This article took me over a week to compose. The more I thought about our words and our children, the more important the topic became to me. As a mom, it has always been important, but this added an extra note of urgency to it all.
Words are all around us – in print, on billboards, in the mouths of our children, from books, from the computer screen, from the radio in the car. Sometimes, the input is coming from more than one of these channels at the same time! Words can cripple or they can heal. Words can build up or they can utterly tear down. Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”
Death and life? That’s pretty serious stuff.
It has been measured that humans, whether male or female, speak approximately 16,000 words each day. They came up with that number by recording a 30-second sound-byte every 12.5 minutes. I wonder how many words the average homeschooling mom would measure! (Contrary to popular belief, men were just under 16,000 and women were just over – not the huge gaps some people previously believed.)
Let’s say you had just two categories for all 16,000 words – positive and negative. How much of your daily word output would fall into each category? How many of the words you speak to your children each day are positive and how many are negative?
I did a little test this afternoon using my oldest son as the guinea pig. For most of the morning, he had been trying to make the lives of his sibling a bit more difficult each time they were near him. I was weary with getting after him and it was robbing us of the joy and energy we had started with earlier. I decided to speak some very kind and loving words to him, remind him of times when he did something great and then ask him to start being sweeter to his sibilings. I started with “I love you” as I placed my hands on his shoulders and made direct eye contact. It took no more than 10 or 15 seconds. But, what a difference in his attitude!! It was like a miracle!! It seemed that all the tension drained from our home and everyone smiled and treated each other sweetly and respectfully!
Our words, though they so easily spill from our mouths, are so vitally important to the well-being of those around us – especially as they fall on the ears of those dear children that have been entrusted to our care. Part of our success as homeschooling mothers requires that we take control of our words, instead of letting our words control us. Do you know what I mean when I say that? Any memories come flooding back to your mind of the last time you said something you wish you hadn’t? I know I have those memories. Sometimes, I’m tired or concerned about something or just plain busy and those hasty, critical words come out before I have a chance to reign them in. It is then that I remember to let a few seconds pass between the time I have the impulse to talk and the time the tongue starts moving!
You may have heard this story before, but it illustrates the point so definitively I just can’t leave it out.
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.
The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.
The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”
The little boy then understood how powerful his words were. He looked up at his father and said “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”
“Of course I can,” said the father.
Maybe the day started out happy and joyful. But, with each unexpected event, with each misplaced paper, with each sibling squabble, our bright and cheery attitude is quickly deflated and our mindset turns sour. It is only a matter of time before that sour attitude leaks into our mouths.
While, for some, this issue comes up only occasionally, for others, it may be a daily battle. In fact, I believe the Bible talks a little bit about the tongue and how unruly it can be. (James 1 – … the whole book!) 🙂 How can we help our selves to speak speak sweet words more than sour words? To share an encouraging ‘You can do it!’ instead of a discouraging ‘I can’t believe you did that!’
The following encouraging how-to’s will help as you daily press on to better words and happier children!
- Start with you. If you inwardly think negatively about yourself or the situations around you, those thoughts will leak out toward your children. Try to be more aware of your own thought-life and make sure you are looking at the bright side of things! Pro 23:7a “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he …”
- Practice makes perfect. Sometimes, we only compliment our children when they do something right or when they call attention with “Mama, look at me!” Practice saying kind and gracious words any time you can – during a car trip, while eating a meal, before bedtime. Any time is a good time for delightful words! “I love you”, “I’m glad I have you”, “I can’t wait to see the kind young lady/faithful young man you will turn out to be” – these are all great places to start the encouraging!
- Gratitude is the best attitude. As I was searching the internet for some scientific studies showing the importance of positive words, I found one recurring theme among those trying to control their words. Gratitude. Whether it was a secular or sacred source, those who were mindful of their words realized that gratitude makes all the difference.
This point reminds me of a story told by a very dear friend of mine. She was traveling cross-country with her two older children (ages 16 and 11, I think?). As they made their way by plane from California to Wisconsin and there were many mishaps. They were very travel-weary, they were tired, they just wanted to be back home and yet they were having to wait at the airport for quite some time. My friend was complaining to her daughter about the events of the day, when they both realized this line of thinking would only bring their attitudes down further. They started to count their blessings and in a matter of moments, they felt better and the weariness had lifted!
- Use a different positive word each week. Not sure how you might come up with 52 positive words? Just look up ‘nice’ in the dictionary or thesaurus and you’ll have plenty! By the end of each week, you’ll be laughing at the ways you try to use that word.
- Daily exhortation. Make sure each and every day you speak spirit-raising words to those around you. Heb 3:13 “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
- Direct your thoughts. I found a unit study on positive thinking and it looks very interesting. You could go through this unit with your children and I’m sure by the time you are done, you would have learned many valuable lessons about keeping your thoughts in the positive.
- Write notes. As a child, my mom wrote lots of little encouraging notes to us and I absolutely loved finding them! Write notes to your kids and leave them in books and pants pockets, on mirrors and in cereal bowls. They will love it!
- Touch is powerful. As you speak uplifting words to your children, try to put a hand on their shoulder or hold their hand. It sinks in deeper and they’ll remember it longer.
- Eye contact is essential. My children don’t hear me unless they are looking at me. If I have something important to say, I make sure our eyes are connected while I am speaking.
Not everything around us is positive and not every situation calls for blind happiness, but everyone can use a verbal pat on the back each day. Your children especially need it from you!
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