Our words are powerful. They have the power to breathe life into our kids, and they have the power to suck the life right out of them.
I’ve seen little ones deflate right in front of my eyes at the words or tone spoken to them. I’ve also seen a slow decay creep in as single overly critical and demoralizing outbursts turn into the general narrative of what is spoken over them and the little soul begins to wilt like a flower.
So, how do we guard our tongues and steer them like a rudder to build up our children and inspire them to bravely be all they can be for God?
Words of Love
Kids crave to know they are loved unconditionally. This is just as critical when they mess up as when they succeed.
When kids knowingly do wrong, unknowingly hurt others and get reprimanded, and when they just plain make mistakes, their perspectives can be clouded by fear- Fear that you will no longer love them or will somehow love them less because of what they’ve done.
When They Fail
Kids need the reassurance that:
#1. I will always love you no matter what you do.
When They Succeed
Alice Reinhart from Rhino Technologies explained something at a conference this summer that I hadn’t been aware of before.
Oftentimes when kids do something well, we unwittingly (and very naturally) tend to draw them close and hug them and say, “I love you!”
This over time can cause them subconsciously to draw a causal correlation in their thinking between their success and our love. When they fail, the fear of losing our love is greater. A drive to succeed in them can easily be fueled by a desire to earn more love.
I know I have really struggled in my relationship with God to trust that I am loved and accepted 100%, and nothing I can do could change that. This is something we can instill in our kids. They need to be told over and over:
#2 You were created by God; therefore, you have value and worth. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can choose, no life path you can go down that changes the fact that you are worthy. You are worthy to be loved and valued. Nothing you can do is going to make me love you more than I already do.
One way to do this is to let our love words stand alone. Don’t associate them with how your kids look or what they do.
And when they succeed and you just want to squeeze them and say how much you love them, take Alice Reinhart’s advice and say:
#3. I love you anyway.
Kids need to know they are loved and accepted period.
Words of Respect
Having two boys, I’ve been striving to navigate the foggy waters of respect. The more I read and the more I apply what I learn in my own home, the clearer this topic becomes for me. Boys especially need to be spoken to, affirmed, reprimanded with respect.
As a woman, I know this is true for girls as well. There is something in this respect thing, though, that can really affect the hearts of our sons and the men they become. Check out this fascinating and extremely practical book on the topic if you have sons: Mother and Son: The Respect Effect. (I don’t get any kickbacks for recommending this- I just purely am challenged by it)
So here are some great words of respect:
#4. I respect you.
As much as you can, make that specific. Did they persevere through a difficult challenge, sacrifice for the good of another, make an epic effort according to their ability and maybe even still fail? Tell them why you respect them
Make it Specific
#5 I respect the way you…
I respect the way you shared your favorite toy with your brother. That showed a lot of character.
I respect the way you noticed and helped Mrs. Featherstone when she dropped her papers.
I respect the way you worked so hard to pick up your toys (younger kids)/ do your chores (older kids).
I respect the way you stuck out that really difficult season of baseball. I can see you are becoming the kind of person that finishes what you start. That’s huge.
This was tough for you, and I respect why you feel disappointed. You want to excel. I respect the way you finished the game to the end, even though you knew you were losing. That took a lot of grit. I can see God developing perseverance in you.
Discipline is a critical time to remind them of your respect.
#6. I respect you no matter what.
Imagine Billy takes Timothy’s toy, and it infuriates your son John. John snatches the toy out of Billy’s hands and yells at him.
“I respect your desire to protect others and be sure they are treated fairly. Billy was wrong for taking Timothy’s toy. I know that bothered you, and I’m glad it did. As an honorable man, what can you do next time?”
Words of Thanks
We work so hard to instill into our children from a young age that they need to say “Please” and “Thank you.” I wonder just how much our using these words drives it home.
We need to regularly, consciously, specifically be thanking our children.
#7. Thank you so much for…
“Thank you so much for helping me carry in the groceries. That was really considerate.”
“Thank you so much for doing your homework so diligently. I respect how responsible you are.”
“Thank you so much for that encouraging text. It meant a lot to me and helped me get through a difficult day.”
Words of Apology
Our kids, whether toddlers or adults, need us to be real, honest, and humble. We need to man up and woman up when we are in the wrong. Our kids need to see that we need Jesus just as much as they do. We need to apologize.
#8. I apologize for._________. I know that hurt you. I was wrong. Would you please forgive me?
Words of Confidence
A few other phrases that have the potential to breathe life into your kids long after your authority them has started to wane:
9. I believe in you.
Kids need to know that there is someone in the world that believes that they have what it takes to achieve their dreams.
10. You have what it takes.
Share Your Own!
I don’t think any of us have enough phrases like these in our toolkits. Please, please share phrases you use to breathe life into your kids. Please share phrases that breathed life into you so much that you remember them to this day (even though they may have been spoken long ago. Please add them to the comments for us all to benefit!
More Like This
- How Play Can Make or Break our Kids’ Futures
- 5-Minute Self-Assessment that Could Change Your Kid’s Lives
- How My Kids Can Know God for Themselves
- Berry Eyes
- To Be Known