We may have been told when we were kids that sticks and stone may break bones, but words can never hurt you.  But we also know that is simply not true.  No idea why a parent would have ever said that to a child!  We all know that there is power in the tongue – the words we say have an impact on the people who hear them.  And as a parent this is an important heart issue for us to get a grip on.  We are responsible for the words we say – we are responsible for the little hearts that we shape.  Today I’m looking at 5 different times in our day where we can choose to speak life and be a positive influence in our child’s growing up.

The Bible has many encouragements to watch what we say – I’m just going to jump into Proverbs and read a few…

Proverbs 11:9 Evil words destroy, Godly skill rebuilds. (TLB)

Proverbs 11:12 It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbour, a sensible person keeps quiet (NLT)

Proverbs 11:17 Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel. (TLB)

Proverbs 15:1  A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up. (GNT)

Proverbs 15:4 Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim (MSG)

Proverbs 16:24 Kind words are like honey.  They are sweet to the spirit and bring healing to the body. (NIrV)

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love its use will eat its fruit. 

In each of these verses there are consequences for the words we say and those consequences will bring either life or death. Life being that energy that builds ups, encourages and enables – where death is that sinking gut feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness that is life draining.

When we talk about words of life or death – we are also talking about tone.  As an adult we are very aware of snark, we understand the cutting power of an insincere voice, criticism or even sarcasm.  So we need to watch our words and our tone as we talk to our kids.

Words of death look like: nagging, name-calling, belittling, angry, mean, critical, unkind, words based on mistrust. Words spoke like this bring death because when they come out of our mouth the spirit of our listener is crushed.

As opposed to the times when we speak words of life; words of life lift up, encourage, strengthen and empower the listener. Words of life are words spoken with: kindness, faith, hope, love, patience, trust and belief.

 

5 Opportunities to Speak Life

As a mum we speak to our kids a lot throughout the day. I’ve looked at those different times and summarised them into five different situations that typify our verbal interactions with our kids: Conversations, Instruction, Correction, Praise and Conflict. 

How can we speak life at these five times?

1-Times of Conversations

Conversations are when we are simply sharing life, getting to know each other, and sharing the comings and goings of our day; things that interest us, things we’ve been thinking about.

 

To speak life we need to:

  • See our children as people. This seems so obvious but I think sometimes we see children as a sub-group, but they have feelings, hopes, desires and needs just as much as our spouse, neighbour or friend. We need to give them due courtesy, respect and consideration.
  • We need to know our children as individuals: their love language, their quirks, their passions, their fears, their strengths, their weaknesses.  This is often overlooked as we lump them together (once again) as a subgroup in our family just – our kids – but each one is an individual.
  • Be interested in our children’s world. They may have fascinations that seem ridiculous.  Our son Josh was so narrowly focused on Thomas the Tank Engine which meant we also knew every engines’ name and personality – that was his 5year old world and we needed to not only get into it but also respect it!  You might have teenagers or young adults and you wish for those days of Thomas the Tank Engine because their world now of Marvel, and fantasy and gaming is so complex – but when we put effort into understanding the things that interest our kids, we have things to talk about, to connect on and to build our relationship on – and that’s important!

 

2-Times of Instructions

We need to understand that instructions are given, not to get a job done, but to help our child do what they need to do. A slight difference in focus here – if our children do not feel enabled to do the task after we have given instructions, we have not done our job right. We certainly haven’t spoken life, because speaking life would mean our child would be able to do the things they needed to do.

Life-giving Instructions need to be:

  • Spoken when we have the child’s attention
  • Spoken with a gentle and an encouraging tone
  • Spoken to help the child understand not only what to do but why this is important (Spiritual reason, moral reason or practical reason)
  • Spoken in a way that helps the child know what to do instead of what not to do. 

 

3-Times of Correction

We can have the mistaken understanding that if we are to speak life, we don’t actually correct our kids. That is not the case – if we are to teach and train our kids, we will need to speak words of correction – that is words that help our kids get onto the right track. 

We need to check our own heart before we speak words of correction to our kids – are we frustrated, annoyed, tired, fed-up? We need to deal with that first before speak to our kids.  We will not speak words of life when we are tied up inside like that. Remember we are responsible for our own choices – and that includes the words we say when our kids have done something frustrating, disappointing or even embarrassing.  

We need to find words that help our child, not alleviate our own inner turmoil. 

Words of correction need to be:

  • Calm and gentle (get rid of anger first)
  • Focused on the heart – helping your children want to do things differently because they understand it differently
  • Followed by forgiveness. Our children need to be assured of our forgiveness. We need to be quick to forgive and not hold grudges against our kids.

