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One day I came home from work and was greeted by my wife whose face was as white as a ghost. The first thing out of her mouth was, “Do you know what your son said today?”

Uh-oh.

I grimaced, thinking that this couldn’t be good. She went on to tell me that our oldest son was bounding down the stairs when he stumbled clumsily and stubbed a toe. He turned around, raised his fists defiantly, and belted out, “YOU BLEEPING STAIRS!!”

WHAT? He said WHAT?  It felt like the classic scene in the Christmas Story movie where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and utters “the mother of all bad words.”

Words create the environment

My child’s expletive shook our whole home, and our other three children watched carefully to see how we would handle it. There were consequences for my son’s choice of vocabulary, of course, and there obviously were questions about where he had heard the word. But the overall message to our kids went much deeper than that. I reminded them of the way our words communicate who we are and how they reveal our identities. I told my kids, “We are the Johnson family. We belong to God. He is our Heavenly Father, and our words need to reflect Him.”

Words reveal the heart

God is a gracious Divine Dad who forgives us and disciplines us because in His love, He wants us to experience his goodness (Hebrews 12:7-11). So our family talk centered on this, and we discussed how our words can create a loving or harmful environment.  We want to live in a home of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), and we want our words to reflect a heart that is committed to loving God and others.

Love God & Others – “Heart”

From the mouth the heart speaks.” – Matthew 15:18

In many ways, the Linfield community is an extended family comprised of parents, teachers, students, and administration who are seeking to truly love one another. In fact, part of the Linfield Mission states that we seek to inspire students “to love others as themselves.” Campus life is then an extension of home life, as students live and serve together in community, and consequently, just as we want words to speak life into our families, we want words to speak life into our school.

Mentorship – Environment-shaping Words are Contagious.

Teachers Partner with Parents

As parents, we partner with a number of different allies – teachers, coaches, pastors, etc. And just like you, Linfield teachers desire to model loving words and hearts in order to inspire that in our students. The apostle Paul said, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

What do we do?

  • We “tell” our kids the truth (especially about faith in Jesus).
  • We “prioritize” love over all other things.
  • We “explain” how our words matter.

 How do we do it?

  • We “display” love to them by using loving words with them.
  • We “model” love for them as they hear us use loving words with others.
  • We “trust” the Holy Spirit to apply these truths and examples to their hearts.

Practice at Home and School

Growth and development takes place over time, of course. Children sometimes take awhile to progress from external compliance to internalized heart-felt convictions.

 How Children Learn: A Slow and Steady Learning Process – From Head to Heart

  1. Children learn that loving and kind words is the expectation.
  2. Children comply with the expectations of parents, teachers, and others.
  3. All people begin this way (outward compliance).
  4. We have “aha” moments when we experience love and the power of loving words.
  5. God willing, we move from external compliance toward internal conviction.

Conclusion: Adults are Mentors

Parents are a child’s first mentor in life, and just like most parents, my wife and I want to hear loving and kind words expressed in our home. So we need to model kindness and love to each other and to our children so that eventually they become mature and use kind words because that is what springs out of their hearts. We also ally with partners at school and church who use loving words and who are authentic in their faith by the power of the Holy Spirit because then our kids want to engage with them and be more like them. Like most things, kind words are typically caught, not taught.

Mike Johnson
Middle School Dean of Student Life