Teaching Healthy Family Communication
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way,
and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
– Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Most Christian parents have considered these verses. The application can too often be reduced to, “We should talk about God and the Bible a lot.” This is true, but if left there can result either in multiple prolonged monologues or guilt for not knowing what to say. A second common application is that, “We should decorate our homes with biblical stuff.” This too is true, but if left there our homes can become a VBS crafts museum.
This post seeks to give one example of how to apply the two principles discussed above. There are many other applications that could be made and I encourage families to be creative.
CRAFT: Get three bowls and place them on the kitchen table. Fill the first bowl with pieces of an old towel cut into small pieces and tied with a ribbon. Fill the second bowl with small plastic hearts or pictures of hearts printed on the computer. Fill the third bowl with small plastic shields or pictures of a shield printed on the computer.
TOWEL: The towels represent service. The towel is a gift of recognition given when a member of the family voluntarily serves someone else. Use your concordance to find verses on service. Print these verses and tie them to the small pieces of towel.
SHIELD: The shield represents a lack of defensiveness. In difficult communication we are faced with the choice to protect others or defend ourselves. The shield is a gift of recognition given when a member of the family resists a natural opportunity to be defensive or deceitful. Use your concordance to find verses on other mindedness, confession, honesty, integrity, and vulnerability. Print these verses and place them in the bowl with the shields.
HEART: The heart represents tender, active listening. Whenever someone wants to show love to another member of the family by listening they should ask, “May I hold your heart?” While they listen they should hold the heart with an open hand. Once they have been able to accurately summarize what they have heard, they then return the heart and say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.” Use your concordance to find words on love, listening, and compassion. Print these verses and place them in the bowl with the hearts.
By placing these bowls on the dinner table, the family will frequently remind themselves of these important foundations of healthy communication: service, lack of defensiveness, and sincere listening. By placing Scripture with each item, there is the opportunity to highlight the Bible being lived out in the family’s life—this allows the blessing of Godly communication to be captured “in the moment.”
Young children will enjoy being able to collect the various tokens. Parents should take the opportunity to model the principles of each token before their children in role play. Parents should also role play conversations with each of the children. After role playing tokens should be passed parent-parent, parent-child, child-parent, and child-child. The goal is to give the family “eyes to see” good communication—too often we only pay attention to the negative. Also, after discipline in which one of these principles was violated, the parent should discuss how the towel, shield, or heart would have made things different.
As you use this tool, you will get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each family member. Some will have many towels and another will have lots of hearts. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the strengths of each family member. It is also an opportunity to discuss having a balanced character.
If this tool proves to be an effective way to disciple your family, you can use it with other virtues. First, identify the virtue that needs extra attention in your family. Second, select a positively conotated object to represent that virtue. Third, research Scripture passages that speak about that virtue. Fourth, explain to the family the new object and role play its enactment.
I would not advise using an incentive system for this tool (i.e., ice cream for the first person with five shields). The reward for this tool is the peace, affection, and unity it brings. This is not a race or competition. If it has to be “enforced,” then you are dealing with a matter of discipline not instruction. This tool is merely a tool of instruction (hopefully with a cute motivational twist).
The goal for this exercise is to bring Scripture application to life and create a positive context for seeking Christ-like character and expressions of love within the family. If it allows for enjoyable and creative discussions of biblical principles that tend to be abstract, then it has achieved its purpose.
Posted on July 8, 2012