Do Your Words Wound or Woo?
Do you injure or attract those you love with the words that comes out of your mouth?
The way my father talked to me when I was as young as five had a huge impact on me, and it has taken me much of my life to heal and restore from the wounds. “You’ll never have any friends looking like that!” “No wonder your classmates don’t like you!” “Why are you so thick-headed?” “Don’t disrespect me. Look at my shoes!” Such confusing messages! I later found out that his father had also verbally abused and belittled him as a young boy. Unbeknownst to me, when I looked into his eyes, he felt threatened! The words he spoke to me were words he had heard as a child. Those harsh words played as though from a recorder in his head, and he repeated what he had heard. Although his words deeply wounded me, the Lord used that knowledge to help me understand my father’s own pain and begin the path to complete and freeing forgiveness. It informed my actions as a parent and was ultimately one of the areas the Lord used to draw me closer to Himself as I struggled to break the generational cycle.
The WAY we engage and talk to our kids has a huge impact on their learning and ability to listen to us. We are constantly modeling to our children how to act and behave, and the way we talk to them fits right into this category.
Three Main Styles
Most of us parents fit into one of three types: aggressive, passive, or assertive.
In the aggressive model, parents often yell, use attacking words, or make unreasonable demands. Their children respond by acting-up more, yelling back, and tuning out their parents’ words. Passive parents’ words are not consistent or clear, they fail to set boundaries, and their children walk all over them. Unfortunately these parents are so passive that sometimes when they are pushed to their limits, they suddenly turn their communication into an aggressive tone. Lastly, the third way that parents can communicate with their kids is in an assertive way. In my opinion, this is by far the most effective way to communicate with children of all ages. Assertive communication is firm, consistent, clear, positive, warm, and confident.
Communicating with our children in an assertive way is a real skill. It shows them that you know what you are talking about and that they should listen when you talk.
Once you’ve gained their ear, you can teach them new ways of thinking or how to avoid dead-end patterns of thinking. It ultimately affects how they problem-solve and relate on most levels.
Talk Like You’d Like To Be Talked To
- Use your child’s name. Your own name is music to your ears. Kindly used, children are no different.
- Show your kids that they have your full attention and you care enough to listen to them. If you really can’t talk at some point, don’t pretend to be listening.
- Connect through eye contact – Get down to their level or sit at the table with them. Closeness is often a bonus!
- Use volume appropriately – If you use the volume of your voice appropriately the majority of the time, they’ll pay attention when you raising your voice in an urgent situation because it doesn’t happen all of the time.
- Use positive language – try not to say “no” or “don’t” all the time. Instead, use words that encourage what you want them to do. Ex. “Thank you for using your inside voice now.” This requires some thought and practice, but is well worth the effort. Eliminate words that shame, name-call, or ridicule: “You’re being a big baby.” or “I’m ashamed of you.” Children will often shut down communication with those who talk this way.
- Suggest options – If you desire cooperation, it is far easier if they understand why they need to do something and how it is to their advantage to do it. Offer alternatives rather than saying a straight out “no” or “don’t”. For example, “We will eat lunch now, and then we will go outside.”
- Keep it simple – Young kids have trouble following too many directions given at once. Give your requests in small chunks.
- Be consistent – Don’t say you will do something and then not follow through! Gentle, firm consistency is a big key to gaining respect and eventual honor of your children – no words needed. Children thrive on routines.
- Keep away from nagging – If children know what is expected and when, you shouldn’t have to nag. When they are playing they don’t like to be interrupted, just as much as we don’t when reading a good book. So I created a job chart and instituted a regular time for chores. I’d walk around afterward and pick which jobs were completed with excellence for their age. That child would receive an affirming word of praise or a surprise with hugs and laughter. Soon, I hardly had to say a thing!
- Model and expect good manners – Start teaching your children to say the basics like “please” and “thank you” before they can talk. Use these words with your children as you would anyone else.
- Be gentle but firm and of one mind with your spouse – if you have made your decision about something, stick to it. Children will know they can’t play one parent against the other. Wishy-washy directions give them the impression you can be challenged.
- Check for understanding – if you find that your child is not responding to your requests or confused, check for their understanding before moving on to the next topic. Try to rephrase your choice of words with shorter and simpler sentences.
- Give notice – Give them some advance warning so they get used to the idea. For example “Amy, we’re leaving in 15 minutes. Start saying good-bye to everyone, please”.
- Don’t interrupt your spouse or your children.
And finally, express gratitude often for I truly believe ‘more is caught than taught’!
Let’s learn to woo well with our words. How do you woo your children to become all that they can be?
“The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.” ~Isaiah 50:4
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