It’s estimated that most adults have a vocabulary of 20,000 to 35,000 words, and we use thousands of them every day. We say a lot of things in the course of a day, and I would argue that much of it is of little consequence in the long run. Except when it comes to the words we use in our homes.
Words matter. Our children soak them up like little sponges. I can watch my daughter play “house” with her dolls and hear her say some of the same things her mom or I tell her. It’s proof that she’s listening to what we say, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Of all the phrases we say as parents, there are a few that I believe every child needs to hear.
1. God loves you. The most basic and important truth we can instill in our children is the fact that God loves them. It’s simple enough that even a young child can grasp it. They will carry it throughout their lives. The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV). If you tell your children regularly that God loves them, there’s a pretty solid chance they’ll never forget it. If you never tell your children that God loves them, you are depriving them of the head start they deserve and leaving an open door for the Enemy to come in and tell them otherwise.
2. I love you. This phrase probably goes without saying. Sure, we all love our children. Showing we love them every day is important. And, yes, there’s a lot of truth to the saying “Actions speak louder than words.” I’m a big believer in Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages,” so I think it’s incredibly important to give love the way your children have been designed to receive it. For some, it means more hugs or nice words. For others, it means more quality time spent together. But, there’s no substitute for telling your children you love them. Don’t let the sun go down on a single day without them hearing those words.
3. I am here for you. Children need to know that their parents are always there. We need to communicate with them and let them know that there’s no situation too big or scary for Mom or Dad. Just as we can take anything to God, our children need to trust that they can bring anything to us. God didn’t design us to be “besties” with our kids in lieu of being a parent. But, He did design us with shoulders to cry on, arms to hug with, and mouths to speak comfort to our children at the times they need it most. Our children need to understand we are always there for them, and in addition to proving it by our actions, we can tell them with our words.
4. I am proud of you. The other day, I was talking with my 5-year-old daughter about a situation she had a school. She was telling me how she handled it, and I was impressed. I said, “Honey, you handled that perfectly. I’m so proud of you.” Her face lit up in a way I don’t see that often. It was a perfect reminder for me that I don’t say it enough. I’m so proud of my kids, and I tell other people how great they are – not in an annoying way, of course. But, I’m not so quick to tell them that I’m proud of them. It’s important for our children to hear us say the words. More important, perhaps, is the need for them to hear why.
5. I was wrong. Our children need to see that we are human. Saying you were wrong and you are sorry communicates that you aren’t perfect. Our kids need to know that we make mistakes, and that making mistakes is okay. Admitting you were wrong shows them the proper response to making a mistake – fessing up to it. Beyond all of that, it lays the subtle groundwork to remind them that our imperfection is the reason we are in need of a perfect Savior.
6. You were wrong. One of the most important responsibilities we have as parents is teaching our children right from wrong. Too many children are raised without a true sense of what is right and what is wrong, and from my view, it’s largely because parents aren’t telling them. I’ve seen too many parents make excuses for their children, defend them at all costs and shield them from any negativity. When their children mess up, many parents want to find someone else responsible and shift the blame instead of facing the situation head-on. The result of a child who has never been told they are wrong is a know-it-all adult with a glass chin. We are all wrong from time-to-time. If we practice #5 and tell our children when we are wrong, it should be easier for them to do the same. It’s important for them to understand that being wrong is not the problem, as much as how they respond to it.
Our words are important, especially considering the impact they can have our little ones. As parents, one of the best things we can do is remember this: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)