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Q: My wife and I are trying to help our kids explore their natural talents in sports, music and other areas. But each time we try something new, the kids seem to hate it. I'm running out of ideas. What's the trick?

Jim: You might start by asking yourself: "Who's more interested in this activity -- my child, or me?"

Let me share a story as an example. When my oldest son, Trent, was 5, we signed him up for T-ball. I was excited. The big day arrived, and the coach sent the two of us to the outfield. It was the moment I'd been waiting for -- father and son bonding together over baseball.

But after 30 minutes passed without much action, I leaned down and asked Trent, "Are you doin' OK?" He replied, "Not really, Dad." I could see his heart just wasn't in it.

"Would you rather get a milkshake?"

"Yeah, let's do that," he said.

And with that, Trent's baseball career came to an end.

Skip ahead a few years, and my son, who didn't care much for baseball, couldn't wait to tell me when he won the chess club championship. He found a form of competition that appealed to the way he's wired, and I learned a valuable lesson. There's (usually) no cheering from the sidelines in chess. But I can be a super-proud dad watching my son apply his gifts and intellect to something he loves -- and he's good at it!

As parents, we want our children to try different activities, have fun and explore their natural talents. But it's all too easy to steer them toward things that we enjoy instead of the ones they'd prefer. We need to constantly study our kids and watch for what excites them, even if it's something we're not all that interested in ourselves. And, when in doubt, ask them.

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Q: I've heard lots of relationship experts say that it's important to "listen to your spouse." I try to do that even when I'm biting my tongue wanting to respond. But we still have trouble communicating. What's the secret?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: To a lot of people, "listen to your spouse" simply means "don't interrupt your spouse when they're talking." Well, that's always a good place to start. But active listening goes much deeper. Here are a couple suggestions.

First, stay focused. Don't let your thoughts wander when your spouse is talking. It's not the time for you to think through what you'll say next (and we all struggle with this). Value your spouse by listening respectfully to what they're telling you. To do that, don't just hear what your spouse says; listen to what they mean. If you're not sure, wait for them to finish and then ask for clarification.

Second, use body language to demonstrate you're interested in what your spouse is saying. Nonverbal communication is just as important to effective dialogue as the words you use; in fact, many studies indicate that it's much more important. So make good eye contact and let your posture show you're open and attentive.

Finally, learn the unique ways your spouse communicates. If your spouse likes feedback, then repeat their comments back to them. It'll assure them you're listening. On the other hand, your spouse may prefer you listen quietly until they've finished. In that case, nodding occasionally shows you're attentive and engaged.

Active listening is a lot more than not interrupting when your spouse talks. It communicates respect by showing you care what your spouse thinks, feels and says. It's a crucial ingredient to resolving problems and deepening your intimacy as a couple.

For more tips to help your marriage thrive, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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