One of the ways I encourage my children is by giving them little phrases to say. I call it “speaking the truth” to themsleves. I repeat the same phrase every time they are in a particular situation it fits with, and before long they start saying it to themselves. The phrases act as scaffolding to support them and help them develop character and self-control.
If a task seems too hard, they often say, “I can’t do it!” If it is something I know they can do with a little effort, I do not do it for them. Instead I encourage them, “You can do it! Speak truth to yourself.” They try again, saying to themselves, “I can do it,” which quickly turns into a cry of, “I did it!” They then have the satisfaction of a job well done and are motivated to try harder next time.
Another phrase I have used is, “It’s not so bad.” Sometimes the children fearfully anticipate going through something like a haircut, being rinsed off in the bath, a medical procedure, or doing an overwhelming chore. But once they get through it they find out that it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be. I try to reinforce that thought so they will remember it the next time they are tempted to panic.
Other times they will say, “I need to be patient,” and they start singing the “Have Patience” song we have taught them. Or it will be, “I’m going to trust God,” then they will sing, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. . . .” They hold on to the little phrases they have learned from Scripture, songs and stories, and they use the truths to help them choose the right. Their wills are being trained by this “truth speaking”. It is encouraging to hear them instruct themselves in what to choose.
There is power in speaking truth to ourselves and to our children. Lies defeat, but the truth sets us free. Many (if not all) of our battles are fought in our minds. Truth-telling is the process of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).
When we give our children truth for their minds, their hearts take over and they begin to act on that truth. My son used to tell me that he did not love me, and that he only loved his daddy. Instead of only telling him how that hurt me, I started telling him, “I love your company.” Before long, he and the rest of my children started saying that to me, my husband and to each other. It made such a difference in our family.
As my children speak these truths, I am seeing them set free from things I struggled with into adulthood (I trained myself with these same types of phrases). And now, when I am tempted to fear, lack trust, or be impatient, my children repeat these phrases back to me.
Originally published in Above Rubies magazine number sixty-nine as Truth Phrases.
Where’s Your Cheerful Heart Smile?
When any of my children are displaying an angry or “grumpy” attitude, I ask them where their cheerful heart smile is. I grew up hearing, “Don’t smile,” in order to get us to smile, but I don’t want to teach my children to disobey me, so I changed it to “Where’s your smile?”
Frowning and being angry is a choice we make, and so is having a cheerful heart, and smiling. In order for my children to smile, they have to change their attitude. A fake smile is pretty obvious. And there have been times when I have gotten a tongue stuck out at me instead, which indicates the need for discipline! Usually, just asking them for their smile is enough. But, if they resist, then we use discipline and try again. The heart attitude is really what I am after.
This is a great help with two year-olds. With Laura, I get her to smile, and then I have her say, “Yes, Ma’am,” about whatever it is I was telling her. She usually obeys cheerfully after this conversation.
I also make an effort to smile (not a silly smile), and speak kindly to my children, even when I have to correct them. They are less likely to resist correction when my attitude is right (”A soft answer turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1). Many times I fail at this, but God is helping me to grow in this area.
If you try this, be sure not to tickle your child or make funny faces to get them to smile. The smile needs to come from a changed heart attitude.
Cassie Tynan July 24, 2007