How do you have deep conversations with your kids? I’m talking about the big stuff. We all want to help our kids be happy and successful by teaching strong values. But, how do you talk to your kids about values like honesty, gratitude, forgiveness, generosity, and love?
As a young dad with little preverbal babies on my lap, I envisioned myself as a parent in later years. I’d think, How nice it must be to actually be able to reason with my kids when they’re having a meltdown. I’d then envision my ideal 1990s sitcom world. I’d gather my kids around while soft music started to swell in the background and I’d share some profound pearls of wisdom. My receptive children would look up at me with wide eyes and open hearts, ready to absorb all my advice.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger dad self a few valuable tips about how to have those important talks with your kids. In lieu of that, I’ll pass it on to you. (Cue soft background music.)
Prepare them to have the conversation by giving them a story. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to verbalize complex values. Shoot, it’s hard for adults. Instead we can talk about the value in context of something. This is exactly why philosophers, religious leaders, and great thinkers of every kind wrap up what they want to express in a story. This is where books like, Rules For a Knight by Ethan Hawke comes in handy. They give you both something to talk about.
“Wait, Ethan Hawke from Dead Poets Society?”
Yep. And guess what? Reading this book made me want to stand on my desk and yell, “Carpe Diem,” all over again. It’s a work of fiction written from the perspective of an old knight on the eve of a dangerous battle. He writes to his children hoping to pass on what matters most before it’s too late. The book is divided into twenty short chapters each dedicated to a different topic, solitude, humility, gratitude, pride, cooperation, friendship, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, patience, justice, generosity, discipline, dedication, speech, faith, equality, love, and death. Each chapter contains a short but compelling anecdote or parable, as well as the old knight’s wise reflections and advice. It’s the sort of book my tween son read in a single sitting, but I read it over the course of a week in small doses. It’s delightful both ways.
Use the bedtime story routine. We have a deep culture of bedtime stories in our house. It’s a built-in time where the child is going to sit still and listen to you. So, read a section before bedtime together and talk about the value in the story. I love, Rules For a Knight for multiple reasons. First, the stories are beautiful, short, and engaging for kids and teens. Second, the advice is coming from a sweet, impossible-not-to-like old gentlemen, therefore it comes across without the emotional walls that can sometimes be raised when mom and dad start to “lecture.”
Have a culture where you and your kids both share what you’re reading.
The other night, I sat at the kitchen counter next to my daughter and read a section of, Rules For a Knight, while she sipped tea before bedtime. In turn, she told me all about how she was freaked out reading, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s a great thing to talk about books with your kids. It’s a springboard to talk about almost anything. This is a whole post in and of itself, but finding positive ways to talk with your kids is essential. Having lots of fun conversations as opposed to one-sided lecturing will practically guarantee kids want to talk to you. So give it a try. Your kids are going to learn from stories. That’s just how we’re wired. What stories are they listening to? What values are they picking up? Rules For a Knight is a great way to add to those conversations about what matters most.
Here are some other book series I’ve found that provided GREAT conversations at bedtime. Some are VERY clear on the values they’re proclaiming, others are more nuanced. They all have wonderful stories that can lead to meaningful conversations.
For younger kids:
For Slightly Older Kids
It’s admittedly a SHORT list. For all of us, please share a book or two that you think are great for encouraging deeper conversations.