Children who grow up in a house of screaming parents often grow up to be screaming parents themselves. The volume and words a parent uses around their children and to their children has an impact on them. But what about the more subtle things we say? What about the things we say on our mobile phones, when we forget the kids are in the back seat listening? What about the things we say when the kids are in the other room, listening? And they are listening!
What do my kids hear when they hear me? What are the lessons we teach our kids, unintentionally? “Lord, may the words of my mouth be pleasing to You” (Psalm 19:14) as the little ears in my home listen to them.
Do my children hear me talk one way at church and another way in traffic? Do they hear me espouse the principles of the Bible, and then gossip? Am I inadvertently teaching them that I don’t really believe what the Bible says about how we should live, what we should say and not say, how we should talk to or about people, how we should deal with conflict? What do my kids hear when they hear me?
The trap of ungodly words
In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges talks about the ungodly living we have come to accept in ourselves. One of those ungodly behaviors is the use of our mouth. One of the greatest traps we fall into is our own trap. That’s why James admonishes each of us to be slow to open our traps (James 1:19).
My children can grow up hearing about Biblical principles, but there’s no greater teacher than getting the opportunity to observe Biblical principles in everyday life. When someone is rude at the store, when someone makes a harsh comment, when someone shares some gossip – those everyday occurrences – how do you respond?
We each have a button at least I know I do. It’s that button that gets pushed by someone else. They say something to me that offends my pride. In a flash, I forget that my children are in listening range. Worse, I forget my children are “taking notes,” and thinking, “Thanks for reading the Bible to us at breakfast this morning. That was nice. But this is really where the rubber hits the road, isn’t it, Dad?”
Paul gives us the tattoo for our eyelids, in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV). My words should not only benefit the people I’m talking to, but should also benefit the listeners standing within earshot.
Children are listening
By listening, children are learning to communicate in a way that God will bless. When my daughter Torrey was about four years old, I could hear her in her room, scorching someone with her mouth. Whoever it was in there, Torrey was giving them a major lecture and loudly. This surprised me, since there was no one home but Rosemary, Torrey and me. I knew she wouldn’t be talking to her mother like that.
I walked down the hall and peeked into her room to see who she was talking to. There was Torrey, standing over one of her dolls. The doll was sitting in a small rocking chair, and Torrey was giving it a lecture. When I turned around, Rosemary was watching me as I listened and watched the scene unfold.
“What’s that all about?” I asked Rosemary. Her response to me was, “I guess she learned that from one of us.” We both knew who “that” person was.
What do my kids hear when they hear me? I should not let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth: That means I must do the work of stopping anything from coming out that won’t teach or benefit anyone who is listening.
By being slow to speak, like it says in James 1:19, I can think about what I say before the hasty words come out. My children will have a better chance of learning how to live a life that God will bless.
Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.