#6 ~ If You Can’t Say Something Nice….
My beloved Grammy used to always say, “If you can’t say something nice, keep your lips zipped”. It has been a truism that I have said many times to myself, to my children, and now to my Baby Grands. It is pretty much a hallmark of good character. Any one of us can pop off with a smart aleck remark when someone speaks an unkind word, but it’s wisdom that teaches us to turn the other cheek and keep our mouth shut. This is a rule of thumb in raising children. I do not believe that children are meant to be seen and not heard, which is how I was raised. I believe they have a right to a voice, but they must be taught when it is appropriate to use that precious voice. If you do not want your child to be a snappish one, speak kindly. If you do not want them to be a loud mouth, use gentle tones.
There are times when every parent loses their cool. Maybe you have had a long day with lots of frustration, maybe you have a migraine, maybe everyone has ‘been out to get you’ and you take that attitude with you into your first confrontation with your stubborn, sassy toddler or your teen who refuses to put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket. The first thing you do is snap them to attention by screaming their name and then lay them out with a waspish tongue that would embarrass you if you overheard yourself. It happens. We are abashed and do everything in our power to wash away the stain of our actions on their heart and mind. We have all slipped on that frustrating day and our children see a side to us that may shock them to their cores. But please, make it the extreme exception and not the rule.
I was in a place with a few other adults the other day. A young child had their hands folded in front of them and looked up at their daddy with the sweetest expression and with every bit of manners and polish they could muster, said, “Daddy, May I please” and made a very simple, will-cost-you-nothing, request of him. He had been laughing and talking to someone else just prior and his response to her bordered on angry as he looked at her and said “NO!” is a very loud voice. She visually crumbled. Her little shoulders slumped, her chin quivered, her head dropped and silent tears ran down her cheeks. There was an audible, “Awww” from the adults gathered and I noticed no one made eye contact with the father. I do not claim to know what others were thinking but my thoughts were not as pure as the driven snow at that moment. There was absolutely no provocation for his response, he just did not want to be bothered with her. Hopefully, it was a one time kind of thing and that child will quickly forget it, but I cannot. It hangs in my mind.
Had she been a little older? She might have turned the tables on him. I have seen parents who have deliberately and verbally poked at their child’s emotions until they get a reaction and then they seem to take a perverse pleasure in challenging the child as to their response. I always think of the scripture in Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” If you constantly challenge or goad your child, it’s as if you are whipping them for no good reason. Like taking a whip to a horse who is willing. All you will accomplish is breaking that child’s spirit which steals every bit of personality and leaves behind a shell. Yes, they may be docile and do everything you ask without a single complaint but the very essence that God gifted them with will be gone. They will struggle to find themselves in later years and may never discover what they were meant to be or do in this adventurous life.
Children are more fragile than most of us might imagine. Yes, they are independent. Yes, they can fend for themselves much earlier than most of them should have to, and yes, they can even defend themselves much earlier than they should have to, but their feelings, their emotions are still forming and taking shape. Our nurturing them, in kindness, love, gentleness, is what forms their character into what God intended in Creation. If that child is raised with a hostile father/mother who snaps commands without cause, will she think that is the norm? Will she become the same type of person who cannot be bothered? Yes, she will. We have to make sure we count to ten sometimes when we are harried from a grueling day and walk through the door of our home to total chaos. We need to be careful to shed the day like a pair of too-tight, toe-pinching, arch-breaking shoes when we step across the threshold to greet our children. They are a daily blessing if you allow them to be. Encourage the good and understand those moments that frustrate you to no end are just a phase. Yes, they need discipline when they throw tantrums and are willfully disobedient, but please make sure the punishment fits the crime. Speak kindly and firmly. Look directly into their eyes. They will learn that what they have done is wrong and take your direction. Maybe not the first or even the second time, but consistency gets the point across, not yelling and berating.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6