The words that parents speak make a great impact. Chances are, when you think back on your own childhood, the common phrases your parents uttered helped to shape your current view on relationships, parenting and the world around you.
And although many Christian parents place an emphasis on the importance of children honoring their parents, the Bible also places a demand on parents to be conscious of how they interact with their children: Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
This is one of many scriptures that often goes ignored but remind us that how we raise our children is important. It’s not enough for us to simply expect our children to be respectful toward us, we must also be mindful of how we treat those God has entrusted us with. Doing things or speaking words that can cause a child to stumble is seen as a deplorable act according to Jesus.
"If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 16:8
Thus, as a parent, it is essential to take inventory of the words used toward children. Each word can bless or curse, uplift or destroy. Our speech can be just as damaging as physical abuse and leave children feeling like they are insignificant or a burden.
In all things, parents must keep in mind that every child in their care belongs to God first. When we speak to them in a way that causes hurt, we not only tarnish the parent-child relationship, but we also set a poor example of God’s love for our children.
With this in mind, here are 7 phrases we should avoid with children.
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1. "You never listen."
Words have power. First things first, it is highly like that the child “never listens.” Although they may not always meet your expectations, there may be other times that they follow your direction.
This phrase alongside other words like, “bad” “annoying” or “ridiculous” act as a seed for future poor behavior. In fact, scientists have proven that words spoken over us can create new neurological pathways. This phenomenon, also known as neuroplasticity teaches us how to act, think and respond in certain situations.
In other words, one phrase repeated to a child can create a pathway in their brain to respond accordingly. The child who neglected to listen at certain occasions will now be wired from the inside-out to not listen. Rather than saying the child “never listens” a parent can get this point across by asking a question like, “Is there a reason you didn’t follow my instructions?” or “Did you understand what I asked you?”
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
2. "Why aren’t you more like…"
Comparison is a tool that is often used by the enemy. If he can get your child jealous of another person, there will always be strife. Expecting your child to act like another sibling, cousin or friend is unreasonable and can lead to your child feeling they will never be “good enough” to please you.
It was comparison that caused Cain to kill Abel and led Joseph’s brothers to throw him in a pit. We can see the enemy has used comparison to rip apart families, even from the beginning of time. Instead of reminding your child how unalike they are to someone else, call out strengths you have previously seen in them and encourage them.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. James 3:16
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3. "If it weren’t for you, I’d be/wouldn’t be ______"
Your child was not present at conception. Even if the situation of their birth wasn’t ideal due to age or circumstance when they were born and how has nothing to do with them. Thus, they should never feel like a burden or a hinderance to your big dreams.
As parents, we make the choice to allow the birth of our children to be a blessing or burden. I can count numerous parents who used the existence of their child as a motivator and not an excuse. Rather than making your child feel like they aren’t wanted, remind them that they are not mistake.
Their life has purpose and is a blessing for you, even when you may not see it in the moment.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Psalm 127:3-4
4. "You’re not that good."
It can be easy to quench the dreams of our children. Whether the child is playing a sport or learning an instrument, our role is to encourage them. Even if they aren’t the best on the team, they should be applauded for doing their very best.
For example, suppose your son wants to play basketball but struggles to dribble. Rather than telling them they will “never make it to the NBA” find ways for them to practice more. This can be done through finding a friend for them to play with, signing them up for basketball camps or taking them to the basketball court as much as possible.
Remember even the great basketball legend Michael Jordan didn’t make the basketball team in sophomore year and couldn’t even dunk! We can always improve and get better. Call out the greatness in your child versus focusing on their weakness.
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5. "Stop acting stupid."
When you use the words like “stupid” “dumb” or “idiot” towards a child in any capacity, this phrase is internalized. Although you may be meaning that their choice was stupid, they will hear that they are stupid. These hurtful words reverberate in their mind.
Before long, as they are making decisions, they will hear your voice in their head putting them down. This should be the last thing you want for your child. Your anger doesn’t give you permission to break a child’s spirit. When it doubt, reserve your comments on the situation for a later time when you have calmed down.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
6. "You never do anything right."
One way to break a child’s heart is to make them feel like they can never meet your expectations. This will cause your children to constantly try to seek your approval.
I have seen first-hand that this pressure to never disappoint a parent can create a sense of nervousness within a child and cause them to feel defeated. Although seeking your approval may work well while they are within your home, it can cause them to be people-pleasers outside of your home.
Striving to make other people happy always makes your child a primary candidate for falling victim to peer pressure or poor choices later in life. Another aspect about this phrase is that it likely your child doesn’t live up to the phrase “you never do anything right.” There are probably more times when they are doing things right! When in doubt avoid using the words always and never as they are likely untrue statement.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
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7. "Go away."
I have been guilty of telling my children to just “go away.” In my frustration, it was easier for me to send them out of my presence than to deal with the issue at hand. I believe, however, this is the opposite of what God would have us to do. Whether we are telling a three-year-old to “leave us alone” or a teenager to “just leave” if they aren’t happy with the rules, this can sow a seed of rejection.
Instead, we see that God draws us closer in our time of need. Rather than cast us away, He invites us to cry out to Him and have relationship. The truth is, when we make our children feel like they are a bother or that we wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t present, we inadvertently open the door for the enemy to have a place in their lives.
When we choose to not validate our children and make them feel welcome, the enemy will send someone else who will. Let us make a habit of drawing our children close and not pushing them away. May our children know that there is nothing they can do that can separate them from our love. In the same way, they will come to know even more that they serve a God whose love for them will never go away or be conditional.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
May the Lord continue to show you how you can speak words of love, grace and truth to His children. No matter what the circumstance, let us not grow weary of leading our children closer to Him. Each interaction is an opportunity to spread God’s love.
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Originally published Sunday, 03 October 2021.