Author and speaker Kathi Lipp offers parents practical suggestions from her book 21 Ways to Connect With Your Kids.
Mrs. Kathi Lipp: There are times when, you know, everyone else's kid looks like they're on the top of the world and you're like, what is going on with this relationship? So, I had to look desperately for things to encourage my son about. And I got so desperate, let me tell you guys, I wrote him an e-mail saying, "I like the font you chose for your e-mail signature." (Laughter)
Jim: That's good.
John: Well, there are times when you really are searching for ways to communicate well with your child. And you ... you're pretty desperate about it all. And if you're relating to that, hang on. We have some hope for you today on "Focus on the Family," hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, connecting with our kids sounds like it should be something easy. It should come naturally to parents, but often it doesn't. For some and I think it's very few, it does, but for many of us, we gotta think about how do we connect with our kids?
And we talk a lot about it here at Focus on the Family. We talk about personality types and all those things, but spending intentional time with your kids is the very best thing you can do. That's what we've found, all the research; they just need time. They need time with you to get to know you and to hear your heart and to learn your values.
Today we want to give you tips and I'd say, more than tips, really direction on how to do this with great intentionality. And regardless of how ideal your family situation is, it might be Leave It To Beaver; then again, it may not. It really doesn't matter. Today we want to talk about how to really bring help and healing into that relationship, how to connect with your kids. And to do that, we've invited one of our favorite guests, Kathi Lipp, who's written a book called 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids. Kathi, it's great to have you back.
Kathi: So great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jim: You are so fun. I wish people could see just the smile on your face and ...
Kathi: Yeah, it's a fun room. (Laughter) Can I say that? (Laughter)
Jim: Well, it's always great to have you here. Kathi, we just heard that clip where you're describing the challenges. I was laughing, because now I could relate to that with my boys. There are days I've gotta find somethin'.
Jim: Man, do they just spell their name right? (Laughter)
John: Gee, you're really good at how you made that letter, son. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah. Is that not the case some days? You're just so frustrated. Nothing's working well. But what turned the tide for you? You obviously didn't always, I don't think, have that kind of discernment and connection with your kids. What started it? What grabbed your attention as a parent, that I may not be doing it right?
Kathi: Well, I think what it was at first, was when my son was little, it was so easy. He was a cuddle bug, snuggle bug. (Laughter) He would just sit and read and then, he had this personality and free will and all these things that were really annoying, I have--
Jim: Did that come out--
Kathi: --to say.
Jim: --at about 2- and 3-years-old?
Kathi: It really ... (Laughter) it felt like it was. You know, it went from, "Hey, Mom, I just want to be with you," to, you know, really in elementary school, being much more challenging and challenging authority, challenging what his role was, what our role was. And I realized this isn't as easy as it looks. It felt like everybody else was just still in that snuggle bug stage with their kids and I was like, what am I doing? I've got this one child who seems really, really sullen. I've got another one who's so strong-willed and you know, won't listen. And I just felt like, I'm not connecting with them on any level and it was really, really frustrating.
Jim: What did you do then? You know, right out of the gate, when you noticed it, what was some of the behavior change that you had, not in your child, but what did you do that ... ?
Kathi: Well, I did a lot of things wrong differently first. You know, I tried to really get them to see my way and that's really successful sometimes with children, but not mine. And then what I did was, I started talking with other moms. And when we really got down to it, when we got past the pleasantries, I realized, I was not the only mom struggling--
Kathi: --with this.
Jim: So, the veneer, the surface stuff, what you were seeing was not what was real.
Kathi: Right. And whereas you know, my daughter when she was really little, was more of a challenge, as she grew older, it was easier to connect with her. But I felt tremendous guilt because it was harder to connect with my son.
And so, when I talked to these other moms, they would tell me the same thing. And so, one, there was hope, because we were all in the same boat. And I know that God would not leave me there without some hope. And so, I started to get really intentional about trying to find out, what was it that really made Justin excited to get up in the morning? What were the things that he was passionate about and I tried to connect in a better way with those types of things, so we would at least have something to talk about.
Jim: And in the book, you talk about four personality types--
Jim: --that your children have. I think I did that when I was reading the book. I think I've identified my kids.
