“Hurry up!” “Slow down!” “Get your homework done” “Get your backpack loaded.” “Why didn’t you do this?” “Why in the world did you do that?!”
If I stop to think about the everyday phrases that fly out of my mouth, these are just a few that come to mind. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, my language frequently drifts toward drill sergeant territory.
Sometimes kids need a drill sergeant. (A certain occasion when my daughter decided to steal her brother’s play slime and secret it away in her backpack—in a broken baggie—comes to mind.) Sometimes they need a little motivation to get in gear and get ‘er done!
But deep down, I don’t just want to help my kids get things done all the time. I want to help them become. To become brave. Confident. Kind. Forgiving. All that God has created them to be. This goal requires a different kind of language. Words that are less consumed with getting through the everyday hustle, and more willing to slow down for the teachable moments.
Our kids face a world that can be so harsh and demanding. So within the walls of our homes, we want to remind them of God’s unconditional love. I’m not a parenting expert—I’m just a mom who’s learning through trial and error like everyone else. But as I reflect on the words I use with my kids, here are a few of the phrases I’m trying to use more intentionally in my home. I hope they might bless you and your kids too.
7 Words of Grace Your Kids Need to Hear You Say
1. “Let’s pray about that.”
Amidst lunchboxes, carpool, and homework questions, I often forget that one of the most important parenting lessons I can teach my kids is the power of prayer. All too often, I try to “fix” things for them, forgetting that we can bring these struggles to a better Fixer.
If my daughter has a difficult math test coming up, I will certainly help her review math facts—but I can also pray with her about it. If my son gets frustrated about a small group project in class, I can suggest we ask God for the patience to handle it.
Through such simple, everyday opportunities, we can teach our kids to seek God’s help with their challenges. Pay attention to the little dramas unfolding in your kids’ lives. And instead of brushing them off, or trying to fix it for them, teach them a practice that will serve them well for years to come: Pray with them.
2 . “It’s not a big deal.”
You know the moments. A glass drops on the floor and shatters. A book gets forgotten at school. A toy gets left outside in the rain. Little mishaps happen so often with kids, you’d think I would learn to expect them!
Somehow, though, these moments can catch me off guard. And I can turn simple accidents into a bigger deal than they really are. Instead of remaining calm, frustration spills into my voice. I find myself giving a five-minute lecture about a one-second mistake.
Sure, there are times when these “accidents” are part of a bigger pattern of irresponsibility—and we need to confront our kids about their carelessness. But sometimes . . . it’s just an accident.
Next time a little mishap comes to your home, stop and ask yourself the question: “Is this part of a pattern? Or is this a moment of human forgetfulness or clumsiness that happens to us all?” If it’s the latter, help your kids find grace for simple mistakes by telling them “It’s no big deal” and calmly moving on.
3. “I’m proud of you.”
In our culture, kids constantly receive feedback based on performance: School grades tell them how they perform academically. Praise or criticism gets heard based on their performances in sports or the arts. Even at church, we often hand out stars based on attendance or doing service work.
None of these things are bad, of course. We should be proud of the things are kids do. But do we also take pride in them, simply for who God created them to be?
What our kids need even more than our approval for how they perform is our approval for who they are. If we only focus on affirming their skills (and the execution of them), we teach our kids that their value comes from their accomplishments. Too many kids grow up carrying a staggering weight of expectations, feeling pressured to perform by well-meaning parents, teachers, coaches, and pastors.
Underneath all that activity, their hearts wonder: “Does anybody love me?”
Maybe the daughter who’s on the soccer team needs to know that you prize her encouraging attitude more than her next score. Or your straight-A son needs to hear that you appreciate his intelligence and curiosity even more than his test scores.
What are your kids’ unique personality strengths? What character traits do you admire in them? Notice these things and speak them to your kids. You can cheer them on for their accomplishments, sure. But don’t let them doubt for a second that you are proud of who they are.
4. “Let’s Do Something Together!”
With so much busyness and pressure to keep up with all the other “fun family activities” we see others engaging in, it’s easy to lose sight of simple things–like simply inviting our kids to do something spontaneous. Some of the most enjoyable and hilarious times I’ve shared with my kids have been moments that I didn’t try to pre-plan.
(And the reverse is true too: Some of those “special family memories” I tried to create through hours of planning and activity? Yeah, some of those have failed spectacularly!)
As my kids have gotten older, it’s grown harder to interest them in “family” time (ie. They get sucked into the vortex of screentime.) It’s tempting to just let them do their thing so I can hustle and get through my to-do list. But my kids need me to pull them out from time to time: They need the anchor of family love and time spent in simple community.
So these days, I’m looking for ways to enjoy simple, spontaneous moments together. That might mean inviting them into my everyday chores or errands, even if it means the task will take a bit longer. But it also means just setting aside my own agenda at times and taking time to do something fun that I know my kids enjoy.
