Your Words Have Power

parent words

My older daughter had a rough day on Saturday. It was so bad that she dubbed it “National Pick on Me Day.” Two incidents in that day reminded me of the power that our words have over our kids.

As she was practicing her trumpet for a playing test she has today, she was struggling to hit the right notes. We had been joking around while she was practicing. Unbeknownst to me, she had been struggling to hit those notes for a while and was actually pretty concerned about this playing test. She played a scale and missed several notes. She announced that that wasn’t a song, it was a scale. Without thinking, I quickly replied in the same joking vein we’d had all morning. “Well, it doesn’t sound like either,” I said.

I don’t know why I said that. It was the first thing that popped into my head. I didn’t mean it. I was teasing her. But that was the final straw for my daughter. She ran to her room crying. I spent the next half hour trying to undo the damage my thoughtless, joking words had caused. And no matter what I said or did, I couldn’t take those words back. I couldn’t undo the wound I had inflicted.

That night, my daughter played a soccer game in the tournament she was in this weekend. It was a tough, physical game. And a parent from the opposing team started yelling insults at my daughter. Among other things, he called her a cheat and said she was a product of bad parenting. My daughter was practically in tears on the field, and she was in tears when she came off.

Now, my daughter plays competitive soccer at a pretty high level. The parents can often be more intense about the game than the kids are. But there is never a place for calling a 12-year-old names, no matter how high a level they play at.

As adults, as parents, we have a responsibility to think before we speak. Our words can cut our kids to the quick. Carelessly spoken words to our kids or yelled at a child on the field have the power to cause damage that we may never be able to completely repair. Even words spoken in jest have the power to wound.

Our kids need us to show them how to build others up with our words. They need us to show them how to use words well. They need us to be examples of how to be graceful with our words even in the toughest of situations.

Because our kids can’t learn the truth of Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” unless we model it for them, unless we weigh our words carefully before we open our mouths.

So, today, I’ll be taking a closer look at what I have to say to my kids. I’ll be taking that extra second to filter my words before I open my mouth. I’ll be seeking to build my kids up, not tear them down. Won’t you join me?

Silence in the Backseat

positive words

We pulled out of the orthodontist’s parking lot, and it started — again. From the backseat came the sounds of two sisters who were doing their best to convince me that they hated each other. Nitpicking and sniping over the littlest things.

So, I did it. I pulled the car over. Despite many threats, I’ve never actually stopped the car before. I turned around in my seat, looked at my girls and said, “Stop it! You’ve been sniping at each other all day. Next person who picks on the other one is going to bed at 7 tonight. Just try me and see what happens.”

Silence reigned in the backseat all the way home. I think I scared them. Maybe they thought if I pulled the car over again they would be walking home. And no one wanted to go to bed at 7 p.m.

As I drove home, I stewed. My girls are a little less than two years apart. We go through phases where they’re best friends and phases where they can’t breathe without annoying the other one. We happen to be in the annoying breathing stage right now.

We put a lot of time and effort into creating family bonds. We try to eat together as a family as often as possible. We encourage our girls to play together. We have a rule that unless you have another legitimate commitment, you have to be at your sister’s games to cheer her on. We try to teach our girls that when no one else in the world is standing with you, your family has your back.

Yet, yesterday, my girls were the ones tearing each other down. So, as I drove, I stewed and prayed. I pulled in the garage and told everyone to sit still. Once again, I turned around. I looked at my girls and said, “Believe it or not, your sister was not put here on this earth to annoy you.”

Stunned silence ensued. It was as if this thought had never occurred to them.

I looked at my younger daughter and said, “I know big sisters can be annoying sometimes because they think they know everything.” Gasps of indignation rose from the other side of the seat.

Looking at my older daughter, I announced, “And younger sisters can be annoying, too, because they’re always tagging along.”

Then I continued, “But your sister is the only person in this world who is always going to be there. She’s the one who is going to have your back when things get tough. Before we get out of this car, I want to hear five things from each of you that you like about your sister.”

