(Editor’s Note: On Saturday, August 20, Tedd Tripp presented the workshop titled, Communicating Biblically with our Children. The workshop was a breakout session of the one-day conference, Counsel the Word, presented by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The following notes were compiled by Michael Boehm and are shared so others might receive benefit, instruction, and encouragement.)
Most of our communication to our children, in particular during times of correction or discipline, is determined by one of two parenting paradigms:
Paradigm 1: The Control Paradigm – the parent typically communicates through harsh and scolding words for the purpose of controlling the child.
Paradigm 2: The Nurturing Paradigm – the parent typically communicates with restraint, using pleasant words as they seek to understand the child in an effort to nurture the child.
The parenting paradigm we should seek to have is that of a nurturing parent.
THE STARTING POINT OF NURTURING COMMUNICATION: Wisdom
While we tend to focus on various techniques in our communication, the starting point for healthy communication to our children is the fear of the Lord. Scripture reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. ~Proverbs 9:10
Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. ~Proverbs 15:33
The way in which Scripture calls us to speak requires that we begin with the fear of the Lord. Living in awe and reverence of God is where life is found. To fear the Lord is a continual reminder that we will give an account for how we parent which includes how we communicate to our children. The Bible highlights the importance of nurturing communication, a paradigm with three important principles – the means, manner, and goal.
PRINCIPLE 1: The means of communication is restraint. Unbridled speech is not prized in Scripture. Wise parents learn to speak with restraint and use thoughtful words that are beneficial to those who listen.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. ~Proverbs 17:27
Several ways restraint is practiced include:
Quiet speech. When we shout at our children we become their peers, lose our authority, and place the emotion in the foreground and meaning in the background. The use of quiet words, on the other hand, helps us to retain our authority and place the meaning in the foreground and emotion in the background. Parents who shout at their children are unable to communicate clearly because the child is unable to hear past the emotion.
The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. ~Ecclesiastes 9:17
Avoiding too many words. There are times when we ramble on and on to our children. When we find ourselves agitated toward our children we must be very careful of how many words we use. There is a quantitative easing that occurs, the more words we use, the less meaning or value our words have. Our kids become worn out by our many words and they stop listening. As well, if we talk too long we will eventually say something we should have never said. An important statement to learn to say is, “That’s all I am going to say right now.”
The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? ~Ecclesiastes 6:11
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. ~Proverbs 10:19
Thinking first and speaking second. Parents must put thought into their words before speaking. Rather than snapping back at children, take time to carefully consider what should and needs to be said. It is the fool who speaks without consideration of his words. The wise parent puts their words on a scale and weighs them out. When the words are carefully chosen and crafted they become a blessing.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. ~Proverbs 15:28
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. ~Proverbs 29:20
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. ~Proverbs 10:11
The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. ~Proverbs 10:21
PRINCIPLE 2: The manner of communication is pleasant words. The parent focused on controlling their child will use a demanding and angry tone. A harsh tone demonstrates a life of anxiousness and self-reliance rather than a life of trusting in God. In fact, it is possible that we place barriers in the child’s path to faith when we use a harsh tone. The nurturing parent chooses to use pleasant words in their communication.
Pleasant words promote instruction. While an angry tone may get the child to back down for a moment, the parent’s influence and instruction are being undermined in the process. It is the pleasant words that grease the wheels, making instruction easier to receive.
The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. ~Proverbs 16:21
Pleasant words are a honeycomb. Children are much more likely to listen to words that add sweetness and health to their life rather than communicate fear.
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. ~Proverbs 16:23-24
A wise tongue commends knowledge. Parents who speak in pleasant words make knowledge attractive and desirable. Communicate in such a way that we are a salesman for wisdom and our children want to receive our wisdom. Learning to communicate in a nourishing way requires a craftsmanship that includes balance, thoughtfulness, and symmetry.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. ~Proverbs 15:2
PRINCIPLE 3: The goal of communication is understanding. The finest art of communication is not the ability to express our thoughts, but the ability to understand our kids. We must work hard at understanding our kids and finding great delight in the endeavor.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. ~Proverbs 18:2
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. ~Proverbs 18:13
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. ~Proverbs 20:5
Practices parents can employ as they seek to understand their children include:
- Commit to working hard at the task of understanding.
- Learn to ask good questions that cannot be answered with a ‘yes” or “no.” For example, “Help me to understand…
- Give the courtesy of listening to the children.
- Strive to ask good follow-up questions.\
- Stop immediately firing off a response without first attempting to understand.
- Pay attention to what the child is both saying and not saying.
Sadly, we miss the beauty of the deep waters of our children when we neglect to understand them. It takes much practice and great skill to draw out the deep waters of a child.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE GOSPEL. Ultimately, our communication must center around the Gospel. What we say and how we say it should always be pointing our children to the cross, resting in God’s sovereignty knowing that the burden of our child’s salvation does not rest in whether or not we get our communication right every time. The centrality of the Gospel in our parenting reminds us that:
We cannot save our children.
If we try to save our children we will destroy them and ourselves.
Hope for me and my kids is only found at the foot of the cross.
When we try to save our children we become angry and demanding as we strive to secure their response to the Gospel. Children often grow resentful when parents seek to force them into a decision. The parent’s responsibility is to be faithful to the task of parenting while prayerfully asking God to move in the child’s heart, drawing them unto salvation. Parents must continually be in prayer to God for their children.
Don’t speak much to your children that which you have spoken little of to God. ~Tedd Tripp
Do not neglect to think often of the incredible promises given to us in Christ Jesus. All the grace necessary to do all that God calls us to as parents has been given to us by Jesus Christ:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. ~2 Peter 1:3-4
Parents, we must rest in Christ’s grace and trust that He will enable us to communicate in a way that consistently points our children to Christ.