“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21

I still hear this from time to time: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me!” It’s the same kind of deception that this well-worn aphorism is: “finder’s keepers, losers weepers!” Arrgh. (More on the latter at a later time.)

Children recognize the falseness of the “sticks and stones…” deception at a very early age. I heard this recently from one of my grandson’s to mommy (our oldest daughter) as he ran in the room, near tears, saying, “Mommy, mommy, Byson (his older brother) said….” His brother’s words had hurt him.

Been there, done that. You too? Ouch!

We must be self-conscious and careful about what we communicate to our children with the cultural aphorisms we repeat. I knew a person who would tell me, “I’m going to tell you the truth no matter what!” What she meant, because I saw her practice it, I’ll tell you what I want, when I want, without regard to you or anyone else who happens to here it and will tell you in whatever way I want! Do you want your child to become vicious with their words? Let them from their youngest days feel free to say whatever comes to mind, whenever it strikes them, to whoever is near. Never talk to them about the life-crushing (or giving) power that words have. Let them think that “sticks and stones” alone bring harm and death. Or don’t.

We ought to have our children practice saying kind things — compliments to others for example. Have them practice, yes practice, from the time they learn to speak, to ask forgiveness, give forgiveness, say please, thank-you, and notice the things that others do for them and thank them for these things: “thank you daddy for working hard for me every day so we can have food.” It is a learned habit.

Be a role model for this. You’ll never teach well what you don’t truly believe, understand, or practice. I often tell parents that the most effective teachers I have seen over the years are those who “love what they love, in front of their students!” Love kindness, practice kindness, in front of your child, and it will multiply the effects of your instruction immensely.

Remember, words have the power to build or tear down, because your children won’t: for now. Teach your child self-control of the mouth. Of course, practice it first. “Be slow to speak….” Never forget that our tongue (and our words), like a single match, has the power to set on fire and destroy an entire forest. It can wound. It can kill. It can destroy. Or not. You can, by both word and deed, teach your child their words have the power to heal, restore, and bring life.

Truett Cathy, in his excellent book, It’s Better To Build Boys Than Mend Men, asks this question: “how do you know if children need encouragement?” His answer: “if they are still breathing.” Remember the power of your words. Teach them the power of theirs.