The following is a transcript of the audio. Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Laura: Welcome to another episode of Risen Motherhood. We are so glad all of you are tuning in today. I have got, of course, my sister-in-law Emily Jensen with me. Today, we are talking about using life-giving words with our kids, honoring our children with our words, being gracious, and kind, and affirming to them. I feel like it’s sometimes a lost art these days, to do this thing.
Emily: It’s a lost art and yet, a huge thing that I feel our culture emphasizes and talks about positivity and being kind. Still, it’s so hard to do and I’ll be the first to admit that. I feel like I’m a pretty peppy, friendly person and I have been amazed, especially since bringing our fourth child into the world how under stress, it can be extremely difficult to control the tongue. [laughter]
Laura: We want to do a whole show on saying mean things, [laughter] the opposite of this. At some point, we will do that but today we are like, “Let’s go with the fun side of things.” It’s funny because our children are listening to everything even if we’re not speaking directly to them. Emily, have you noticed your kids picking up on things you’ve been saying to your husband or other people?
Emily: We’re getting into that stage where we have to be careful about saying names in front of our children because our oldest now knows who people are. The other day we were driving in the car and the oldest, who’s four, wants to take up the role of the backup family disciplinarian [laughter] when I’m busy. One of his younger siblings was complaining in the back seat and whining. Here’s me turning the music up, “Oh.” I already made this comment 100 times today and I hear him go, “You get what you get and you don’t complain about it.” He’s exactly in my tone and everything. I was like, “Wow. I don’t think I say that that often,” It’s interesting to me because he doesn’t always respond to that comment, but boy, he was able to whip it out.
Laura: I remember when my son was maybe 24 months or something like that and my daughter, as we’ve discussed, had colic, so she cried all the time. I remember a lot of people would be like, “Is this your sister? Who is this?” and he would say, “Colette, cry all the time.” [laughter] It was so funny because we used to be talking about how she cries all the time and literally, that was her name; those four words. I know that he picked that up from us saying it. He didn’t even know what he was saying probably at the time but definitely, kids are repeating things.
Emily: You pick up on affirmation too because, again, my oldest will constantly come up to our baby. He will hold out his arms and go, “You are just the best baby. You are such a good baby,” [laughter] and again, says it in my exact inflection. It’s good to remember that they do pick up on the good things too.
Laura: They do. My son will say, “Hey sweetie, come here. Hey sweetie.” [laughter] It is hilarious to see a three-year old boy calling his sister over, “Hey sweetie.” Indeed, words do matter and kids pick up on the good things, and pick up on the bad things as well. They are listening to us all of the time. Emily and I know that it’s just going to increase. We hear stories from moms with older children about how much that really grows and changes. Definitely something to think about.
Emily: It can come more naturally to some people than others, depending on how much you value those affirming words, or those loving words, or maybe even what your parents did for you, and how comfortable you are with saying, “I love you,” or giving your children compliments or affirmations about who they are. I do think there’s a Biblical word towards this as well.
Laura: That’s different from what the world’s saying. That was something that at the beginning we started talking about; that it’s a really big emphasis. Emily has a teaching background so I’m going to let you explain this because she made a really good point to me the other day about this.
Emily: This idea of positive reinforcement, and if you catch your child being good enough and if you affirm their good behavior, you ignore the bad behavior and you don’t say anything negative, eventually the bad behavior will go away. While I get that and believe that over time that can work, in the Bible we say that sometimes life-giving words and honoring words are hard words.
Jesus said hard things, God rebukes and there is a place for rebuke in a loving way. Even the commandments are phrased in a negative way, [laughs] “Do not do this. Do not commit adultery.” While all of us could benefit from saying more affirming things, which we’ll get into, it’s good to remember that that doesn’t mean that you don’t ever say anything hard or that you don’t ever challenge your child or rebuke them.
Laura: As a believer our affirmations, or our life-giving words, are going to look different than a nonbeliever. It’s not just what the world’s saying of, “Talk about how great they are at soccer,” or, “Talk about how great they are when you see them being nice to somebody else.” What we’re trying to do with our words is that we are teaching our children our values; we are showing them Jesus in our words. Every single day we are making breakfast, we are putting them to bed, we are speaking words of life to them and we are giving them hope. Our words will change their hearts and their attitudes too. Well, God changes hearts. I’m going to rephrase that a little because I don’t want to get all – [laughter] whatever.
I think you know what I’m saying here is that our words have so much power to convey God’s truth to our children, especially prior to them being able to read, or when you’re controlling their environment. There’s a lot of shaping that’s happening with your words.
Emily: I know something I try to communicate to our children is the Bible talks about; we want to build people up with our words. We want to say things that are going to give grace to those who hear. We don’t want to say things that are going to be tearing people down and complaining and criticizing a lot. That’s what we’re saying is affirmation, that is loving and is kind and it’s what we should be doing.
Laura: When your children feel safe, they feel like, “Mom and dad are safe. They love and care about me. No matter what I do, they are still going to speak kindly to me and in gracious ways,” whether that’s rebuke or affirmation. When they feel that, they are willing to be more vulnerable with you. They are willing to be more honest and confessing sin and fears, and being teachable.
We can create a home environment with our words that foster family unity and honesty; it’s not perfect. I don’t want come here and say, “If you just say the right things, your kids are going to be perfect.” But there seems to be a lack of recognizing great character qualities in our children, that through fostering, you can strengthen weaknesses and you can strengthen strengths through words.
