With the amount of constant conflict in our society, it’s no surprise our children believe they can say whatever comes into their heads to anyone at any time. “Good” kids probably won’t say things that will have them labeled as bullies, but often the things they say (which in their minds are smart and funny) are actually very rude and disrespectful.
The problem is there is no real societal standard the way there was several decades ago. Chances are if your child says something “sassy” or disrespectful, it is just as likely to be given positive labels as negative ones. Yet, as Christians, we are held to God’s standard – not society’s. We know God wants our children to speak in ways that are loving, kind and respectful. How can we train them to speak the way God wants them to speak to others?
It’s definitely easier to train or disciple your child in any godly behavior when you can count on other adults to reinforce what you are teaching them. Even if you don’t have that support system though, there are things you can do at home to move your child towards more godly speech.
Here are my six favorite tips:
- Surround your kids with what God has to say on the subject. Our speech is one of the areas which the Bible covers with great frequency and detail. Have your kids memorize scriptures like Ephesians 4:29, Matthew 15:11, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 15:4 and many, many more. Consider displaying the most needed verses around your house, where they will serve as a constant reminder. It’s not really a “punishment” or “preaching” as much as it is the idea of creating these tapes in your child’s mind. The scriptures will then be on their heart and serve as a constant reminder of how they should speak to others.
- Connect feelings to hurtful words. Parents think they have to hide their emotions when their children say something that hurts their feelings.You don’t need to overreact or try to create guilt feelings, but your kids do need to understand their words can hurt the feelings of others. Better to learn it at a young age from Mom, than later from others. When your kids say something that hurts your feelings, lovingly (but firmly) let them know they need to watch their speech, because it hurt you.
- Have a zero tolerance policy for hurtful and disrespectful speech. Many kids develop their bad speech habits at home, because their parents get tired of correcting them. It’s hard work to catch and correct unloving and disrespectful speech, but it’s worth it. Your children (or any family member) should not be allowed to speak in ugly or disrespectful ways to you, siblings or other family members. Period.
- Accept no excuses. Often bad speech habits develop because even though parents think they are correcting, they give “free passes” for any and every excuse. It’s unfortunate if your child had a bad day or is on her period, but that doesn’t mean they are suddenly allowed to speak in horrid ways to others. Tell your children that if they can’t control their tongue, then perhaps they should remove themselves to their rooms with their private gloom. When they feel they can once again speak kindly and respectfully, they can rejoin the rest of the family. (Note: They shouldn’t have so many fun distractions in their room, they prefer to be alone!)
- Listen carefully for peer interactions. Often your kids are around their peers when you aren’t where you can hear them. When you can though, listen carefully to see how they speak to each other. Use your best judgment, but sometimes a sweet “Ladies/Gentlemen, let’s be kind to each other”, can make them all improve their speech a bit. In other instances, a private chat with your child later is the wiser course of action.
- Focus on your child’s heart and not just the behavior. There are too many people that can say the perfect things when they want to impress others, but have a heart that is cold and cruel. Watch carefully for signs that your kids are just “playing the game” of making you happy, but still have hearts that are filled with ugliness and disrespect. As the Bible says, if the heart is loving and kind, in general the words will be also.
Be aware that you may also have picked up some bad speech habits over the years. Work together as needed to make sure everyone in your family is reflecting God’s love accurately in the way they speak to others. You will be glad you did.