You’ve felt it. We all have. The power of words. Think back to a time when someone said something to you that cut you to the heart. Something that made you want to disappear. I remember a moment during my sophomore year of high school. I had done something dumb and a teacher screamed at me in front of the entire class. She embarrassed me in front of all of my friends. I could feel my face turning hot and I just wanted to pull a trap door and vanish. I wished that I could be invisible.
Now, think of a time when someone spoke words of life. Someone said something that gave you hope when you needed it most, inspired you. Maybe it guided you to become the person you are today. For me, I think of an exchange between me and my middle school football coach. I was kind of a scrawny kid and didn’t know how to tackle. He pulled me aside and said, “All you gotta do, Sauder, is square your shoulders, center yourself, and go through the man—through the man!” I was skeptical. I mean, he was a big guy, and I was little. For some crazy reason, I trusted him and did what he said. I squared my shoulders and drove through the person and knocked him down! And my coach yelled, “That’s what I’m talking about, Sauder!” It may seem silly, but to me, it felt like going from being a boy to a man. I was able to believe in myself because he did.
God models for us what a loving father says about his son.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” As I mentioned earlier, there are two facets of communication: what we say and how we say it. What we say to our children will form their identity. Words are that powerful. I know because I saw how the words I spoke to my children influenced their personalities. You see, two of my sons were more timid and afraid when they were little. So at bedtime, I began to tell them stories where they were the heroes—going on daring adventures, standing up for what’s right, taking risks. Over time, they began to embody the qualities I spoke over them and grew to be very bold and brave, my “sons of thunder.” God models for us what a loving father says about his son in Matthew 3:17. He says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” From this we find there are three core messages that we should be communicating to our children.
What We Should Be Communicating
- Words of Acceptance
You are my son.
The relationship a parent has with their child is unique. Anyone can call your kid by their name. You’re one of the only two people who can call them “son” or “daughter.” It’s your role as the parent to show them that they have a place in the world where they belong and are completely accepted and wanted. It is an integral part of our identity as human beings.
- Words of Affection
I love you.
Some days it’s “I love you because” and other days it’s “I love you anyway.” Children need to know they are loved when they succeed and when they fail. That your love as a parent isn’t conditional. And of course, it isn't, but we need to reinforce that by reminding our children often that we love them in the midst of every kind of circumstance.
- Words of Affirmation
I'm proud of you.
Even if they fall short, you can be proud of your child’s effort. When they know you’re on their side win or lose, it will give them the confidence to keep trying and to keep moving forward.
What we say to our kids about our kids is going to shape their identity.
How We Say It
93% of our communication is nonverbal. It happens through our facial expressions, our senses, our tone of voice. That means you're sending out messages whether you mean to or not.
Physical touch changes us physiologically. We need it—our children need it—to thrive socially and emotionally. We live in a culture that is afraid to touch people, but touch communicates power and love. Jesus shocked many when he let people touch him and he touched people. You see, He didn’t need to touch a person with leprosy to heal them, but he did it to show them that he loved them.
I used to work as a teacher at an alternative school that provided a program for troubled kids that had been expelled. I was looking for ways to provide positive reinforcement that would help them perform better. This was the most reinforcing reward I could come up with: If they got an A on their test, I would take them to the wrestling room and they would get to wrestle me. They may not have even known it consciously, but these kids needed healthy physical contact in their life so badly that it motivated them to do better on their assignments. So hug your kids, wrestle with them, stroke their head, hold their hand. It may even become difficult to do as they grow older, but it’s still something they need.
I believe facial expressions are the most powerful communicators. They’re the only things you can’t fake. Your face communicates a clear message even if your words are saying something different. And here’s the expression parents are really good at—the look. The don’t-you-move-another-muscle-this-is-your-last-warning look. You know the one. But do you have a look that says, I’m so proud of you, to your kids? Are they familiar with that look?
Get in front of a mirror and look at your face while you’re talking to your kids. Maybe you’re saying the right things but your face may be saying something different. Or watch some home videos and turn off the sound. What is your face communicating? Kids interpret their world through your facial expressions. Here’s an insightful experiment: Have your kids perform an impression of you. You may be surprised at their perception.
Maybe communication is an area of your life you can improve. You can start incorporating more acts of physical touch into your daily interactions—hugs, wrestle time, hand holding. When you’re talking with your kids think about the different messages they need to hear to know that they are loved and secure. What you say to your kids about your kids is going to shape their identity. You really have that much influence in your child’s life. I know, it’s wild! But the Lord entrusted you with your kids and He will give you the wisdom you need as a parent. Be intentional to speak words of life to them and you will see the kind of good fruit it can bear!
Doug Sauder served as the President of 4KIDS of South Florida and is currently the lead pastor at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. He and his wife have three sons, who each attended CCA.