Yes, in the midst end of busy workdays or after an evening of school and church activities, I long for space to simply be alone. But the time I have as a parent is fleeting. I don’t want to let the days slip by without taking time to enjoy my kids. So I challenge myself with this question: Can you give it 15 minutes?
In fifteen minutes, I can paint my daughter’s fingernails or play a game with my son. Taking a short bike ride, baking a batch of cookies, helping out with a craft project—these are just a few of the many things you can do with 15 minutes in your day. And it’s especially meaningful when we’re willing to engage our kids with an activity they enjoy.
So what are some of the things your kids enjoy the most? Or maybe it’s an everyday chore that you can start teaching them and work at together. Look for those spontaneous moments of grace when you can invite your kids to spend time together.
5. “I’m Sorry”
Losing your temper. Shouting. Cutting words. Overreacting. Kids have a way of picking away at our defenses until our ugliest sides become exposed.
When we have these reactions, we often feel justified. After all, we’re usually reacting to something our kids did, right? They disobeyed or gave us attitude. They pushed us to the edge with complaining or ear-piercing shrieks. Isn’t our angry reaction really their fault?
But unkind words and angry outbursts don’t come out of nowhere—that nastiness was somewhere in our hearts before it erupted with our kids. These inner weaknesses are not our kids’ fault. And sometimes our reactions come from simple exhaustion, or the stress of other burdens we carry—and this is not their fault, either, is it?
When kids misbehave, they deserve discipline, not out-of-control wrath. Truth spoken in love. Controlled correction that’s firm and clear. Our kids never deserve uncontrolled anger or unkind words, no matter what they’ve done.
When our words or actions become barbed—when we wound our kids instead of protecting them from our anger—we owe them an apology. This isn’t a sign of weakness on our part. Rather, it shows our integrity: It tells them we’re strong enough to admit our poor behavior and try to make things right.
If we let the moment pass without admitting our wrong, our harsh words will fester in our kids’ hearts instead of being healed by grace. Don’t let that happen. Next time your words or actions go too far, apologize to your kids. They will learn an invaluable lesson about grace: That we all need it, and we all have opportunities to extend it to others.
6. “I Don’t Know.”
As my kids have grown older, I’ve noticed that I seem to be getting less intelligent. At least I’m certainly feeling less intelligent, because sometimes their questions leave me stumped! Thank goodness for Google—I can still satisfy most of their curiosity.
But sometimes their questions go deep, delving into issues I’m not completely educated about or mysteries of God that can’t be easily explained. There’s a temptation in times like this to offer “safe” answers. Quick, black and white ideas about a social issue. Or the thirty-second Sunday school answer to a question about God.
But quick answers can miss the deeper issues our kids are struggling with. And when we give pat answers, especially to our older kids, it can leave them with the impression that there’s something wrong with their doubts or questions.
As parents, we should share the knowledge we have. But there’s also a beautiful grace in admitting to our kids that “I don’t know.” We can invite them into a lifestyle of seeking better answers, instead of settling for half-truths and sound bites about issues we don’t fully understand.
And when it comes to questions of faith, even the best theological arguments can’t fully embody the mysteries of God. Doubting and questions are part of the faith journey. (It wouldn’t really be faith if we could perfectly explain it all, would it?)
There are times when we have to live with the tension—trusting in God, even when we can’t fully understand or explain His ways. So next time you feel threatened by your kids’ questions because you don’t have all the answers, admit that you don’t know. Show them that a life of faith has room for questions, and invite them to seek the truth together. .
7. Embrace the Silence.
In preparing this post, I decided to ask my son for his insight. He offered a few thoughts, and there—in the listening—I got an amazing gem:
“Mom, sometimes kids just want you to listen.”
So straight-forward and so profoundly true, his words convicted me immediately. I’m a fixer. A planner. A talker. So this listening thing is hard for me. All too often, I try to solve things with a barrage of questions and comments. But they usually don’t get us any closer to a solution. My efforts to talk through a situation often end up making everything worse!
I think of my marriage, and how many times I’ve said to my husband: “I don’t want you to fix it!” I just want him to hear my heart. Knowing that he cares enough to listen is what fixes the hurt in that moment. What if I employed this philosophy in my parenting?
These days, I’m trying to embrace the silence. To fight my urge to fix things, and just be present in the moments when my kids need to share. To offer nods of understanding and hugs of encouragement. To sit on my questions and give them space when they’re not quite ready to talk.
There are so many beautiful words we can offer to our kids. And we must pray for wisdom to use them well. But there are also times to be silent. To simply be present. Listen. Offer a sympathetic smile and hold their hand. The next time your child comes to you with a care, the most grace-filled things you say to your kid might be spoken without a word.
A version of this post originally appeared at www.morelikegrace.com, published with permission.