Our 3-year-old granddaughter is petite, but mighty. She was born on the side of the road during rush-hour traffic in south Florida, has a 10-foot personality, and has been talking since she could open her eyes. Communication is her gift and it will get her far in life. She is patient and will rephrase her sentences until you understand what she’s trying to tell you. She isn’t as articulate as a 13-year-old, but she seeks to be understood so she will keep talking until you get it and rarely gets frustrated.

Most kids have difficulty finding the words to explain what they are feeling, what they have seen, what they understand, and how their precious, little minds are processing their worlds. Just as there are building blocks to cognitive skills like academics, there are also building blocks for their emotional development. Children without emotional vocabulary struggle to find perspective and have difficulty in regulating their emotions. Meltdowns are often and grow in intensity.

In Are My Kids On Track: The 12 Emotional, Social and Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach the three authors (Christian counselors) write, “Emotional literacy is a prerequisite to regulation, practiced empathy, resourcefulness, and healthy interpersonal relationships.” It’s in the first chapter of this amazing resource because ‘we believe it’s where the other milestones begin.’ (pg 38)

In the back of the chapter, the authors shared several practical ideas for building an emotional vocabulary: post a feelings chart on the fridge, choose books and movies rich in emotional content, reflect back feelings statements (“It seems you are feeling…”), role-play, use art, and play games. I particularly like using art. “If your child is having trouble expressing their emotions, hand them a sheet of paper and have them draw what they’re feeling.” (pg 41)

I am constantly fascinated with the way kids communicate. If given the opportunity, they’ll share with you their dreams, their hopes, their fears, and what their parents did last night that made them late for church. (grin) Using art and symbols is one of the easiest ways to engage in communication with a child. They can’t be wrong.

In the local church, we teach, but do we ask the best questions? Do we give kids a chance to engage in conversation face-to-face? Share testimony? Do we go deep into the minds and hearts of the little people we serve? I admit, not enough. Let’s take it a step further: How do we have conversations with kids who are lost, sad, grieve, or are angry?  What if you had a tool to do just that? According to the founder of Holy Listening Stones, Rev. Dr. Leanne Hadley, the practice of using the Holy Listening Stones symbols is to help people share how they feel. Symbol, especially to children, is their “native language”.

The North Georgia United Methodist Church Conference will be offering a practical, hands-on training with Holy Listening Stones. We’ll create a partial set of stones and practice how to engage children in prayer, begin conversations, offering emotional and sacred vocabulary in a safe place. I know plenty of tweeners who have just as much difficulty in explaining themselves. These tools are helpful in a whole host of ways and for all ages. Join us for an evening of sharing at https://www.ngumc.org/doneinaday. Six locations on the same evening across North Georgia on Monday, March 19, 2018 at 6:15pm. Childcare is provided.

Anyone who works with children or even has children (grandparents, you too!) would benefit to learn the art of holy listening. Little Miss helped make my set of holy listening stones armed with modpodge and a foam brush. Our children need to feel loved and heard. Using holy listening stones is one of the ways we can encourage children to share their dreams, their fears, their prayers, and their hearts when they don’t have the vocabulary to do so. As it reads on the flier, “When we interact in this way with a child, we are living into the familiar scripture, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m with them.’ Matthew 18:20 CEB”  Register today!