 

4-Times of Praise

We all know how much praise balms the soul! Our children are learning so much – their world is ever-changing, ever growing around them.  They themselves are constantly growing and changing.  Its a lot!  They need to know that we see them, love them, accept them.  They need to know that we see the effort they put into growing up.

  • We need to catch our children doing something good (set them up to succeed if you have to!)
  • We need to praise them for their choices, not their actions (character-based choices – so where they make good choices, put in effort even if their results aren’t perfect – they need to be praised).
  • We need to be sincere – don’t just say chirpy things to make them feel good about themselves – they’ll see through it eventually! Give sincere honest praise for the times they do well or the wise choices they make.
  • Be affirming even in the face of failure. To our children, the absence of praise can seem like condemnation. We need to be very onto it – be very purposeful to give encouragement and love/acceptance when they fail. Not to gloss over the failure but to put failure in its rightful place in the child’s life.

 

5-Times of Conflict

This often looks the same as times of correction, but not necessarily, and especially with older kids – early teens onwards. 

So some keys to speaking life when our children disagree with us:

  • Keep calm, not angry, and don’t take it personally
  • Create a space (safe space) for them to share their feelings, understandings, and experiences. Even if you disagree, don’t dismiss or ignore their perspective
  • Stay focused on the importance of your relationship – nothing is worth destroying that
  • Use reflective listening (repeating what they say to confirm you hear correctly) and then allow for further clarification
  • Don’t react when angry, walk away and promise to come back to discuss it at another time. Always guard your tongue and tone.

 

Speak words of Life

The words we speak throughout the day will influence our children (there will be fruit) – so we need to choose our words wisely. We can speak life or death, build up or tear down, we will create strife or peace, inspire or destroy. What will it be? This isn’t actually a choice we make today, right here while you listen to this podcast, or read it on the website, it is a choice we need to make every time we are about to open our mouth! In the moment, you need to make a decision to speak life!

 

Heart-focused Action Step

What pushes us over the edge so that we make poor choices and speak words of death?

When we realise the bad habits that we’ve slipped into – because generally speaking we do slip into speaking in unhelpful ways – we don’t set out to speak unkind words or use an unkind tone – there is usually something that started that slippery slope.  

Knowing what that trigger is for you – doesn’t make it an excuse.  There is no excuse for being unkind but it is helpful to know what is going on in your life – as the parent – so that you can make changes.Just like we say that what is in our child’s heart comes out in their thoughts, attitudes and actions – so too is what is in your heart that will dictate your thoughts, attitudes and actions.

It is actually easier to look at the actions that trigger our unkind words – words of death not life. Things like

  • Being tired
  • Running late
  • Too busy
  • Not feeling healthy
  • Being stressed
  • The house being messy
  • Arguing with our spouse

These are circumstances that certainly raise our intensity and we can let that overflow into the words we say or how we say those words to our kids.  This is not on.  It’s not right. And we know that – I don’t have to say that.

We need to look at what is influencing our own heart – why do we let ourselves get to this place of stress.  That is the heart question that desserves your reflection.

So a two step process when you catch yourself consistently speaking words of death.  (You know – it is much nicer to the ear to say – unkind words – we slip into to saying unkind words to our kids and we know that isn’t right.  But to say that we speak words of death – ouch it is even hard for me to say that to you.  But it is a powerful image that I don’t want to back away from as I encourage you to look at the words you say and how you say them to you kids.  

It is a two step process when you know you need to change how you speak to your kids.

  1.  Watch for the external triggers.  What is going on that causes you to speak out of stress.
  2. What are you believing or valuing or choosing that puts you in that situation of emotional or physical stress. 

You need to deal with both.  And that is the heart-focused action step for this week.  Catch yourself speaking to your kids in ways you know doesn’t bring life – then put in the heart-work to start the change happening in your life.

Let me just finish with Colossians 3:8 – Which is talking about us, as a new man, a new creation since Jesus took away our sin and gave us a new heart.  Col 3:8 says – but now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  

These things have no place in our life because we are renewed and remodelled into the likeness of Christ.  Stand on that promise as you commit to speaking words of life to your kids thorughout your day.

Colossians 3:8  “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (ESV)

Further Reading:

Celebrate when your Child makes Progress: When our child makes progress, take time to celebrate instead of moving straight onto the next life lesson they need to learn.

Following Instructions is an Important Life Skill: Following instructions is an important life skill for kids to learn; but so much depends on us and how we give instructions.

10 Ways to Make Parenting Hard: We can make parenting hard by any one of these 10 things. Harder than it needs be.

 

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