One Girl’s Life Lesson
Amy Beth Gardner of Cleveland, TN wanted to do all she could to prepare her daughter, Breonna, to enter middle school. So, like any good mom would, she helped her daughter decorate her locker, choose a uniform for the first day, and even surprised her at bedtime with a new backpack.
But, even after all that, there was one more thing that Amy wanted to give to her daughter. Before presenting it to her, she talked with Breonna about her words and how as she grew up she would need to be more responsible with the things she said.
She told her that her words would have the power to “hurt, demean, slander and wound others.” She also could use her speech to “heal, encourage, inspire and love others.”
Amy then gave Breonna a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squeeze it all out on a plate she provided. Once she got all the toothpaste out, her mother said, “Ok. Now, I want you to put all the toothpaste back in the tube.” Breonna chuckled and told her mom that it wasn’t possible.
Amy looked at her daughter and said, “Remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back.”
What a powerful truth! As parents, most of us are continually working with our children to help them with the things they say. We teach them proper manners at the table, how to address an adult, and words that are not appropriate to say altogether.
While it’s important for our kids to have a reign on their tongue, it’s even more significant that we as parents show the same kind of self-control we expect from them. After all, as a person in authority over them, the words that come out of our mouth play a big part in their developing sense of self-worth.
Proverbs 18:21a says that “The tongue has the power of life and death…” That’s a big deal!
Another sobering scripture is found in Matthew 12:36. It says, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Think about it. Our words are some of the few things we will leave on this earth.
With this in mind, we as parents need to be disciplined with our words making sure that we are speaking life into our children and not death. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said that it takes 9 affirming compliments to make up for just 1 critical comment we give to our children. Wow!
So, how do you talk to your children? Family Life Ministries has done a great job of identifying positive and negative comments that parents say.
Let’s begin with phrases that parents should never say:
“You always…” or “You never…” How easy it is to slip and say something like this in a moment of frustration. Speaking these words over your children communicates to them that they won’t ever succeed in that particular situation. Most of the time it’s an exaggeration as well. Clearly, your child has obeyed at least once before.
It would be better to say, “I need you to do better in this area and I’m going to help you with it.”
“Your brother/sister never does this … ” Comparing one child to another is a recipe for disaster. First of all, no 2 children are the same. God has made all of them unique. It’s not fair to either of them to compare.
Comparing also feeds their natural inclination to believe they are better or worse than their sibling. For the confident and gifted child, it makes it even easier for him to think even higher of himself. For the younger sibling who is living in the shadow of their older brother or sister, it causes them to feel like they will never measure up.
Instead, it would be better to point your child to the fact that God made him and his older brother different. Tell him that you love both of them the way that God created them.
“What are you, stupid?” I don’t think this one needs any illustration. Never put your child down by saying this. They will grow up thinking this is true!
“You’re hopeless.” When a parent says this, they are telling their kid that they will never make it in life no matter how much they try. Our children need to hear us say that we believe in them and that we know that God has an awesome plan for their lives.
Here are some things to say that are much healthier:
“I love you.” I have heard fathers say that they aren’t good with public affection and this is why they don’t tell their kids that they love them. They often follow it by saying, “They know I love them.”
This is backward and upside down. Every child has a need to be loved by his mom and his dad and they need to hear you say that you love them.
“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” you might say. If your child is unsure about her dad or mom’s love for them, they will go looking for it in all the wrong places. They will find someone who makes them feel “loved”.
Sadly, this is often an abusive boyfriend, a drinking buddy or a drug pusher. Tell your children that you love them. Tell them regularly!
“Do you understand what we just talked about?” When disciplining our kids, our goal should not be to prove we are right. Instead, our aim should be to make sure they know what they did and how they can handle it better next time.
“I struggle with the same thing.” While it’s not necessary to tell your children every struggle you have, it is important that they know that you are human and, therefore, not perfect.
I’ve lived this one. As a teenager, I struggled with anger. It didn’t take much to get me going. In my anger, I had very little control over myself.
As my kids have grown up and dealt with anger in their own lives, it has been good to be able to tell them that I used to lose the battle against anger when I was younger. Telling them this opens the door for me to help them come up with a winning strategy against their anger. Be real to your kids!
“You are a blessing to me and our family.” Our kids need to know that we value them. It’s so easy sometimes to constantly barrage our children with all the things we need them to do.
So, how do you get to the place where you are speaking life again over your children? Thankfully, the Bible has much to say about this.
1. Admit you have a problem.
This is the first and most difficult step. Who likes to admit that they’re wrong? Not me! However, we will never find the healing we need until we see that we have a problem.
2. Ask forgiveness from God and your children for the words you have spoken over them.
In doing this, you are not only starting over, but you are teaching your kids to do the same thing when they fall into the same trap. Remember, kids do what you do before they will ever do what you say. Our example is so powerful!
3. Focus your attention on good things. When I was a kid, I remember my mom saying something to me on a pretty regular basis. She used to say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, what comes out of your mouth is a direct result of what you let into your heart.
The Bible confirms this when it says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Matthew 12:35
Another great verse is found in Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
4. Pray to the Lord for help each day. I guarantee you can’t do this on your own! You need the help of a perfect and loving God. Not sure what to pray? Pray the scriptures about the tongue back to God. Here’s a good solid list for you.
5. Ask someone you trust to hold you accountable. Again, don’t try to do this on your own. God meant for us to live together in community and this is one of the great benefits.
One last thought. As you work towards speaking life over your children, remember that the words you say will reverberate for many generations to come in your family. What an awesome gift you are giving to your children and their children!
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