Silence again. After a few false starts, they got going on their lists of things they liked about their sister. By the time we got to item No. 5, they were getting into the spirit of the thing. They were smiling and enjoying the other person’s list. By the time I finally let them out of the car, they had decided to do their chores then play basketball — together. I didn’t hear another criticism or frustrated tone of voice all evening.

It’s important that we remind our kids why they like their siblings. When you live with someone 24/7 from birth, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons why you love them — especially when they’re annoying you. The power of positive words is hard to ignore. You can’t compliment someone and stay mad at them. You can’t hold anger in your heart while you’re building someone else up. That’s why God told us in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Teaching our kids to build each other up even when they want to tear each other down teaches them to value their siblings and friends. It teaches them to appreciate one another. It teaches them how to watch each others’ backs.

Never underestimate the power of a positive word to mend relationships and change attitudes in your home.

Navigating the Political Melee

Courtesy nirots

My younger daughter ran for student council representative for her class last week. She ended her speech with the words, “I’m C______ Fairchild, and I approved this message.” Clearly, someone has seen and heard too many political advertisements. Doesn’t it seem like we’ve all seen and heard too many of those? And it’s only September.

As the general election nears, it’s easy to get caught up in the political rhetoric being slung around. But be careful. Your kids are watching you.

No matter what you think about the current, former or future occupants of the White House, demeaning the office of the president is dangerous. Getting caught up in the polarization and political mud-slinging hurts not just our country but our kids. Raising kids who are unable to have a rational discourse about the direction of our country may well be one of the most harmful things we’ve done for our country.

It seems as if we’ve forgotten that God’s admonitions about words apply to political discourse as well. We think it’s OK to demean the members of the other party. We think it’s OK to say disrespectful things about the president. We think it’s acceptable to sling words of hate when it comes to politics.

But it’s not. And when we do it, we teach our kids that we don’t respect the office of president, and neither should they. That’s not what God wants. No matter how much we disagree with someone else’s views, God doesn’t ever condone disrespect and hate.

Romans 13:1 says “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And that’s followed by Romans 13:7, which says “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

We don’t have to like everything our government does. We don’t even have to like the people who are part of our government, but we do have to acknowledge their authority and offer them the respect due the office in which they sit. Just because we’re talking about politics, it doesn’t exempt us from the words of Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Most of the political conversation that I hear these days won’t stand up to the standards of Romans 13 and Ephesians 4:29. And that tells our kids two things: 1. that it’s OK to have no respect for the office of president and 2. that God’s commands don’t apply to politics. Neither of those are true, and neither are things I want my kids to learn.

So, my plea to you this political season is think before you speak. Keep in mind that even if you don’t like the candidate, the office deserves your respect. Remember the standards of Ephesians 4:29 apply to political discussions as well. If we can do that, we just might tone down some of the hateful rhetoric and teach our kids how to have a reasonable debate about the issues facing our country.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.

Words and Anger

“Don’t say it unless you mean it.” Those words have come out of my mouth no less than a dozen times in the past three days. After spending five days with my parents, including close to 30 hours in the car, my girls came home to snipe at one another. Apparently they’ve had a little too much togetherness.

Too often, we’re like my girls, we say things we don’t mean. And when anger rules our tongues, the words that roll off of them often aren’t true, aren’t uplifting and aren’t kind. Anger makes us say things we don’t mean. It makes us wish we could take back words after they have spilled out. I can’t count how many times I’ve said something to one of my kids in anger that has crushed their spirits, and I wish I could take it back. But I can’t.

The danger with speaking in anger is that we do damage that is unforgettable and irrepairable. So we must learn to control our tongues — even in the midst of being angry. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” See that little word “any?” It means we have to control our words all the time — not just when we’re calm. There are no exceptions in that command for words spoken in anger.

The key to controlling our words when we’re angry is God. We absolutely cannot control our words on our own. So, when we’re angry, we need to stop and pray. Before we open our mouths, our first words need to be to directed toward God. We need to ask Him to control our tongues. Think of the damage that could be contained if we let God be the one in charge of our words. Harsh words would go unsaid and little spirits would stay intact.

