Jesus said He came to bring abundant life (see John 10:10). According to Christ Himself (John 3:17), His was and is not a message of condemnation, but a message of salvation, of rescue, and of deliverance. So why do kids in church and Christian homes end up feeling so judged, criticized, and condemned? We all know parents are supposed to bring up children in “the admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), but there’s something else that needs to come first: nurture. How do we do it? How do we nurture the lives entrusted to us? I think one major way is by speaking words of life.
What are words of life?
Words of life are basically positive words, affirmations of your child’s positive traits or actions. Some kids go through life yearning to hear phrases like “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” from their parents. On a day-to-day basis, more specific phrases can be meaningful. Examples include, “I appreciated the way you handled that” or “You really demonstrated maturity in that situation.” While you want to be genuine, even superficial compliments can mean a lot. From a particularly flattering ensemble to an almost laughably obnoxious color combination, you can admire your teen’s sense of style, even if it’s very different from your own.
When should we speak words of life?
Well, there are certainly achievements and situations where speaking words of life will come naturally. Especially when those become fewer and farther between, parents need to make an effort to say them frequently, repeatedly, and primarily. Even when criticisms are warranted and necessary, making a habit of speaking positive words first can be pivotal. When teens know that their parents aren’t completely against them, the criticisms may be received more readily or at least with less damage to the parent-teen relationship. Even when your teen has really blown it, speaking words of life is always appropriate.
Why should we speak words of life?
If building our children’s self esteem seems like a meager goal, you’re right. We should not praise our own selves (Proverbs 27:2), but we should esteem others (Philippians 2:3) better than ourselves, and our children are some of those others. We want to encourage them to accept the unique individual God created them (Proverbs 27:2) to be and to promote their strengths. As we speak words of life to them, we can encourage them to further their talents and gifts for the cause of Christ. If we fail our children in this way, we may be the cause of insecurity and lack of courageous, others-minded ministry.
If you need reminders to speak words of life, charts like these blessings charts might help. Otherwise, just keeping track of negative words you speak and making sure to utter three positives to help outweigh each criticism can help you keep on track. Admonition may be needed, but nurturing, life-giving words are vital to your teen’s future.