Jim: Obviously, there's not a cookie cutter and kids have a little bit of this and maybe a lot of that.
Jim: And go through the four and tell us what they are and the description for each.
Kathi: And like you said, it's not a cookie cutter, but it gives you a direction, which is really, really wonderful. So, the first one is the expressive child. And this is the child that wherever they go, there's a party goin' on. You know, they bring the fun. They bring the energy. And they're always looking for something to do.
Kathi: There's an endless amount of energy.
Jim: Mostly extroverts I would think. It's not--
Kathi: Not always, but mostly extroverts and they're the ones that if there's not something going on, they'll make sure there's (Laughter) something going on, which can be great as a friend, but as a parent--
Kathi: --that's the child you're constantly having to entertain and--
Kathi: --make sure that they're staying out of trouble. Then you have the driver. And this is the child and I have a driver--this is my daughter--who will make a list, not just for herself, but the rest of the family (Laughter) for the day.
Jim: That could be a little irritating.
Kathi: Yeah, exactly. When we have to constantly remind her, you're not in charge of the family. We know you have some of those natural skills. Some people may call it "bossy;" we tried to revamp it and say, it's more she's a leader, looking--
Kathi: --for people to lead, yes.
Jim: That's good.
Kathi: So, she's the one who would make her stuffed animals march in a certain way (Laughter) and you know, she just loves to be able to make things go.
Kathi: And then you have your amiable child. And this is the child who, if you're going to the supermarket or say you're going to the fabric store, they just want to come along just to be with you. They love to just be in that relationship.
Jim: More easy-going.
Kathi: Easy-going and you know, on the flip side of that, the child who says, "Why stand when I can sit? Why sit when I can lay down?" (Laughter) They're probably the ones who are laying down [sic] in the family picture.
And then you have your analytic child and I've got one of these, as well. And this is the one who makes the list, but also makes sure that it's detailed enough that people like me will understand it and not mess up. They ... if you want something done well, the analytic child's gonna make sure that it's done and done properly. And they're the ones who are usually really good with numbers, really good with analyzing, but are usually very introverted and not always, but usually, but also are just a great kid to have around to make sure that the family's kinda doin' what they're supposed to. They're very “rules oriented.”
Kathi: So, if you're playing family games, you better whip out those rules (Laughter) and make sure you follow 'em to a T.
Jim: And actually, I've got one of those, as well and it is rules. And I--
Jim: --think he's gonna be an attorney someday, because he's to the letter of the law.
Kathi: And they're all about fairness.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Kathi: Yeah. You want to--
Jim: And ... yeah.
Kathi: --make sure that they're cutting the piece of cake in half (Laughter), because they'll measure. If they have to share with their brother, they're gonna--
Jim: It's so true.
Kathi: --measure it, yeah.
John: They'll pick the right size of the cake or the pie and everybody else takes bigger pieces.
Kathi: Exactly, exactly. And they'll be frustrated with you the entire time.
Jim: Hey, one way of connecting is through encouragement. Now I would think the personality types that you've just described--
Jim: --there's probably uniqueness in connecting with each of those types.
Jim: And we can talk about that in a minute, but generally there are some things that probably just being human--
Jim: --connects with me, as a--
Jim: --human being. Talk about that, like love notes that you described in your book.
Kathi: You know, I really tried to figure out what is it that I could do that wasn't, you know, going to Disneyland every day or you know (Laughter) something simple. And those love notes, what we would do, we had a mailbox on our counter. And I would stuff it full of little love notes for my kids and for my husband, just those words of encouragement. And I would try to encourage a little bit by personality. "You're always so much fun to be around," and those kind of things. But just knowing … I love having something written down that I can refer back to again and again.
And when my daughter moved out, we were packing up her stuff in her room and I found a shoe box full of those notes that I had written her. And I'm not one of these moms who does things consistently. You know, I'm an extrovert. I'm an expressive. I do things when the whim hits me. But coming to find out that those were really precious to her and she said, you know, "It was always amazing, Mom. The note came exactly when I needed it."
Jim: Now how would you describe her? More analytical?
