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“What Did You Hear Me Say? Does That Make Sense?”

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As parents, we find ourselves continually giving instruction to our kids. Of course, we know the Lord expects us to instruct our children. We read in the Bible two such verses: 

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and do not ignore your mother’s teaching. (Proverbs 1:8)

My son, comply with the commandment of your father, and do not ignore the teaching of your mother. (Proverbs 6:20) 

I won’t address here what we should instruct since that ranges from A to Z. However, I do wish to provide a simple tip. 

After instructing your child on whatever issue, ask the child, “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” 

Perhaps you already do that, and I applaud you. 

However, some parents would probably say that because we give the instruction and should expect them to understand the instruction and follow the instruction. We don’t need to ask them, “What did you hear, and does it make sense?” These parents shout, “They better hear my instruction and it better makes sense, and they better do it!”

But kids are at different ages and stages, and may not be able to comprehend everything instructed to them. Even more (and very likely!) some kids may not even be listening though they appear to hear every word. Truth is, they are watching their brother down the hall making faces at them. 

Or some may be listening, but as the parent, we were unclear or too complex in what we instructed. For instance, we instruct them on a math problem. We show them how to do multiplication. To us, it is simple. But we know how to do multiplication, and they are just learning. My granddaughter showed me a digital game for children that had addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. We did addition and subtraction, then I said, “Let’s do multiplication.” She said, “I don’t know multiplication.” It didn’t make sense to her. 

This is why it would be a good habit to, after we instruct our children in whatever it might be, ask them, “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” 

Let them answer, yes or no. 

If they answer no, then this affords us the opportunity to provide the instruction again in a way that helps them understand and then follow it. 

If they say, “Yes, that makes sense,” we have made some headway and hopefully it did make sense to them. 

Asking, “What did you hear me say, and does it make sense” doesn’t rob you of your authority as a parent. 

I affirm your authority as the parent. This question isn’t asked to minimize your authority. My experience with successful adults with other adults applies here. I have known of mature people in high-ranking positions who provide instructions and then ask, “Does that make sense?” Asking that question had nothing to do with their loss of authority. Instead, they were great communicators and that tool solicited important feedback to them about what others were hearing or not hearing. 

I am always asking others around me, “Does that make sense?” 

Why? I want feedback on whether or not people are listening to me, understand what I just said, and know how to apply what I just said. Feedback is important to me, and this provides that for me. 

Some may find it unnecessary to ask, “Does it make sense?” since people should listen and understand and apply what we teach, but I don’t see it that way. I look at other people like I look at myself, and there are many times I don’t understand what a person is telling me.

The other day a technician on the phone told me to unplug a chord on a device and plug it in on the non-surge plug. I had no idea to what he referred. Later, I learned it was a single wall unit, and I was to unplug a chord from a lower row of outlets and plug it into an upper row of outlets. He knew what the device looked like. I did not. He knew there was an upper row and lower row. I did not know this. He knew the lower plug was to be plugged into an upper outlet called a non-surge outlet. I did not know this, as none of this made any sense to me. He spoke over my head since I had had no knowledge about this device. As a layman, I didn’t know anything about the different plugs and outlets. 

Here’s the deal: He assumed I knew all of that. But guess what? After giving me instruction, I just tuned out and stopped engaging him. He never asked, “Does that make sense?” He just assumed it did make sense, and I no longer cared to tell him I was clueless. I had more important things to do. Had he asked, “Does this make sense?” I would have said no. Hopefully, he would have walked me through what he was telling me over the phone. 

As a parent, have you given instruction recently? Did you ask your child, “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” 

Let me illustrate. A father of a teen son says, “We are turning off all devices at 10 p.m. in the home each evening. That includes Mom and me. We need to give our brains a rest. The blue light from the screens interferes with our preparation to sleep. The blue light interferes with a thing called melatonin, something that kicks in to enable us to sleep. The screen light kinda blocks melatonin so we don’t go to sleep as easily. Okay, can I ask you two questions? One, what did you hear me say? Two, does that make sense?” 

Getting feedback from your son is a good thing. It lets you know if he heard you about 10 p.m. and if he heard you about having a good reason for the 10 p.m. time slot. I won’t address here how to better explain the instruction given it doesn’t make sense to the son, but this is a tip about a starting point after giving instruction. 

Here’s another example. Your son is struggling with doing his homework. He feels overwhelmed by the assignments. What if you instructed him on breaking his assignment down into smaller parts? You go into an explanation about how to do that, and then after the instruction ask, “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” Hopefully, he will give you feedback on how to break things down into smaller chunks. 

Or maybe you instruct your nine-year-old daughter to clean up her room, but she isn’t organized naturally like you are. So, you provide her with a common-sense order of doing tasks so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed: 1) Make your bed. 2) Put dirty clothes in the hamper. 3) Pick up all trash and put in the basket. 4) Return items that do not belong to you to the owner, but immediately return to the bedroom. 5) Have one snack in the bedroom that you eat after doing these first four things. 6) Put clean clothes in the dresser that I will have put in the hallway for you to pick up and put into the dresser. 7) Hang up what needs to be hung in the closet, and make sure everything is hung up. After the instruction ask: “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” If she flounders because it is too much information, have her write these on a piece of paper (as you state them) so she can have a checklist to check off when she finishes each task. 

In conclusion, try this out after providing some kind of parental teaching: “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?” If the child says it does not make sense, run at it again. If the child says it makes sense but then does not follow through, well, that’s another topic for another time called: enacting consequences for disobedience. 

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. How would you respond to a parent who says, “They better hear my instruction and it better makes sense, and they better do it!” Why will this parent be continually disappointed and frustrated?
  2. Do you have a child who, for whatever reason, has difficulty following your instructions? Is it because of your inability to explain clearly enough for him or her? Is it because your child is distracted or not remembering? Are there other reasons? Why would it be helpful to begin asking, “What did you hear me say? Does that make sense?”
  3. Emerson spoke of how these questions are important to him because they provide feedback for him. What kind of feedback can asking these questions provide for you? Why is this important?
  4. Why is asking these two questions important to becoming a great communicator, which we all want to be?