Speaking with children is a bit of an art. As adults, we spend a lot of time thinking and speaking with our adult vocabulary. Children need simple words, shorter sentences, essential truth and vivid examples. This isn’t too difficult to accomplish, but takes some conscious thought and consistent effort. Just talk. Keep it simple. No need to baby-speak. Don’t muddy the waters with complicated ideas. Pass on what is most important. And, by the way, learning the habit of communicating simply will help you understand difficult concepts too.
Jesus used simple language.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…
-Paul (1 Corinthians 3:3)
When you speak with children it doesn’t mean you treat them as less intelligent, but you will connect with them better when you use words that they are familiar with. Remember, they haven’t encountered nearly the amount of words you have as an adult. So turn phrases like, “eternal life” into “forever life.” It means the same thing when you elaborate on it in conversation, it’s more fun to say and it hits home. Try simply talking to children and not talking down to them or over their heads. Aaron Reynolds, a crazy good kid communicator, says it this way, “You’re just talking, just sharing something cool. Casual. Real. Personal. This tone draws them in rather than pushing them away.”
The NIrV is a children’s translation of the Bible. It is a great example of how shorter sentences are easier to read. They are also helpful in comprehension. Shorter sentences help you take a breath between thoughts. Doing this increases your ability to process. Ephesians 1 contains a long and masterful sentence. But try reading that to a child. You couldn’t expect them to understand. Even adults will need to read that sentence very slowly and deliberately. Then to grasp it fully, adults would need to break it down into connected thoughts. Turn a big idea into a memorable and repeatable phrase such as, “God is super strong!”
Stick to the most important things. Sometimes we just want to dump all of our knowledge into children’s brains, but brains don’t work that way, especially kids brains. So stick to the essential truth you want to communicate for the moment and repeat it in different ways. Paul received essential truth and passed it on. While much of his writing is complex, he nonetheless continues to return to what’s essential. Everything he writes about is expanding on the idea that 1. God wants us to belong to him and 2. He makes this possible through Jesus who died, was buried and came back to life. (Notice the simpler word choice of “came back to life,” instead of “rose again.”)
Remember that kids have difficulty thinking in abstract terms. So consistently bring in tangibles, visuals, everyday objects, common experiences. If you’re talking about water, go get some! If you want children to see what Jesus means when he talks about the vine. Show a picture or bring in a real one…with grapes to share! Jesus communicated simply even with adults. To talk about the Kingdom of God, an extremely abstract concept, he used seeds, sheep, trees, birds, dirt, pearls, and on and on.
Let’s just talk to kids this week and enjoy the simplicity that comes from that!
Lord, thank you for the simple truths of life.