As we transition to discussing communication in the parent-child relationship, please remember that the same principles and applications already addressed for the marital relationship are still applicable. (For instance, in our communication with our children, we should aim to edify and speak the truth in love.) This post aims to capitalize on what has already been addressed so that we can build a home culture of emotional safety and joy.
Proverbs 18:21 is an incredible reminder of the weight of our words. It says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Did you catch that? Death and life. With our words, we build up, and with our words, we tear down. When communicating with our kids, this is absolutely a crucial truth to remember. Our words are powerful and have consequences- for better or for worse. With this in mind, let’s look at 3 key components of life-giving communication:
- Gentle words. Before I begin, let me first clarify that gentle does not mean weak. Nor is it the opposite of strong or direct. What it does mean is “having or showing a mild, kind, or tender temperament or character.” This means gentle words are simultaneously truthful and kind, bold and respectful. Of note, gentleness is named as one of the nine fruits of the Spirit and was a word our Savior used to describe his nature (Matthew 11:29). As followers of Christ, we are called to bear fruit and to be conformed to his image. Gentleness is for sure to be on our radar!
And if that is not enough to convince you of the importance of gentle words, consider Proverbs 15:1 which says, “ A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A few verses later we learn, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
Part of being an effective communicator with our children is remaining calm and ensuring we have our emotions under control before speaking. A gentle spirit, and subsequently, gentle words, can only exist in conjunction with self-control! As tempting as it can be to match our child’s level of discourse, smart comebacks or sarcasm only adds fuel to the fire. Ephesians 6:4 reminds us that we are not to provoke our children to anger but to bring them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Building and gracious words. Turning again to the book of Proverbs, we see vivid descriptions of using our words to bring life to others. Consider Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” By definition, gracious words are courteous, kind, and pleasant. But even more than that, as followers of Christ, our words are to be gracious in that we seek the good in others and look for ways to build one another up. Statements such as, “I appreciate your hard work,” or, “You bring so much joy to my life,” take but a few seconds to say but add sweetness to the souls of our kids.
Likewise, Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Though we previously applied this verse to the language of marriage, I wanted to bring it up again as it also relates to parenting. Speaking fitly spoken words takes a bit of discernment, and again, self-control. For our words to be received well, we must be mindful of when they are said (timing), and of our child’s capacity at the moment to receive our message (mood/disposition). Though sometimes it’s difficult to hold our tongues, I’ve found the most fruitful conversations seem to happen when I choose to wait for a more opportune moment.
- Genuine and Non-Judgemental. As much as we want our kids to come to us with all of the important stuff in life, this will only happen when we listen with genuine interest and without passing judgment. Kids, and especially teenagers, will clam up faster than anything if they feel they are being criticized or judged. They can also quickly sniff out ulterior motives.
As parents who teach and instruct our kids in the ways of truth, being non-judgemental can prove challenging. However, as we consider this point, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus himself was full of grace and truth (John 1:13). In speaking with the woman at the well, he did not condemn her, yet directly confronted her need for a Savior. What a beautiful model for us to imitate! While we will not always get it right, we can strive to speak truth with a loving and gracious spirit, knowing that our kids won’t always get it right either.
While this point is really more about our attitude than specific types of words, I included it under the category of life-giving communication because grace and truth foster safety and freedom. And when our kids feel safe and free with us, they, and our homes, will be filled with life and joy.