Kathi: She's an analytic driver.
Kathi: So, she's a very powerful girl, but she also need to hear very specific things about what she's doing right and what she--
Jim: 'Cause I--
Kathi: --needs encouragement about.
Jim: --I think sometimes as a parent, you can get lost in what your child needs from you--
Jim: --in that communication area.
Jim: So, for me, my analytical child sometimes doesn't respond to that, although when I talk to him later, it meant a lot to him.
Kathi: Yes, yeah.
Jim: But I can misinterpret that and stop doing those things that actually speak deeply to his heart--
Jim: --but he doesn't express it to me, so I don't know if I'm connecting.
Kathi: And I think we have to keep going, even if we don't get the response we're hoping for.
Jim: So, keep doin' it.
Kathi: Yeah, keep doing it, and you know what? Maybe on four days it doesn't make a difference to your child, but on that fifth day, it's exactly what they needed to hear.
John: I appreciate what you're saying here and you said something in the book that I thought was pretty good for us to grab onto and it relates right here and that is, you're not always going to feel like connecting, but do it anyway.
John: In a similar way, you're not always going to feel like your child is accepting what you're saying. Every child needs encouragement.
John: Maybe every child won't respond the same way to a little written note, but--
John: -- what you're saying is, we need to find those things that we can speak positively into their lives, even if we don't sense that they're just hungry for it.
Kathi: You know, just this week my son was having a really, really bad day. And my husband said, "I'm gonna pick up a package of gummy bears for him," [his] favorite candy in the world. (Laughter) And I said, "I wouldn't even do that," not because I don't want to bless my son, but because when he is in such a funk, there is nothing that will make a difference. And I just thought, you know, go ahead and waste your $3, Honey, but you know, I don't think it's gonna make a difference.
Can I tell you, this kid who ... you know, thank you is painful for him sometimes, wrote us a text when he got home, 'cause he got home very late that night. He goes, "Those gummy bears were the best thing to happen all day. Thank--
Kathi: --you so much."
Kathi: And I never in a million years would've expected that response, but Roger really followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I really believe that, by buying those gummy bears. And (Laughter) it made a difference that day.
Jim: Now if you're anti-sugar out there (Laughter), it's okay.
Kathi: (Laughing) Yes. We don't feed those for dinner.
Jim: Right, there--
Kathi: That's just--
Jim: --you go.
Kathi: --a treat.
Jim: But Kathi, you know, I'm thinking again, we're all, I think everyone hearing you talking about this, were putting it into our context, our kids and
Jim: --on the notes, let me just--
Jim: -- top this off and we'll move to a different subject, but on the notes, I would think you can write very specifically to the types, to the--
Jim: --personality types. So, I'm thinking of my analytical child to say something like, "Here are the three things that I really love about you," helps--
Jim: --the analytical child, because okay, those are three things. Whereas, the expressive person might just be, "You just bring so much joy into our family. Thank you for being you."
Kathi: You are--
Jim: Do you approach it that way?
Kathi: --you are exactly right. And the analytic child will want to know that you really believe that. They're--
Jim: And prove it to me.
Kathi: --seeking ... yeah, prove it to me. (Laughter) And you know, so, you say, "I'm proud of you because of this." They want to know that that's true. They want to know that you've said that also to your spouse. I mean, they want evidence of all of that. And I think that's exactly it. When you understand your child's personality, there are easy ways to brag on them. There are easy ways to encourage them that are very specific and very meaningful to them, exactly as you said.
And you know, you think about your amiable child saying something like, "It doesn't matter what's going on in my life, I'm just so glad that you're there with me." That's gonna speak to the heart--
Jim: It's ... yeah.
Kathi: --of that amiable child. And that driver child saying, "You know, when I'm so tired, I know I can rely on you to finish things up, to just finish the job well." That's gonna speak to their deepest need, as well.
Jim: So contour the comment--
Jim: --to their bent.
Jim: That's great. Hey, Kathi, let me ask you about something I read in the book that was so funny, your $15 night out. (Chuckling) Now I can't believe you can do it with a family of four or five to do $15 night out, but describe what that means.
