When we discipline our children our words often speak louder than our actions. Yes, the rod stings and can hurt. But the wounds our words leave behind last far longer than any physical discomfort our children experience.
Here are some examples of what not to say:
- “You always…” or “You never…” If our purpose is to build up and restore our children, these will thwart our efforts. Phrases like these are rarely true; they are often spoken out of anger or frustration, neither of which restores our children.
- “Your brother / sister never does this…” If Christ determined our worth in the same way, how would we stand up? There is always someone better than we are. But this phrase is doubly destructive. In one statement you tear down the disobeying child and puff up with pride the obeying one—building a wall of resentment between them.
- “What are you, stupid?” Your children's intellect is not the issue here. Smart people sin just as much as anyone else—maybe even more. The source of your child's bad or foolish decision was their heart, not their head.
- “You're hopeless.” Not only does this communicate what you think of your child, it also is wrong. Can you think of a more hopeless case than Saul of Tarsus? He became Paul and was used to write one third of the New Testament. Can you think of a more hopeless leader than Peter? How about a more hopeless orator than Moses? They all had one thing in common—God. “With God, nothing is impossible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27). Do not steal from their hearts what God has preserved in Christ.
These words cannot restore a child. They cannot walk them to wisdom. At best, they are ineffective. At worst, they are verbally abusive. And as parents who love Christ and have been charged with the welfare of our children, we must be more careful with our lips.
Also, saying nothing at all during discipline can often hurt more than any words you say. Silence robs your children of the love they need following a fall. Imagine the Prodigal Son returning to a silent father; that story of grace would become a great tragedy. If you cannot think of something kind to say, just admit something like this, “Daddy needs to pray and ask God's forgiveness for what's happening in my heart … I'll be back in a minute.” If your God is the same as mine, He will give you something to say while you pray—He's never let me down.
Important words to use when disciplining
On the other side of the spectrum are words that have within them the power to heal and restore. Here are some examples:
- “I love you.” With these three words, you communicate to your children that your love for them has nothing to do with their performance. It lets them know that you are not standing above them but you are in it with them.
- “Do you understand what we've just talked about?” Ask this question and then listen. If they say “no” or “I'm not sure,” you have a chance to explain it in another way until they do understand.
- “I struggle with the same thing.” The key here is helping your children know that dealing with sin is a life-long process. Let them know this and pray for God's power together to change the two of you.
- “You are a blessing to me and our family.” Though God responds to our actions, we are still a blessing to Him and His family. We need to share that type of encouragement with our children.
Once discipline is over, stop talking about it—especially in front of others. This builds great trust between you and the offending child. They know they can trust you and share honestly with you because they never see you share what happened with others.
Words like these will reassure your children of their value to you. They will underscore that the foundation of your relationship is bigger and stronger than any wrong act they could perform. Words like these mirror how God the Father loves you.