What (Not) to Say to Your Children

We’ve often heard it said — and perhaps even said ourselves — that children are like sponges. We say it because it’s true: children really do absorb everything. We know, for example, that children have an uncanny ability to learn multiple languages at a young age. But do we speak to our children in way that is sensitive to their sponge-like nature?

I guess what I’m asking is this: As parents, do we conveniently forget that our children are like sponges when we’re frustrated and want to vent our frustration verbally by giving them titles that are hurtful, belittling, and negative (“jerk,” “spoiled brat,” “you eat like a pig”)? Emotionally and psychologically, our children are innocent and naive. So when we say things to them (that we know we don’t mean), they accept it as Gospel truth, because we’re their parents and they’ve been brought up to trust and believe our words. As Sheila Walsh has said, “Children are wonderful receivers but terrible interpreters.”

If you’re guilty of this (and we all are to one degree or another), here are 3 small steps that will help:

  • When your children need correction, make it constructive and give them an opportunity to think through the problem themselves by asking leading questions. This dignifies them, encourages them, and shows them that you value their thought life. Some don’t think that children are capable of thought, but God wants you to train your children (Proverbs 22:6).
  • Resolve to say 20 positive things to your children every day. They hear enough negative comments. Every day our kids are being told — explicitly or implicitly — that they’re not handsome or pretty enough, that they’re not strong or skinny enough, that they’re not smart or witty enough, that they’re not enough like that boy or that girl. Our children need to be affirmed and reaffirmed by us daily. That’s our responsibility: not the Homeroom teacher’s, Facebook’s, Disney’s, or their best friend’s responsibility. Ours!
  • Remember Jonah. I know, strange. But here’s my point. Jonah deliberately disobeyed God and had a bad attitude. Yet God was patient with Jonah, because He wanted Jonah to learn. God is similarly patient with us. As parents, we must be patient with our children as they learn lessons that we (probably!) learned 20-30 years ago. Don’t become impatient with their growth. Remember, growth takes time, because time is the framework in which you impart life lessons.

Finally, remember that the negative titles that we give our children often end up being mirrors reflecting a dishonest image. If we magnify occasional mistakes and pin negative titles to them verbally, to our dismay, they might just start living up to them!

Love the children God has given you,



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