04/23/2013 12:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2013

Making EPIC Connections With Your Kids

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If I were to film a reality TV show on today's American family I would call it Little House on the Freeway. Seriously. Most parents start out well, but as our kids grow older, sanity gives way to chaos. Due to soccer practice and piano lessons, most families have a difficult time even eating dinner together. (I've even read about non-profit organizations formed to help families eat together at home). It's not that we don't talk. It's that we only seem to have transactional conversations, not transformational ones. We interact merely about what time we need to pick up Josh after practice or the science project Jessica must finish by Friday. Ugh. What's happened to us?

Transactional vs. Transformational Conversations

Transactional conversations are the ones we default to because of busy schedules. They're about information. We engage the head not the heart. They're about facts. And they don't go deep. Transformational conversations are ones we have when we take time to engage our kids and make emotional connections.

So how do we do this? I believe we must become intentional about creating experiences, from which we can talk over life lessons. For years, I've been teaching and writing that students today are from an EPIC generation. Dr. Leonard Sweet is the first person I heard suggest this, and it isn't merely because kids love the word "epic." It's because the letters of that word aptly describe who they are and how they best learn. Let me illustrate with examples of how families I know made EPIC connections and taught "life" at the same time.

E: Experiential

Kids today love to learn from experiences. They're not looking for a sage on the stage... with a lecture. They're looking for a guide on the side with an experience. The more we can create environments and experiences that offer life lessons, the more we'll engage them. My friend, Tom, had two teenage sons who weren't showing the people skills he wanted them to display. He knew a lecture from Dad wouldn't cut it. When one announced he wanted to start dating a girl, Tom came up with a brilliant idea. Before they could take a girl out on a date, his sons had to practice with their mother. They had to take Mom out, open the car door for her, treat her to dinner, offer flowers, the whole nine yards. While they rolled their eyes at first, they competed for a good grade from Mom and reached their goal. Mission accomplished.

P: Participatory

By this I mean young people have been conditioned to participate in the outcomes of almost everything in their life. What they eat, where the family goes on vacation, who is kicked off that reality TV show, you name it. So, adults who find ways to let them "vote" or participate in outcomes and direction, see those kids take ownership of the task. Students support what they help create. I have a friend who noticed her kids acting entitled and ungrateful for the lifestyle they enjoyed. So, she had her kids (one at a time) sit down with her and help her pay the bills each month. They watched her at the computer, and helped her prioritize the bills if they didn't quite have enough money for all of them. It was a vivid illustration for them on how fast money slips away. Her kids are now more grateful and realistic about income.

I: Image rich

Young people today have grown up in a world filled with images. Think for a minute. I grew up with TV. They grew up with MTV. Videos. Websites. Digital cameras. DVDs. Images, not words, really are the language of the 21st century. This is a right-brain generation. So, in our home, one evening a week, our family made sure to eat dinner together and talk over a Habitude (Habitudes are a Growing Leaders curriculum of images that form leadership habits and attitudes). Each image represents a timeless truth about life and leadership. We discovered over a meal that pictures really are worth a thousand words. It was fun to see my kids "get it" when we attached lessons to visuals.

C: Connected
Finally, students today are connected -- both technologically and socially. So, the more we can provide opportunities to "stop the lecture" and let them connect with each other and talk, the better chance we have of reaching them. In our home and among friends of mine, we initiated a little exercise from time to time. We would have our kids watch the news at night, and choose one story about a problem. (Most news broadcasts are filled with problems). Then, together the kids would determine what plan of action they would take if they were in charge of solving that problem. It was invigorating... and transformed attitudes from complaining to problem-solving.

Question: How EPIC is your parenting? Your teaching, coaching and training? I would love to hear any thoughts and ideas you have around the EPIC method.