Kathi: Fifteen dollar family night, it's the challenge of planning with only $15 and planning something that at least most of your family would enjoy. Sometimes you have to go along and watch a Star Wars movie that maybe mom doesn't want to watch, but that's okay. But doing things that ... you're setting aside a night that is just for your family. You're saying, this is our time to spend together.
And the $15 is very strategic, because it takes planning in order to meet that $15 criteria, to feed and entertain and we had six altogether.
Jim: I don't even know how you do that.
Kathi: Well, you know, you get creative. And the kids were allowed to put in their own money if they wanted to--
John and Jim: Oh.
Jim: So they could expand it, okay.
Jim: Give us some examples, some of your experiences with that.
Kathi: Well, you know, we did things like, we did carpet picnics a lot, where we would cook at home and then we would just watch a bunch of VeggieTales on a blanket, while eating dinner. Not a good soup night, but (Laughter) we did things like. We made homemade pizza with our bread maker. And so, one of the kids planned that night.
We would go to the park and we would do what we called "sword fights," where (Laughter) you know, the kids have Nerf swords and so--
Kathi: --they would go and they would do sword battles. We would do things like save up, if we had a really cheap family night one week, we could save up for another night and there were 2-for-1 coupons at the golf center. And so, we would pack a dinner and we would go to that little golf center and play you know, very aggressive golf, because that's what my kids (Laughter) are like.
So, it wasn't just the night, but it was planning for the night. And so, it was usually one child and one adult that would come up with the master plan for that night. So, you're not just connecting with the family as a whole; you're connecting with that one child as you plan.
Jim: And it's their responsibility to plan it. I love that aspect of it--
Jim: --because it gives them, you know, some responsibility obviously to take care of it.
Kathi: And I think it's great training as we're raising husbands and wives, to take other people's likes, dislikes, temperaments into consideration and really plan around all that and think it through. Would everybody enjoy this? Or at least, would everybody tolerate it for this one night? And maybe if we've done a couple of things that were very guy-oriented, because we were split down the middle. You know, there were three of us girls and three of us boys. Could we do something that was maybe a little bit more chick-oriented (Laughter) the next time?
Jim: Hey, let me ask. It's probably really easy to do when they're 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Kathi: Yeah (Chuckling)
Jim: You've alluded to the teen years.
Jim: Okay, there's like a fork in the road that happens for so many families, where the teen years hit and they come with a new vocabulary all of a sudden. It's kind of like, "Pfft." (Laughter)
Kathi: And you ...
Jim: And the eye roll.
Kathi: And you can hear the eye roll (Laughter). That's the amazing part.
Jim: Yeah, it comes--
Kathi: You can hear it.
Jim: --with sound effects.
Kathi: You don't even have to be looking at them and you can hear that.
Jim: That's right.
Kathi: You know ...
Jim: What do you do at that point when the kids, they're not as chummy and they don't find these things cute and fun?
Kathi: Right. So, we had to tailor things. We did things like, we taught the kids how to cook. And they were very interested in that, which is surprising to people, but all of our kids were interested in learning how to cook. So, that was a great thing that we were able to do.
And let's be honest. There were just some nights where it didn't come together. There were lots of kids and things like that, but we also have to realize as parents, sometimes we do have just the space and time where things are not gonna work. And that's okay, but we still did it at least once a month and now, even though my kids are older and we have many of them that don't live at home, they all come home for Sunday night dinner. I mean, they want to be together.
John: Uh-hm. Well, you're listening to Kathi Lipp on today's "Focus on the Family," hosted by Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and the book that's really the foundation for this conversation is 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids. Yeah, Jim, as you know, I've got three teen girls right now (Laughter) and a couple of teen boys who have grown up and left the house. Thankfully they're into adulthood.
But there was a moment when I was going to bed and I was kind of heavy-hearted, because there was not a connection with this one particular child. And I was praying and I picked up a book and I was reading it and it's like the words just popped off the page and I thought, I have to pursue this child, even though in the teen years sometimes parents want to just hang it up and say, "All right, rules are yours. I'm available when you need me." We can't do that, can we, Kathi?