If you or your kids struggle with controlling your words in anger, try this exercise to drive home the point of how words spoken in anger can leave permanent damage. Tack up a blank piece of a paper to a bulletin board. Every time your child gets angry, have him stick a tack in the paper. Explain that that tack is his words spoken in anger. They are sharp, and they hurt the person they are directed at.

When the paper is full of tacks, start having your child take a tack out each day. Explain that taking the tack out is like offering an apology. When all the tacks are gone, ask your child what he sees on the paper. It’s still filled with holes. That’s because no matter how much we apologize, our words can leave lasting wounds, just like the tacks left holes in that paper.

Our words are a powerful tool. They can be used to persuade and to share love or they can be used to poke holes in others’ souls. We choose. When we let anger rule, we choose to hurt others. When we let God rule we choose to share love. It’s that simple. Remember to stop and pray when you get angry because we want to stop leaving holes in others’ souls.

Linking up today with Denise in Bloom.

Day 11: Dealing with Words

Every summer, my girls and I spend a lot of time together. During the school year, the girls are gone most of the day. Our afternoons and evenings are often filled with activities and sports. The time we spend at home during the school year is pretty small compared with the time we spend at home together during the summer.

Inevitably, my girls have trouble adjusting to spending so much time with each other. They squabble and fight until they get it figured out. But the biggest trouble we have adjusting to our summer schedule comes in controlling our words.

And I don’t know about you, but I get tired of listening to them bicker. I cringe when I hear the words they sling at each other without a thought. This summer, we’re placing a focus on choosing our words wisely. I’ve already informed my girls that talk that tears each other down isn’t allowed in our house. If I catch them slinging hurtful words at each other, then they will have to go sit outside because those words aren’t allowed in the house. Besides the fact that we live in Kansas where summer days are hot and humid, this lets them know that hurtful words are not OK.

I’m also placing visible reminders of what our words should look like around our house. Check out today’s free printable poster for your own visible reminder. These reminders help my girls think about their words before they say them. It forces them to ask these questions: Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it encouraging? Does it build up rather than tear down? Is it appropriate? Will it make the situation better or worse? Does it benefit those who listen?

Our words need to measure up to the standard of Ephesians 4:29, which says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” A visible reminder helps your kids measure their words before they say them.

When your kids’ words don’t meet the standards of Ephesians 4:29 either sit down with them and talk about which of the criteria their words didn’t meet or let them fill out a What’s Wrong with My Words sheet. While they’re sitting outside, they can identify what was wrong with their words and how they can change their behavior next time.

Don’t spend the summer listening to your kids bicker. Get a handle on those tongues and make this The Best (and most peaceful) Summer Ever.

Just getting started on planning your summer, check out the start of our The Best Summer Ever series. Have friends who want in on the fun? Don’t forget to share the series with them.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife, Growing Home, and A Pause on the Path.

Road Trip Redux

We are once again on our annual trip to Denver. We left early this morning so we can make it back in time for my oldest daughter’s soccer practice tonight. I reread this post from last year yesterday and wanted to share it with you again. I wish I could tell you that my attitude about road trips has improved immensely, but I would be lying. It’s improved, but not a lot. I’m not really looking forward to the trip home.

Yet, as I rered this post, I was once again convicted of the need to use the time we have together in the car. On our way home this morning, we’ll be finishing the book The Saturdays and having some great conversation about the value of choosing how to spend our time wisely.

I hope whatever trips you take together this summer will be an enjoyable break from your everyday routine. Enjoy every minute — even if you’re stuck in the car for hours on end.

As this posts this morning, my family is on our way home from our annual trek to Denver to visit my husband’s dad. We are traveling across the great state of Kansas on our way home. If you’ve never traveled by car across the Kansas plains, let me fill you in on a little secret — you’re not missing much. The land is flat and dotted with farms pretty much from the time you leave Denver until you reach Salina. There’s really not much to see.

Let me tell you another secret — I hate riding in the car. I’m worse than the kids. I grew up in New England where you could cross six states in about three hours. It just didn’t take that long to get anywhere, so I never learned to sit in the car for endless hours. My dad traveled a lot, so if we were going someplace outside New England, we flew on his frequent flier miles. My philosophy on taking a trip is “Why drive when you can fly?”

