Put faith in your family’s conversation

I know I’m not supposed to play favorites with parts of the Mass, but I do. I most look forward to the homily, and a good one will stick with me for a week or more. Too often I regard the first reading, psalm response, and various beautiful prayers as transitional parts of the Mass that propel me toward my more favorite parts.

Most Sundays if you would ask me what the psalm was, I’d probably stare at you blankly. But on a recent Sunday, Psalm 137 leapt out at me: “Let my tongue be silent, O Lord, my God, if I should ever forget about you.”

The first thing that came to mind as I sang the words of the psalm was the difference between my husband and me. Bill is a quiet person. I’ve never heard him interrupt someone he was speaking to, and he is careful about what he says and what he doesn’t say. “You rarely get in trouble for what you don’t say,” he observed once.

I, on the other hand, am a talker. I will talk anywhere, and with anyone. I hope I am a good listener, too, but I know no one would describe me as quiet. I love the spoken word just as I love the written word. From phone calls to e-mail to birthday cards, I have yet to meet a form of communication I don’t like.

And perhaps that is why this psalm struck me so. “Let my tongue be silent O Lord, my God, if I should ever forget about you.” In those words is an admonition for those of us who have the gift of gab: Be careful what you talk about.

I once read that there are three levels of conversation—the lowest level is having a conversation about things, the middle level is having a conversation about people, and the highest form of communication is talking about ideas. The psalm reminds us that if a spirit of the holy doesn’t underline that which we talk about, we have no business chatting at all.

This doesn’t mean that we must always speak of lofty ideas—much of life involves talking about when the brake pads should be changed—but our conversation should not lead us away from what is good.

Teaching children good communication can involve actually giving them the words they need to use. We know this instinctively when we remind kids to say please or thank you. But giving kids the right words extends beyond simple politeness. Here are a few good phrases to use:

“What I think you mean to say is . . .” The art of tact is very slowly learned by children. Kids will often assess a situation and immediately blurt out something negative. Everyone is having ice cream, and your son notes that his sister has a bigger scoop. Give him the words he needs without even addressing his whining comment. “What I think you mean to say is, ‘Thanks, Dad, for the ice cream.’ ” This phrase can help kids learn to comment on the good in a situation first. Use this phrase enough, and soon they’ll catch themselves when they start to complain.

“OK, Mom.” Sandy, a mother with teenagers, taught me this glorious phrase when Jacob, now 14, was just a toddler. Sandy found that when her children were young, they had an answer back for every request she made. She decided to teach them that when she asked them to do something, she expected them to say, “OK, Mom,” back to her. Directives are easier when there’s a formula to follow. “Please put away this laundry” has only one correct response—and if your child comes up with the wrong one, you can always revert back to, “What I think you mean to say is, ‘OK, Mom.’ ”

“Please give her a compliment.” Children ages 5 to 10 especially can get in the habit of constantly criticizing siblings or arguing for the sake of entertainment. Rather than entering into the argument or acting as referee, try popping the argument completely by asking one child to compliment the other. If it is a passable compliment, shower on the praise and ask the other sibling to give a compliment back. Chances are the second compliment will be even better than the first (so as to earn that praise) and the first child will throw in another one. And it’s hard to fight when someone is telling you how cute your hair is.         

by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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