Kathi: We can't. And to that point, sometimes like when we were talking about the cute family fun night, some kids are like, I'm done with that, but you have to maintain that relationship one on one, no matter what. And so, when my son was going through that very tough time especially, I said, "Okay, Thursday mornings, you, me, Starbucks." And he's like, "I don't want to." I'm like, "You know what? You are under my roof for a certain amount of time. We are making this happen."
Well, after two weeks, Justin would say, "You know, we're meeting on Thursday, right," 'cause I just have to get my schedule straight." (Laughter) I'm like, yeah, 'cause you're schedule's really busy before school--
Kathi: --on Thursday. (Laughter)
Jim: Mr. Cool has set in.
Kathi: Exactly. (Laughter) And so, we would get together on Thursday mornings and we would talk about things that he loved. We would talk about writing, which is a passion of his and a passion of mine. We would touch on God, because it was a sensitive subject for him, but when it was just the two of us and I was buying the coffee and we could sit down and we had that 45 minutes and 45 minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time, but in teenage years, that's like dog years--
Kathi: --it's times 7. We really were able to get to the heart of a lot of issues. And we look back at those times and think that's where our relationship really grew and dug in and we became the connected people that we are still becoming today.
Jim: And let me just put the disclaimer. If you're not caffeine oriented, you can have hot chocolate.
Kathi: Absolutely (Laughter). Well, and that's what he would do (Laughter).
Kathi: The soy hot chocolate, I would get the coffee to get my day started, but it was a time to launch.
Jim: Let me ask you about that, because--
Jim: --we have something here called Make Every Day Count.
Jim: And it's based on the research out of spending mealtime together--
Jim: --and I call it "the silver bullet," because when you look at the best things to do to ensure that your child avoids that risk behavior--drug, alcohol abuse, premarital sex, those things that really will "disrail" your child's development--having dinner together, and it's not eating; it's spending time together--
Jim: --whether that's having coffee and a hot chocolate or spending time at the dinner table--
Jim: -- the benefit of that is huge. And we as parents in this fast-paced environment have got to remember that. That's part of the intentionality; spend time at dinner together.
Kathi: Absolutely. And one of the things that was really important to us, because we would have the same conversations all the time. How was your day? Fine. Do you have homework? No. Liar ...
Jim: The one-word (Laughter) answer.
Kathi: Yeah, exactly (Laughter) So, we had dinner conversation starters. So, we have this list of cards of questions that we made up and things like, "if you were invisible for a day, what would you do?" Or if you were President for a day?" And they seem kind of juvenile and childish, but I tell you, my teenagers would say, "Are we doin' the cards tonight?"
And we're not this Pollyanna family that, you know, sits around the table and affirms each other. We're trying to become more of that, but this is not natural for anybody I don't think. And so, to have those conversation starters, to say, "I want to find out more about you." And the great part was, our kids found out about us. You know, we got to know them, but they got to know us in some of those answers, as well.
Jim: Kathi, when we talk about passion and knowing the passion that our kids possess and how to feed their passion--
Jim: -- that takes again, a little bit of energy and effort to take time to understand that. What do you have for us in that regard? How do we go about doing that? Sometimes particularly when we're getting the "Pfft," uh ... "Duhs."
Jim: We don't want to give back in that way.
Kathi: No. (Laughter) And it would be so easy to do--
Kathi: --wouldn't it? You know, you're thinking ...
Jim: Just check out.
Kathi: I could give you attitude right back--
Kathi: --young man. Well, I realized that again, I may never get the "attaboy" from my kids that I want. But I knew it was important for me to show up to my stepson's hockey game. You know, he needed bodies in the stands that were cheering for him. And it was the longest part of my day every single (Laughter) ... it's freezing in there.
Jim: You had so much ... let me speak to the--
Jim: --woman who ... I know my wife, Jean. She would have four things in her mind, maybe more, all connected to a list, sitting there going, "I've got so much--
Jim: --to do."
Jim: But she would do it, like you.
Jim: You gotta, I guess, discipline yourself to bite the bullet, do those things later, 'cause now is kid time.
Kathi: And also, take some of those things off your list. If you're in the midst of raising these kids, then it's okay to say no to a lot of things, because every time you say yes to something, you're saying no to something else.
