Know what is puzzling me lately? This hubbub about banning certain words. Such-and-such word will make children feel bad. Affect their future success. Or, it could empower them, embolden them to forge ahead. People seem conflicted about the effects of a certain word.

Who knows? The same word can be interpreted differently depending on circumstance and individual.

Because extinguishing a word doesn’t put out the fire we can cause in other ways with our tongues.

parenting by example

I agree with the general premise of being careful with words. As a wordsmith, I know my words have power to harm or heal.

But banning a word isn’t going to “protect children’s self-esteem.” In fact, I’m not on board the “self-esteem” train. Here’s why:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3

Constantly telling children to build their self-esteem only makes them look inward, at their own needs and wants. I’d rather raise family looking outward. Serving others before ourselves.

Ban one word and pretty soon you’ll have to ban another and another. And all the while, the root of the problem hasn’t been addressed.

Brother play

All I have to do is look at my own children to see this played out.

My children have never said a “bad” word. Not yet. But plenty of “bad-sounding” vocalizations have flown between my two boys, four years and 20 months.

Screeches over a snatched toy. Wails of despair over a broken train track.

I could rush in and declare: “That’s it! No shouting over toys! We’re not going to say, ‘Mine!’ anymore!” We have now banned the word ‘Mine.’

I’d spend my entire day being The Enforcer of this new rule, and yet my boys would continue to vie to be THE ONE with the coveted toy. Because I can change their vocabulary but it takes more than a rule to change the language they speak with their hearts. 

I could dictate outward calm, but strife would bubble under the surface. In their hearts, a silent cry would be echoing, “Mine. mine. mine.”

It’s in my heart, too, and if you’re honest, you’ll probably hear that whisper in yours as well.

Because the second (great) commandment continues to elude all of us. Because morality without the transforming power of the Gospel is empty.

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Matthew 22:37-39

If love came easy, would Christ have to command it? We spend too much time worrying that we aren’t loved, we have no time or energy left to pour out love to one another.

Let’s face it… it’s not easy to love each other. Why? Because inevitably we come face to face with someone just like us: flawed.

Brothers play aerial

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Fred Rogers, born March 21, 1928.

When my son watches his younger brother snatch a train from the tracks, he looks and sees someone just like him: someone who WANTS THAT just like he does. It’s not easy to give up what we want so someone else can have… what WE want.

It’s not easy to accept that person is just. as. selfish. as. we. are. And yet we must love them. Because that would mean admitting our own selfishness. It’s a struggle to love the flawed.

Thank The Lord, Christ Jesus did exactly that for us. For millenia, the law precisely laid out: “Don’t do this. Do that.” And not one could measure up. Until he came and laid down HIS life to give us Life.

Just like me as a parent laying out the law, “Don’t say this word. Share with your brother.” And I’d be at it all day long trying to make it happen.

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:11-13

Then Jesus came down, came alongside us. He taught us how to live, how to love. He gave us Life, and not just – but Life More Abundant.

I take that as my model for parenting. Parenting is about so much more than enforcing rules. It’s about teaching little hearts to crave Life More Abundant.

Second Commandment Set Examples

We can’t just throw down the gauntlet to kids: “Don’t say that, or else.”  and expect peace. (Trust me, when I’ve done that, I see it nearly immediately reflected in how our oldest starts commanding his brother around. It hurts hearing my own words coming out of in his imperious little voice. I may not have SAID it the way he is, but he got my “message” loud and clear.)

I’m not saying to not have any rules at all. I’m just saying rules aren’t what change hearts. There’s nothing abundant about constantly trying to measure up and constantly falling short of “the rules.” We should know that by now (none righteous?).

Instead, we come alongside our little ones. We show them the life and love of Christ. We model what loving words sound like.

Depending on the circumstances, this can sound like so many different things – it’s not just catering to one child’s whims over another’s. It’s not forcing a begrudging child to share, while they slide all that selfish rage deep down inside for a better time to resurface when Mommy isn’t looking. It’s not telling them they have to be a doormat and hand over the toys any time another child grabs them.

