The Power of a Parent’s Words

What you say to your children has lasting impact.“Turn off the lights.” “Be kind to your sister.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” There’s no doubt that a parent’s words impact a child’s life. All we have to do is look at our own hearts, and we can hear things our parents said to us. Those words become part of who we are. Children were designed to listen to parents. In fact, parents’ words become important food for growing character and forming opinions about life. This truth is not only thought-provoking, but it can also be strategic. You can use this reality as an asset in your parenting, but it may mean you have to make significant adjustments. Most parents, when they correct their children, talk about what the children did wrong. In fact, if you were to eavesdrop in many homes, you’d hear things like: “Cut it out!” “Stop it!” “I can’t believe you’re doing that again!” “If you don’t cut it out, you’re going to…” And the mantra goes on and on.

Instead, when you correct your child, talk about what that child should do, not just what the child is doing wrong. Think about the heart quality you’d like to see develop, and talk about what that quality looks like. In this way, you’ll help your child see, in practical ways, how to grow and mature. For example, instead of telling your daughter to stop fighting with her brother and that she’s being mean, you might determine that the quality she needs to develop is thoughtfulness of others.

Now the correction sounds quite different. When you need to redirect your daughter, you’ll have a list of things you might say, instead, such as, “Be kind,” “Think about how your brother feels,” “Allow him to go first,” “What would make him happy?” That change in dialogue can mean all the difference between having a focus on the problem and one that focuses on the solution.

After all, a person who has a positive character quality such as patience, kindness, or self-control says different things to herself than a person who doesn’t have that quality. Kids need to know what they are working to develop in their lives instead of simply hearing what they need to stop doing.

Wise parents help to write the script for what a child can say internally in order to develop maturity, responsibility, and character for life. Parents can provide the right way to think as they choose the words they say to their children each day.

One mom of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) took this idea to heart. She realized that her comments were often negative, focusing on stopping interrupting, poking, talking too loud, and being annoying. She realized that her son was developing an identity as a troublemaker. So she made the switch and started saying things such as, “Slow motion,” “Quiet voice,” “Manage your energy,” and “Think before you speak.” That change took some work, but it actually changed the relationship with her son. Now she viewed herself as her son’s coach, encouraging him to do what’s right instead of simply pointing out his weaknesses.

So take a moment, and evaluate your own speech. Some kids need constant correction. It’s not optional. Correction is part of your job as a parent. But you make a choice each time you speak as to whether you’ll simply point out the problem or offer hope and encouragement to move in a positive direction.

Joanne Miller, RN, BSN, is married to Ed, and they have two grown sons, Dave and Tim. Joanne helps lead the National Center for Biblical Parenting, speaking most every week around the United States. She is the author of twelve books. Her latest book, coauthored with Dr. Scott Turansky, is Motivate Your Child (January 2015), a practical look at internal motivation in children, published by Thomas Nelson.