And so, you know, for a while there, I had to back out of a lot of activities. I had to back out of a lot of volunteering, because I realized my main ministry is my family and it takes time and energy and intention to blend a family or to raise a family. Both of those things, we're taught to believe that it's supposed to be easy. It's--
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Jim: Or come naturally--
Kathi: Or come naturally--
Jim: --and it doesn't.
Kathi: --and it doesn't.
Jim: I'm thinking, now we've let the guys off the hook (Laughter), here ... talked a lot about mom.
Jim: And if women have four things or more on their mind, men just don't even show up unfortunately. So many dads, I'm too busy; I can't do it. You know, I got work responsibilities. I'm guilty of that at times. You know, I've gotta travel this weekend and the boys go--
Jim: --"Ooh, no."
Jim: And you gotta maintain that balance, so you're not just all about the job. Let me share a story and give your response to this. I just recorded this the other day, but it's a story about a boy who wanted to play catch with his father. His dad came home and he had a lot of work to do and he had a big report due the next day. And so, he took a newspaper that had a map on one side and just ripped the paper to shreds and said, "When you put that paper back together, then I'll play catch with you."
Well, the boy went away and a few minutes later came back. And the dad said, "How did you do that so fast?" You know, he had just settled in--
Jim: --to get his work done. And he said, "Oh, it was easy. There was a picture of a man on the back, so I just figured if I get the man right, I get the map right." And I thought, wow! What a statement.
Jim: If I get the man right, I can spend time with my dad.
Jim: Is that powerful?
Kathi: It is so powerful. I think that there are times when work is--
Jim: Gotta do it.
Kathi: --very important. But I feel like the work should be the exception, not the child.
Kathi: That any time we can say yes to our kids, we need to say yes. And I understand, you know, we have full-time jobs. I am away from home right now. There are things I'm missing at this point. But my kids have no doubt that they are my priority. If there was something significant going on in their lives, I would be there right now.
Kathi: Right now, it's day-to-day stuff. And so, we have to be able to live our lives in such a way that we can make those decisions for our family. And sometimes our kids have to understand. Sometimes there are big things going on at work. And I have prayed, "God, would You just fill in the gaps for me? It's a very stressful time right now. I've got commitments I can't say no to. If it was an extreme emergency, of course, I would, but it's just busy right now. God, would You fill in the gaps. And press upon my heart when I need to be there and when I have the freedom to go."
Jim: I think, you know, just a point of advice for folks, especially dads if I could speak to you--
Jim: --right now, one thing to do is, even if it's just an hour before bedtime, put the phone away. Put the SmartPhone away. Don't look at e-mail.
Jim: Just take an hour or two when you can really concentrate on the family and on the kids. You can get back to it at 8 o'clock. You can--
Jim: --pick it back up and get your wife's permission, but that's one thing that I think is so important. Don't be consumed by the texts and the e-mail.
Kathi: And I think we have to give each other permission when we send a text, when we send an e-mail, not to have that instant response. You know, in our society, we're expecting we can get anybody, anytime, any day. And I shut my phone off on Sundays and it messes with people. But--
Kathi: --you know what? You need that time to really rediscover your own life sometimes.
Jim: Kathi Lipp, the author of the book, 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids. I mean, everything we've talked about applies to a spouse, as well.
Kathi: Um ...
Jim: That's what's so fascinating--
Kathi: Oh, yeah.
Jim; --about human interaction. It's been great to have you here at Focus on the Family.
Kathi: Great to be here talking about this with people who care so deeply about it.
John: Well, we do care and it's obvious you do, as well. And you always bring such great fun and practical insights and I really have appreciated what you've shared today about making family time a priority and the $15 family fun night. We're gonna have to try that in the Fuller home some time very, very soon.
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Kathi LippView Bio
Kathi Lipp is a public speaker and an author who primarily seeks to encourage women in their personal, marital and spiritual lives. Kathi has written articles appearing in dozens of magazines and her books include The Me Project,The Marriage Project and The Husband Project. Kathi and her husband, Roger, reside in San Jose, Calif., and have four children. Learn more about Kathi by visiting her website: www.kathilipp.com.