Years ago I went through a time in my life when stress and emotional pain made me want to spew hurtful words. With a whole lot of prayer and verse-memorizing, I succeeded in taming my tongue, but now it’s time to take my words to a new level: not-hurtful is not good enough.
My words tend to be instructional, practical, and sensible — but not always delivered with enough gentleness. I can do better. I want my words to be life-giving and encouraging.
I have done all of this enough to know the effort is worthwhile — but I still struggle with turning these things into habits, so please know I’m talking to myself here just as much as to anyone reading.
How to make your words mean more:
These ideas apply not only to parenting, but to marriage, too. So here’s a hint: use these with your kids, but also with your spouse (and your friends)!
1. Look for opportunities to use words of praise.
“Thanks for doing your chores without being reminded.”
“Leaving the last cookie for your sister was a thoughtful thing to do.”
“Thanks, Honey, for cleaning the kitchen after supper.”
I’m trying to make sure more words of praise come out of my mouth than words of instruction or criticism, however nicely worded.
2. Don’t nag.
Before you remind your child to do (fill in the blank), consider whether or not this really needs to be said. Some things DO need to be said, but I’m learning that many things don’t. Often, those reminders come out as criticism. (It’s interpreted that way here pretty often.) Consider whether or not it needs to be said at all, and if it does, consider if there may be a kinder way to say it.
3. Remind them they are special.
I’m looking for opportunities to remind my daughters that God created them for a special purpose; that He planned something specifically for them even before He created the world. That means even when they don’t feel special, they are — and they need to be reminded.
“God gave you a kind, sensitive heart; you’ll be a great mother one day.”
“You’re so outgoing; that means God can use you to speak truth to SO many people!”
4. Show them you value their words.
Set down the iPhone. Forget updating your status. Let the laundry pile a little higher. Wait just a few more minutes to start dinner. Finish that blog post (ahem, Self!) some other time. Give your kids/spouse your full attention when they have something to tell you. Show them that they’re more important than all those other things.
5. Treat sarcasm as a dangerous weapon.
Sarcasm come from a root word that means “to tear flesh.” That’s a vivid mental image for me, and I don’t want to tear anyone’s flesh. Yes, an occasional sarcastic remark can be humorous, but it greatly depends on the audience and the situation. Use this weapon with care if you use it at all.
6. Unkind words have a long shelf life.
That old saying about sticks and stones being more hurtful than words isn’t true at all. Most of us can recall an unkind remark for years after we’ve forgotten kind words. And since we can’t always know when previous experiences may cause someone to be extra sensitive to harsh words, we should err on the side of caution.
7. Say the hard things.
Some things are hard-to-hear — but need to be said. There are times in my life when I wish someone had said those hard things to me. There are other times when I know I should’ve said something, but didn’t — and I regret those times. Thankfully, there are also a few times when I did say the hard thing, and saw the difference it made. Remember to say those hard-to-hear things with gentleness.
Then there are the emotionally hard things, like telling friends and loved ones how much you care. Say the hard things. Even if it seems awkward at the time. Even if they give you a funny look. Say them. There could come a day when you — like my dad, whose voice was stolen by ALS — can no longer say them. He misses talking; he misses eating; he misses being able to do many things. But most of all, he just wants to be able to say out loud that he loves us. And I miss hearing him say it.
Go ahead and say the hard things. And let your words have the power of life in them.