Teach them to be firm, to stand up for themselves if needed, but also to be giving. Teach them to not let things matter more than relationships.

“You like my truck? You can have a turn with it for a bit.”

or

“I was still playing with that toy, but you can play with this one.”

or

“You’d like to play trains too? Here’s some for you.”

or

“I wasn’t done playing with that train. May I have it back?” (I kid you not, our twenty month old always hands over the toy when asked like this! ALWAYS. And usually hands over any other toy he’s holding as well!).

Brothers share

We can’t just empty the earth of words that might hurt. There’s unfortunately no end to the ways humanity can be cruel. What we can do is empty ourselves of US.

We must fill little hearts up with the the Love of Christ. Fill them up with grace. Surround them with loving examples. In the way they hear us talk to and about others. Because let’s face it… where are children learning these bullying ways? Likely from the adults they model.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Matthew 12:34 

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Proverbs 31:26

We can create a thousand law about what NOT to do. A better way is to show the one law of kindness teaching children what TO do.

I see a look of satisfaction on our oldest son’s face when he lets go of that train and gives it to his younger brother. I know it wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he is NEVER unhappy once he wins that struggle. Peace ensues.

Salvation didn’t come until Christ poured Himself out for us. Yes, as a man, he prayed for that cup to pass from Him. Giving selflessly is never an easy task.

I pray our children will be filled with abundant words. Life-giving words. Love-working words. Loving can be a struggle… so we must give our children the words and examples for how to win at loving.

Because two-thousand years later, we’re still learning to love one another. We’ve still not figured out that our joy won’t be full until we fill someone else up first. Until we empty ourselves out. By filling others up, we can be filled.

Before we set rules, let’s be sure we’re setting examples. 

How have you filled up your little ones today? 

Leave a Comment

  • Trisha W. March 29, 2014, 12:43 pm

    What a nicely done post, Julie. I have had success in the past with kids using their words to solve a problem. Trading toys also helps some kiddos involved in a dispute. Some kids prefer to use a timer to signal trade time.

    Reply
  • Courtney March 27, 2014, 10:06 pm

    awesome post. Loving is a struggle and something I as an adult need to think about over and over (thank you scripture for reminding me!), especially because our children are watching. You should start a Christian blog. Really! :)

    Reply
  • Ashley H March 27, 2014, 1:34 pm

    As a Pagan mommy, I too understand the power of words. And I very much agree with you. It’s not just the word, but the intent. And the self esteem issue – I feel we should be teaching self love and love of others, acceptance not “importance”. :]

    Reply
  • Shari March 26, 2014, 10:11 pm

    This is great Julie! Well written/well said.

    Reply
  • brett March 26, 2014, 10:10 pm

    Totally agree. And I also don’t think children should be taught to put themselves first. I encourage my children, and praise them, but I am also quick to encourage them to praise their friends, and offer a hand to those who need it more than us. There’s no one person that matters more- and we need to be cognizant of that, with or without the bible, to understand that it’s not ever all about US. It’s about us as a whole, being human.

    Reply
  • Keara B. March 26, 2014, 8:43 pm

    This is a wonderful post. Daily life can make it difficult to instill the values that we want in our children, especially because it’s so easy to get distracted or lose patience. I love what you said about setting examples before we set rules. I’m not going to lie – I need to remember that! (Especially on trying days, whether I’m frustrated with my husband, daughter, or someone else.) Thanks for the reminder that filling up our children can be done in simple but profound ways every day.

    Reply
  • Jen Breedlove March 26, 2014, 1:35 pm

    Spot on. With our third now being 19 months, plus a two year old and a four year old, I see this all day, every day. I resolved long ago to never force a child to share something they didn’t want to just because someone else wanted it. But I love how you put it about teaching them to be firm and stand up for themselves, but teaching them to be giving, also. Our 19 month old almost always gives up what she’s asked for, too, and I need to jump on using that as a teaching opportunity (before she stops!! :)
    I’ve also found that more fights over toys happen when I’m distracted and not involved with them. If I’m down on the floor playing with them, too, everyone seems to get along better (other than everyone wanting to sit in mama’s lap!). I need to remember that, too.

    Reply