Emily: You may be tired of us harping on this, but one of our main callings as a mom is to pass along the Gospel to our children; to pass along our faith. They are watching us walk this out, and so if we are constantly negative or griping, that sends a message. If we are sharing Gospel life-giving words to our children, that is one of the many ways that we are passing along our faith to them and discipling them and showing them, “This is what the fruit of the Spirit looks like. This is what allowing God to control our tongue looks like. This is what it looks like to offer a gentle word when you want to say a harsh one. This is what self-control looks like.” It’s a great opportunity to disciple.
Laura: It’s a call to model the life of Christ and He presents a great model. While He does say hard things, He also extends so much graciousness as He’s ministering to children. He is often so gentle with people’s feelings and offering encouragement and affirmation to His disciples, and the people that He served. We want to model that as well, of women who have received grace, being able to show grace with our words and, as we keep saying the catch phrase here, life-giving words. That’s what we want to try to do.
Emily: We wanted to get into a little bit of the practical because it can be like, “What does this look like in daily life?” One of the things that we were discussing is, even in situations where you’ve gone to the store, or you’ve sat through the church service, or you’ve done whatever the thing is that you’ve trained your children to do, take the opportunity afterwards to point out specifically how they did a good job. In my education background, they would always be like, “You don’t say good job, you say great walking feet.” [laughter] That’s this name-specific thing; what they did. As a Christian, we can name what they’ve done that is a Biblical character quality or something that is pleasing to God.
Laura: I think that’s huge - using the Biblical terms of things that are happening, both sin and positive things, like, “You are diligent.” That’s a word that you don’t hear everybody say but the Bible talks about being diligent or a good steward, or you are "serving." There are a lot of words that gets them familiar with Biblical language, helping it to be not quite so foreign sounding as they grow up and can read and get more involved in their faith on their own.
Another thing that I had to learn is, I remember when my son was six months old and I was watching another mom. Her daughter was pointing out a bird, “Look at that bird mom,” and the mom was like, “Yes, the bird is blue just like your blue eyes. Isn’t God great how He created both of those things?” Honestly, I was like, “That’s weird.”
But as I have grown more in love with the Lord and understanding, drawing these connections about Gospel truth, that is a simple way that we can teach them the theology of, “God made all things and didn’t He do a great job?” I feel like that’s a twist of what the world would say, that as a believer, we would change that of, “It’s not about your child, it’s about God. It’s about how great He is.” I can say from personal experience, this was really hard for me. I felt awkward, stupid and weird. But as I have practiced it more and as I have filled my mind with better things and with the Gospel truth, it’s come more naturally for me.
Emily: Have hope and keep practicing. I know that I throw things out there sometimes with our kid and I’m like, “That sounded weird. I’m not going to say that again.” That’s okay, because they don’t really remember everything. They remember the things that sometimes we say over and over again. Another practical thing we wanted to mention was speaking into their future. I love this thought. I know again, my oldest son will talk about the baby and wanting to be a dad. I love getting to say, “Someday, you are going to be such a good daddy and you’re going to love being a daddy,” I love that. Or talking about their gifts, and seeing the things that God has gifted them to do like, “Wow, you are really able to construct interesting things. This is such a neat gift. I’m so excited how you are going to use this to help people,” those types of things too.
Laura: Moms, I am going to be super honest here, that is hard. It’s hard to draw those connections. I remember feeling like, “That sounds a little foreign and that sounds different.” We want to encourage you today to just try. You’re going to mess up or it’s going to sound awkward. I have said things that make no sense if someone were to hear me. I feel like, “How can I get like that? How can I talk like that?” I love God and I want to portray that to my children!
So remember that "practice does not make perfect" here but practice helps a lot, and filling up your own soul. What are you reading? Who are you talking to? Are you reading your Bible? Are you studying God’s Word? What podcasts are you listening to? What friends are we speaking with? We really have to fill our minds and soul with quality things, saturating them with Gospel-centered things. What goes in, comes out. I can say to you that I am an example of this, of someone who, sometime back, Jesus-speak felt weird for me. Even talking to a child, like Emily was doing an example of, usually made me think, “I’m not a teacher. I don’t know how to do this.” I have grown in that area. While I feel like it’s awkward, while I still struggle, that is something that I see is of so much value in transforming our children’s hearts. I want to encourage you, if you think it’s weird, to try it.
Emily: Perfect plug Laura, for also surrounding yourself with other moms who are doing a good job of building up their children. I literally have some friends who are beautiful at this. It is like I want to be parented by them. [laughter]
Laura: There are some good moms out there. Can we record what you’re saying and I’ll memorize it? That’s what I want to do.
Emily: If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and you’re like, “Wow, the people around me are not talking this way or they’re not encouraging me to talk this way,” reach out to a mom at your church or that you know that’s encouraging her children well. Do a play date and watch what she does. I think that’s awesome.
Laura: We want to encourage you guys to be intentional with your words and say, “I love you,” often. Find connections between your children and God’s character and who He is. Point them to Jesus with everything that you say. Like Emily said, if you don’t know people who are doing this or you feel embarrassed, start in the comfort of your own home, practice there and build out.
Know that this is something that you are going to get better at and you don’t have to be perfect at. God is going to use your words; He’s going to give you the right things to say. Even if you’re embarrassed by what you just said, your kids probably didn’t notice. Know I am there with you and I want to encourage you guys today in giving life-giving words to your kids.
Emily: We hope that you’ll check out our show notes. We’ll try to include more resources with some practical tips that we find for doing this, and then other explanations for what this looks like in the life of a Christian parent. Check out the show notes and then share this with anyone that you think would be helpful. It’s another way you can connect with moms. Leave us a rating or a review on iTunes, that would be awesome.
Laura: All right, thanks everyone.