If you read last week’s post, you know I am no stranger to having my children say hurtful things. Children often choose cruel words to manipulate a situation or because they haven’t learned how to restrain their frustration, sadness, or helplessness. We can have many, many talks with our children on how and why to control our words. Ironically, when we have these talks about their powerful words, our words often fall flat. An object lesson can be a helpful tool to teach, especially to young children.
Hands-down, the best object lesson I have ever seen was taught by my former Headmaster. She was teaching a chapel lesson. She gave a tube of toothpaste to each of four volunteers. They were given one minute to squeeze as much as they could onto a plate. When the minute was over, they were given another minute to get the toothpaste back into the tube. We watched them struggle strategically. Of course, they all failed miserably, but it was entertaining to watch! The students walked back to their seats to find out how this was going to tie into a lesson. The Headmaster explained that once our words leave our mouths, we can never get them back.
I thought of this lesson recently and realized it may be a good time to show it to my son. (Sidenote: I purchased Dollar Tree toothpaste!) I decided to do it with him in an individual setting (because my two year old and my one year old would only do damage with this experiment!). You can see the bewildered look on Lincoln’s face when I asked him to put the toothpaste back in the tube!
Did fireworks go off when I explained the lesson to him? No, but the next time I see him searching his mental rolodex for hurtful words, I will refer to the toothpaste lesson. And the next time. And the next time. For as long as it takes. You see, Jesus told us that the mouth speaks what is in the heart. (Luke 6:45) Words are a heart issue. I don’t just want my kids to learn to be robots, avoiding the words that get them into trouble. I want their hearts transformed too. However, if we can get our children to submit to the Holy Spirit to help them in guarding their tongues, we are equipping them for holiness in other areas.
Consider going through The Bible to give your children a solid foundation to motivate this transformation. Here are a few Scriptures about the power of the tongue:
1. Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
2. Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
3. Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
4. James 3:5-12 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
5. Galatians 5:16-25 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
6. Ephesians 4:29-32 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Another fun lesson idea for older children: Print out a few chapters from Proverbs (Chapters 10-19 are especially great ones). Have them highlight each verse that pertains to the tongue. They may be surprised how often God’s Word refers to our speech!
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this next fact: You can teach your children this lesson every day, but if you are not modeling it, you are doing more harm than good. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the power to emanate his love, self-control, and kindness.
Here is a great verse for kids and moms to memorize (and one of my most common prayers for myself!):
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.