However, neither my husband nor I currently possess jobs that provide us with frequent flier miles or enough money to fly everywhere we want to go, so we drive. So far this summer, we’ve been through portions of seven states on our two vacations. We’ve spent about 50 hours traveling in the car. As you can guess from what I’ve just told you, I can’t wait to get home.

When we were traveling out to Denver, God prodded me to realize that I’m not taking advantage of the time I have in the car with my family to point out the great variety in God’s creation. A car trip is a great opportunity to not only share the beauty of God’s creation with your family but is also a great time to connect with your kids. After all, you’re all pretty much trapped together in the car. You might as well use the time wisely. So, the next time you’re on a car trip, try some of these ideas to pass the time. You might learn something about your kids and you just might have a great time.

  • Don’t miss out on the scenery. Even in the plains of Kansas, there’s something to point out about God’s creation. Genesis 1:31 tells us “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” That means that even the flat land of Kansas that I find so uninteresting is part of God’s good plan. On the way home, I plan to point out to my kids that even though the land may not seem exciting, Kansas provides us all with wheat, which makes our bread. Cows and pigs are also part of the Kansas landscape that help to feed us. God knew that we would need large plots of flat land on which to grow our food, so He provided it. It’s all part of how He cares for us.
  • Play the alphabet game — with a twist. In the alphabet game, everyone tries to find the letters of the alphabet in order on the highway signs you pass. As you find a letter, you call it out. In this game, you still try to find the letters of the alphabet, but each person is assigned another person in the car. As you call out the letters, you have to yell out the letter and an attribute that starts with that letter that applies to the person you’ve been assigned. For example, “A is for amazing at math.” Set the rules so each attribute has to be a good one. Remind your kids that Ephesians 4:29 tells us that we want our words to build each other up, and this is one way to do that.
  • Play 20 Questions. This is another familiar game but one that will let you focus on learning a little bit about your kids and what they think is important. Start with a topic, say favorite breakfast cereals, and have the person who is going to answer the questions think of their favorite breakfast cereal. Everyone else asks yes or no questions about the cereal to try to figure out the answer. Continue the round until everyone has gone. For the next round, choose a different topic that will delve into learning more about your kids. Question categories could include favorite school subjects, things they don’t like to do, things that we struggle with or don’t think we’re good at. If your child is having a tough time with a certain issue but doesn’t like to open up about it, work it into the game and see if a discussion doesn’t develop. Take the time to query your kids about the things they chose as answers to the questions and offer some godly advice if the situation warrants.
  • Have a “Great Things God Put in (whatever state you’re traveling through)” scavenger hunt. Before you leave home, think about the things you think you will see on your trip. Create a basic scavenger hunt list (words or pictures) for each child. Give it to them at the beginning of the trip and see who can find the most things on the list while on your trip. Talk about the things on the list and what makes them special and why God might have put those things in that state.
  • Read a great book together. Time in the car is a great time for a read-aloud. Choose a book that will foster some discussion within your family. Maybe you are working on a particular character quality or behavior this summer. Find a book that deals with that issue and read it in the car. Talk about the book. Before you leave home, find some scriptures that deal with the topic and work them into the conversation.

With a little planning and a better attitude than I usually take on my car trips, you can have a pleasant ride, good conversation and everyone might learn a little something about God and each other. Have a great trip.

Stop the Bickering

I think my girls have been home more than they have gone to school in January. Between Christmas break, snow days, Martin Luther King day and sick days, we’ve spent a lot of time at home. The weather has been cold and wet, which means we’ve spent much of that time cooped up in the house together.

Now, I don’t know what happens in your house when your kids spend a lot of time together inside, but in my house, those days generally deteriorate into my children saying things to each other that aren’t very nice. Sometimes, gasp, the situation becomes so charged that they will hit or shove one another.

Sibling bickering is a part of most families. Having to share anything with another person goes against our naturally selfish natures. It’s not natural for us to want to think about someone else before we think about ourselves. When we think only of ourselves, it’s easy to say something we don’t really mean or to lash out at someone else when things don’t go our way. When your young and your brain has yet to develop all the brakes for impulse control, it’s even easier.

