the bus that they have a major project due, or they need to bring gym clothes for a sports day.  You must take those things in stride and expect the unexpected.

If the children make it to school with their lunch and fully clothed, then the rest is gravy.  Pat yourself on the back and enjoy your day.

Walking in Your Shadow

I was given a magazine a while ago by a friend who thought I would appreciate it, because it had an article nicely written about my late grandmother.  It was a lengthy obituary, which said very little about her.  The author referred to her as “Mrs. A.S. Bursey”.  Trouble is, her initials were not A.S.  Those were my grandfather’s initials.  Nanny’s name was Rebecca.

My grandmother was known for who she married.  She was not the type of person who would stand out on her own.  She was not the type to put herself out there for everyone to know.  In fact, putting herself out there in crowds was actually something that made her uncomfortable.  She was not a tall woman by any stretch and she married a fairly tall and stalwart man.

My grandfather was well-known wherever he went in Newfoundland back in the day. He was the leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and had been instrumental in the foundation of many churches there.  He was constantly in demand to preach all over the province.  His face was recognizable to many who lived in the province at the time.

Poppy was a big man, or at least he seemed so to me.  He had a big personality and he commanded attention wherever he went.  He would preach with confident tones, sometimes almost sounding more like he was singing a song than preaching.  He could hold the attention of an audience for an hour as he spoke (and sometimes much longer).

Then there was Nanny.  She was a small woman, who stood quietly by his side, not saying much at all.  She was courteous and friendly to people, and hosted many people through the years.  But I got the feeling that she was often outside of her comfort zone when she did so.

Poppy loved her, and you could tell.  He would call her “Becky” or “Bucket”.  When we would go visit them, he would always try to entertain the grandkids by saying, “C’mon, Bucket, gimme a kiss, my lovey!” and then she’d giggle, smack him and say, “You go on now.”

When I was a child, my grandmother seemed like an enigma.  I never knew lots about her background or who she was as a girl (something I really regret), and I never knew about the things she really was passionate about.  She wasn’t the type to talk about those things freely, or at least with mischievous grandkids.  She had a very intriguing house, that had those old doorknobs that looked like huge diamonds, a mysterious printing press in the basement, and portraits in Poppy’s study that looked like their eyes were following you.  She always had a bed for us with crispy clean sheets and would send Pop out to pick up KFC for us to have as a treat when we visited.  She had shag carpet that looked like it grew out of the floor and a backyard that had the tallest flowers I had ever seen.  She had African violets all around her house, and they were always healthy and blooming.  She wasn’t the “huggy” type, but would freely accept hugs that were offered.

I felt a bit upset when I read that she wasn’t given her own name in that article.  After all, she had a life of her own, and identity of her own, I thought.  Why couldn’t they do the courtesy of typing her real name?

But as I thought it through, I realized that that name may have been perfectly fine with her.

In her own way, Nan had a ministry of her own, though her ministry was unsung.  Pop got all the accolades and notoriety, but she was always there, looking perfectly “done up”, with hair always styled and a freshly pressed dress at every event.  She went along to the camps, the conferences, the services, and supported him.  She was the one who heard the painful stories, and supported during the hard times.  She sat by his bedside after he ended up in a ditch outside of his car after a near-fatal roll-over. She often went along to the nursing home and hospital visits.  She supported Poppy’s ministry.

People like my grandfather cast a long shadow, and Nan could always be found in that shadow.  But that’s what her ministry was: to be a partner, to support, to listen, to facilitate, to encourage.  She did this in the shadows rather than the limelight.

Those of us who do vocational ministry are often praised for the sacrifices we make and for giving our lives for the ministry, but it’s those who stand with us who are often unsung ministry partners.  We can’t all stand behind the pulpit.  Some of us were called to bless and facilitate those who do.

Nanny was in Poppy’s shadow.  But that’s where she liked to be, because it meant she was close to him.  That’s where Rebecca Bursey found her place of service to the Lord.