How do you rein in verbal freedoms in your child? Consider these practical steps:
“…for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45
Listen closely to what and how your child speaks to you and others. This will give you insight into his thoughts and motivations. You must pay attention if you are to identify areas that require heart training and correction. Verbal freedoms can be very subtle and require that parents listen with full attention. This may necessitate eliminating distractions so you can listen intentionally. When I was a young mom, I would listen to the news or sermons while I did housework and other mindless tasks. As my babies became toddlers and preschoolers, I had to curb this habit so that I could always have one ear on what they were saying. In today’s world of technology we have more audio clutter than ever. We may need to silence our phones, podcasts, audiobooks, radios etc. so that we can make listening to our children a priority.
- Don’t answer in kind.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Proverbs 26:4
As always, we can turn to the Scriptures to give us wisdom in training our children. Our children aren’t necessarily fools, but they are foolish. As such, we can certainly learn from this verse how to answer, or rather NOT answer them when they speak beyond their wisdom.
To answer “according to his folly” in this context is to answer the child in such a way as to reinforce his sin rather than correct it. How do we do this?
- We argue, explain, and dialogue with them about their ideas. In the child’s mind, this elevates his idea to our level because it was worthy enough to engage him on it. This makes him “wise in his own eyes.”
- We do nothing, allowing his words to stand.
- We encourage or go along with his ideas, reinforcing in his mind that all his ideas are good ones. In the example mentioned in my previous blog about the rain boots vs. the play shoes, if the mom had said he could wear his play shoes without correcting his freedom to alter her instructions, she would be reinforcing his foolishness and encouraging such choices in the future.
- Do give a biblical reproof.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:5
We should answer a child’s foolish words with biblical wisdom. We need to bring him back under the parent’s authority when he uses verbal freedoms to over-step the boundaries. We accomplish this by:
- Verbal admonishment. Correct the child’s words and thinking by telling him why what he said was wrong: that it was unkind, disrespectful, dishonest, or foolish. Use the biblical label as much as possible.
- Require a proper verbal response and have him practice it. Many times this will just be having your child say, “Yes, Mommy.” I would sometimes tack on an additional phrase to aid in compliance such as, “Yes, Mommy, I will…”
- Require your children to ask permission. So often we allow them to tell us what they want to do and then we agree. To a child, this communicates that he has the authority to decide for himself. Having them ask permission helps them to understand that they are under your authority.
- Give a consequence. We are often quick to give consequences for wrong actions, but for words and attitudes we have a tendency to just answer with words of our own. If we really want our child to change how he speaks, we must give adequate consequences for verbal infractions.
Once you have identified verbal freedoms that characterize your child, you can begin to work on them.
- Take away the freedom to say certain phrases like, “Yeah, I know.” Because it was mostly out of habit that my little friend would say this, Mom would send him to his thinking spot and he would have to come up with something else to say (for example, “Oh, that’s interesting!”) She would often say to him, “No, you really didn’t know, so what’s something you can say instead?” This helped him to stop over-using this phrase.
Boots vs. Play Shoes
- The first time this gets corrected, you must take the time to teach into it. Ask the child, “What did Mommy say?” “To put on my rain boots.” “What is the proper response?” “Yes, Mommy.” “You may not change what Mommy says. That’s like telling Mommy ‘No’. That is disrespectful and disobedient. I need to hear, “Yes, Mommy, I will wear my boots outside.” The child should repeat this back to you.
- When it happens again after the child understands what is expected, you can give consequences. In this case, I might deny the freedom to go outside to play at all.
- We would not answer repeated questions we had already answered. I would either have them repeat the original response or just say, “I already answered that.” If a child persisted, I would give a consequence because by continuing to ask they were not accepting my decision.
Telling and not asking permission
- Initially, call this to your child’s attention by asking him, “Are you asking me or telling me that?” Then allow him to re-word his statement as a request and give your answer.
- If the behavior persists, just say “No” because he did not ask permission for it.
As my friend began to bring her son’s verbal freedoms back under control, she began to see his tantrums lessen and his need for correction also decreased.
Keeping our children inside the funnel is important. As parents we must pay close attention to words as well as actions if we truly wish to reach our children’s hearts.