The constant bickering can drive parents nuts. Too often, we simply react by separating our kids or offering up punishment without explanation. I know that my first reaction is to make my girls go sit in separate rooms. While that’s a valid response and stops the immediate problem, it doesn’t help my girls learn to get along or learn to think before they speak.

If  you are caught in the throes of sibling bickering, try some of these ideas.

  • Have your kids memorize Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” When you hear them saying something that doesn’t fit the instruction in this verse, have them repeat the verse to you. Then ask them if they think what they just said fits with the directions in the verse.
  • Cut out some lips from construction paper. Give each child a set of lips and a Band-Aid. Tell them that when they want to say something mean to their sibling, they should go stick the Band-Aid on the construction paper lips as a reminder not to say mean and hurtful things.
  • Talk about putting others first. Read Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Talk about how when we get caught up in what we want, instead of putting others first, we can hurt other people with our words.
  • Give your children a task to do together on a regular basis. Forcing them to work together gives them opportunities to work out their differences. It also lets them see that the other sibling can be a help to them.

If your kids are anything like mine, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to work on stopping the bickering during the cold, snowy days of winter.  Remember to hold onto your own frustration and help your kids take the focus off their own wants and put their focus on the needs of others.

Impulse Control

My youngest was at a tailgate party for her hockey team last week when one of the little boys on her team said to her “Girls playing hockey is stupid! You’re stupid!” Now, before I go on with this story, keep in mind that this is my child who has never backed away from a fight, and by any measure, those were fighting words. Keep in mind, also, that she had a the perfect weapon — a hockey stick — in her hand. However, on this night, it appeared that everything we had been trying to tell her about hanging on to her tongue and not letting other people bother her, had sunk in. She looked at the little boy, said “So, what?” and walked away.

I wasn’t there to witness this breakthrough moment in my child’s life, but I was so incredibly proud of her when she told me about it. I was even more proud when she told me, “I wanted to say, ‘I think you’re stupid,’ but I didn’t.” In this one instance, my youngest had mastered the fine art of holding her tongue and taking the high road.

Too often, we speak or act first and think later. We act on our first impulse, which in tension-filled situations is rarely the right one. Think of all the hurt feelings and fractured relationships that could have been prevented if one person in a situation had simply taken three seconds to think before they acted or spoke. Adults who should know better often don’t practice this in their relationships and broken homes and hearts are often the result.

Before we talk about our kids, today, take a moment and examine your own response to situations. Is it your natural reaction to speak first and think later or do you take a moment to look at the situation and decide on the best response? If you struggle with this, ask God to change your actions so they honor Him.

James 1:19 says “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” The key word in this passage is slow. Too often, we are quick to speak and quick to take offense. If we simply slow down and take a moment to think, we will be able to either defuse a tense situation or simply walk away from a volatile one.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Being quicker to hold your tongue than to speak is the sign of a wise person. We want our children to be wise in their choices, so we need to teach them how to control their impulses and think before acting.

  • Institute a three-second rule. Encourage your kids to count to three before they decide to say or do  something. They should use that time to think about whether what they are about to say or do is the right thing to do. Have them use the criteria found in Ephesians 4:29 and Philippians 4:8 as a measure for their actions.
  • Show your kids how just taking a few seconds to think can make a huge difference in the result. Set up a quick obstacle course in the yard (it can be as simple as weaving in and out of some cones). Don’t let your kids see the course until after you have given them instructions. As soon as they approach the course, they have to run it — no time to think or plot a strategy. Time them on a stopwatch. Then, let them run it again, but give them a minute to look at the course to decide the best way around it. Time them again. They’re second time will usually be faster. Talk about how taking time to think about a situation allows us to choose the best way to navigate through it — just like with the obstacle course.
  • Prepare your children for different situations they might face by talking about them beforehand. Ask your kids what they would do if someone was picking on them or being mean to one of their friends. Plan strategies for dealing with a situation with tact and grace. When they are faced with those situations down the road, they will have already thought them through with you and will be better equipped to handle them.

Employ these principles in your own life, so your kids have a model for how to deal with a touchy situation. This week, consciously take time to think before you act.