“Watch your tone of voice, young lady!” This was an admonition I frequently heard growing up – and my mother said it in a FIRM tone of voice. Many of us learned in Psychology 101 that a key to effective communication is understanding how communication works. Studies have shown that only 15% of what we communicate verbally is from the actual words we say. That means 85% of communication comes from facial expressions, emphasis, body language, and tone of voice. (It makes me wonder about those who communicate primarily with texting.)
What does this mean to us as mothers? I learned an important lesson from our son when he was about 8 years old. I was busy asking our four children to help get the house picked up for a home group meeting. I was giving directions and Benjamin asked me “Why do you always talk to me in a mean voice and Abi in a nice voice?” It stopped me up short – I realized he was absolutely right! In asking my children to clean up I communicated impatience and aggravation to my oldest child and patience and grace to the youngest. “CLEAN UP RIGHT NOW!” spoken harshly and with a stern look on my face communicates something very different from “Clean up right now” said more softly and with a smile. Same words – different meaning. I had developed a pattern of speaking harshly to my oldest because I expected more from him. That in itself was not a bad thing, he WAS older and I could reasonably expect more from him at 8 years old then from his little sister who was 4. Yet I was communicating impatience and aggravation to one child and patience and grace to another for the same behavior! How willing to obey can we expect our children to be when we speak to them in that way? I asked our son for forgiveness and told him I would try to talk to each of our children the same. I started talking mean to his little sister as well! No, just kidding. It was a struggle, but I began working on using a tone of voice that communicated love and grace even when I had to be firm.
Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” What a great verse for mothers! I like how the Amplified translation words the last part – “but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others….that it may be a blessing and give grace to those who hear it.”
Words of kindness are a source of healing and that is so important when our children are hurt by the mean words of others. Our children’s speech often reflects our speech. How many of us have been embarrassed to hear our child speak a certain word only to realize they learned it from us! This is true of the tone of voice as well. The way we speak to our husbands will be the way our children learn to speak to their father. They will mimic our tone of voice. May we learn to reflect the love and respect that God holds for each of us when we speak to our husbands and children.
Each of us is a two-sided coin. It is obvious when we flip a coin that it has a “heads” side and a “tails”. Yet in our everyday use of currency, we seldom reflect on what each side represents. As a mother, I know that each of my children has various characteristics. We refer to these as personality traits, temperament, talents, gifts, or flaws. Why is it that we see the negative side of a trait more frequently than the positive side?
I remember lamenting the fact that one of our daughters was “super sensitive” and would cry at the drop of a hat. I also complained that another daughter was so strong-willed that getting dressed was a major battle each day. (At two she was known to remove all her clothes after I had dressed her because they were wrinkled!)
My mother reminded me that each of those qualities I complained about had another side. The “super sensitive” trait was also kindness, caring and empathy. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that we all need to cultivate and this daughter has it in abundance. The “strong-willed” trait is also perseverance and determination. A determination to follow God’s will is a major defense against peer pressure as our children enter adolescence. This daughter did not give in to pressure from peers even when she was lied about by so-called friends. A strong will to follow God will produce another fruit of the Spirit – faithfulness.
Galatians 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” These are the qualities, traits, and characteristics that we want to see evident in our children’s lives. Our challenge as mothers is to recognize the positive aspect of our children’s character and help that outshine the other side of the coin. When I was able to accept that God had created each of our children with certain traits and that He had a purpose in doing so that was GOOD, it helped me accept that child and who they were. That does not mean that we accept open defiance as a strong will, or crying as a means to gain sympathy. We are still responsible to discipline and train our children. Yet, when we see the positive side of the coin, or characteristic, it will help us parent in a way that builds up our child’s strengths to honor God.
What are some characteristics that you see in your child? Would you share each “side of the coin” and how you see a positive side in your child that you hope to nurture?
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
This is a verse that brings comfort to us as parents with the hope that our efforts are not in vain. Yet do we understand – “in the way he should go”? I have heard that the word translated “train” in the Hebrew refers to the way a gardener prunes, cares for, and shapes a plant along its natural tendencies. In other words, a skilled gardener knows the properties of his various plants and is sensitive to those strengths and weaknesses as he cares for those plants. For instance, he knows when to prune a hydrangea, right after blooming is finished, not in the early spring causing the current year’s blooms to be cut off. To effectively care for plants, the gardener must know the characteristics of those plants.
As a parent, to effectively train my child in the way that child should go, I must make the effort to know that child. Sometimes they will surprise us! I was reminded of this recently when one of our daughters attended an alumni game at the college where she played soccer. As a little girl she played princess with the best of them and dressed in pink whenever given the choice. She was a princess! Her father realized that she had athletic ability when she was quite young, yet she did not show much interest in sports. Phil worked with her and “trained” her skills in sports, yet she followed his directions out of pleasure of playing with daddy, not enjoyment of the sport. As she got older, he signed her up for a team and told her if she didn’t like it after the season, she would not have to play again. To make a long story short, she gradually began to enjoy playing, mainly because it is fun to do something one is good at. Her dad recognized her “natural bend” if you will, and it served her well culminating in a college scholarship. More importantly, soccer led her to the school her future husband would attend and the common enjoyment of athletics.
This daughter still had a bit of the “princess” in her. One fall night she walked onto the field where she usually wore cleats, shorts and a jersey and instead had on heels and a lovely gown. The evening culminated in her being crowned homecoming queen. That was part of her “bend” as well.
As parents we may limit our childs opportunities if we only focus on one aspect of their character. We should pray often for sensitivity to each of our children and recognize their various strengths as they grow and change. God has created each child with unique qualities and one of the great joys of parenting is watching these traits unfold. We must also remember that they are created in the image of God for HIS glory and we must not impose our own “way he should go” on our children.