Words not to use with children

— by Nikki Bray

We’ve all heard the little phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Some of us probably even chanted it as a child. I know I did. And yet it has to be one of the most incorrect statements I’ve ever heard.

Words are powerful. Scripture tells us that the tongue can either build up or tear down. When we discipline our children, our words often speak louder than our actions.  Our actions can hurt, but the wounds our loose words leave behind last far longer than any physical comfort our children experience.

Rob Flood, a writer for FamilyLife wrote a great article on words and I want to summarise some of what he said on the subject. First of all, some examples of what not to say :

  • “You always ...” or “You never …” Phrases like these are rarely true; they are spoken out of frustration or anger and don’t help to restore a child. In fact, these words can actually make a child give up trying.
  • “Your brother/sister never does this …” All this does is create resentment towards the other sibling and you could be setting your children up for a lifetime of sibling rivalry. Comparison can also cause a child to rebel as he tries to carve out a path for himself that it significantly different to the brother or sister you’re comparing him to.
  • “What are you, stupid?” Your child’s intellect is not the issue here. Smart people sin just as much as anyone else. The source of your child’s foolish decision or bad behaviour was their heart, not their head.
  • “You’re hopeless”. Probably the most destructive of all.  If we are without hope then all is lost. A child who feels that a parent has lost hope in them is in a very fragile position. And besides it’s totally wrong. Some of the bible’s greatest leaders seemed hopeless cases. Moses, Joseph, Paul and Peter would probably fall into that category and yet God used them mightily. No one, not even your child is ever out of reach of God’s hope.
  • And lastly, silence.  Silence robs a child of the love they need following a fall. Imagine the Prodigal Son returning to a silent father; that story of grace would become a great tragedy. If you can’t think of anything kind to say, don’t choose silence; just admit to your child that you are struggling with your own feelings, reassure the child of your love, and tell your child that you are seeking God’s help with your own feelings.