“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
This quote is a complete lie, of course. Words can hurt. Words can injure. Words leave wounds that run horribly deep and can last a lifetime. I’ve forgotten much of the day-to-day aspects of my childhood, but those times I was hurt by someone’s words haunt me still.
Our parental words can crush our children. Yelling, threatening, manipulating, shaming, name-calling, belittling, and silencing children all happens with just words!
“I can’t believe you did that. Really?”
“You’re such a brat!”
“Just go away!”
“Stop whining and leave me alone.”
“How many times have I told you not to do that? You never listen!”
“Knock it off.”
“I’m so mad I can’t even look at you right now.”
“How will you obey God if you can’t obey me?”
“You’re so lazy/stupid/useless/annoying/childish/selfish/ungrateful.”
Yes, our words are very, very powerful. Thankfully, they’re not hopeless! Our words can also bring life, strength, and beauty into our children’s lives:
“You are my most precious treasure and I adore you.”
“I don’t love you because you’re GOOD. I love you because you’re YOU.”
“Wow. You are working so hard!”
“Out of all the children in the world, God picked YOU for us!”
“I love watching you play/sleep/share/imagine.”
“How can I help you feel better?”
“God has an amazing plan for your life and I can’t wait to see you fulfill it!”
“It looks like you’re having a hard time with that. How can we make it easier?”
It’s easy to stay cool, calm, and collected when things are going smoothly in our home. But drinks get spilled, trash overflows, diapers explode, siblings argue, laundry piles, and before you know it, tempers flare. Words that we thought were buried deep in our hearts abound from our stress. We raise our voice, express our feelings harshly, and crush little ones in an instant.
How can we make our mouths an instrument of gentleness and GRACE to our children? By the power God gives us to do so! Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Did you read how we are going to give grace to those listening to our speech (namely, our children)? By speaking edifying words. Uplifting words. Encouraging words.
Have you ever found that we save our ugliest side for our family? We cover up this sin by saying “That’s just how I am.” or “That’s just how I deal with things.” or “I’m just being honest.” or “I’m just letting my hair down.”…..but the hard truth is, we control our tongue far better with our friends, co-workers, church family, and even complete strangers than we do with the family GOD gave to us. We throw caution to the wind when it comes to our family, and our thoughtless words portray anything but grace to the hearers.
If we desire to parent with God’s grace to our children, we must make the conscious, daily decision to control our composure in our home. Grace must flow, not only out of the abundance of our hearts (see this post), but must also be evident by our calm choice of words (especially under stress!).
Here’s a list (by no means exhaustive) of three ways I strive to keep my composure and guard my words with my children (especially during those unavoidable stressful times!):
- I slow my breathing down significantly when I feel rising stress. I actually put my hand on my mouth and take several slow breaths before I respond. (Funny story: I remember the time one of my sons had gotten into trouble. I was rebuking him, when he put his hand over his mouth, closed his eyes, and started breathing slowly. I said, “Son. Why aren’t you looking at Mommy? Why are you closing your eyes like that?” and he replied, “Mommy, what you’re saying is making me angry. I’m breathing slow so I don’t say something I’ll regret.” 🙂 Okay, so it wasn’t a perfect response—but he must be watching me in this area! LOL) How have you planned and purposed to remain calm and not yell at your children?
- I imagine my children starting each day with an imaginary bucket. Each time I build them up with my words, I’m adding to the bucket. Each time I say something negative (whether necessarily or too harshly), I’m taking out of the bucket. My goal is for each child to have a full bucket at the end of each day. When I see a child misbehaving, I mentally evaluate, “How full is their bucket today?” There is a very fine line between effective teaching and bullying, and both happen with our speech.
- (We have three adopted girls, so this last point may apply more for them, but I have many readers that have adopted, so I’m adding it in for them.) I picture my child as a tiny baby in need of love and nurture. Let’s just be honest—sometimes our words crush because we’re so frustrated with a particular child’s repetitive struggles. My adopted girls have some needs (attachment/trauma) that can exasperate the most patient parent! Maybe one of your kiddos has more intense needs, too! You might find a mental picture of the child on a good day a helpful technique in remaining calm during a behavior struggle. For me, on those unusually hard days, I try to let my mind see their children as younger and more vulnerable, in need of a calm and consistent presence. (An ADULT.) This slows down my frustration, which keeps my composure calm.
Today’s Challenge: Check your COMPOSURE. Are you using your words to build, praise, teach, and encourage your children? Is your speech showing GRACE to the hearers? (those little people in your home) Are you reacting in anger and tearing down your child’s spirit? Purpose today to use each word to bless your home with grace.