What to Say When Your Kids Do Wrong

I’m thrilled to invite my good friend Wendy Speake over into my virtual living room today here at One Thing Alone Ministries. More than once, I’ve texted Wendy to ask for prayer and wisdom. “My daughter is doing X. How do I respond in love?” And without fail, Wendy always offered words of wisdom that pointed to the Living Word. May you too find hope and encouragement in her guest post on the blog today.

Just this morning, as I was driving my three boys to school, the youngest snapped at the oldest, “Stop doing that.” The middle boy in the far backseat jumped in and corrected the youngest for correcting the oldest in a terribly nasty tone. We were already running late and I felt the pressure rising in my chest.


After signaling, I crossed two lanes of traffic, pulled the car over, and counted to 16 (it’s my magic number.) I turned around slowly (did I mention we were late?) made eye-contact with each one of them (this always gets their attention,) then simply said, “Who is the only person that God has given you the power to control?”


Then I turned back around, put the car in drive, and carefully moved back into the flow of morning traffic.


“What should I say to my kids when they…”


It’s a question I’ve heard at least a hundred times since writing a book on Mommy Anger. Moms and dads both want to know how to stay calm and kind, rather than blow up at their kids. Thus, the question: “What should I say to my kids when they…”


Let me preface this by confessing that I don’t always do right when my kids do wrong… but I do a whole lot more right than I used to do. Primarily, because I’ve made some specific plans, crafted some specific words, as to be prepared for the next time my kids do that thing they always do.

Bickering in the back seat is one of those “things they always do.” My husband tells the story of the time his mom (my mother-in-law) took a shoe off as she drove, then hiked it over her shoulder at the teenaged offender. Truth be told, I’ve considered a good shoe toss into the back of the minivan a time or two myself, however, I think a few good words have more power than a flip-flop to the head.

When I receive those emails from stressed out and exasperated parents, I don’t mind throwing out suggestions of words to try. Truly! I think most of the time we simply get stuck in the rut of bad habits—habits passed down from our parents or habits we fell into during a sleep-deprived stupor. Brainstorming together what to say and do when our kids say and do childish things can be super helpful! So helpful, in fact, Amber Lia and I just wrote a book entitled, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New


It’s packed full of 31 suggestions – SCRIPTS – specific words to speak to your child in the middle of your most reoccurring and mundane mothering moments. Perhaps your youngest keeps getting out of bed each naptime, the middle one nightly has a melt-down over the veggies on their plate, while the oldest struggles through their homework, all the while hollering at their kid-sister. We get it!


However, while Amber Lia and I don’t mind sharing some suggestions, the real power to change our ugly habits isn’t going to be found in a parenting book, but in The Good Book. R. C. Sproul said it this way:


“I think the greatest weakness in the church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it—His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.” (R. C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord)

For us to have a Godly perspective in our parenting, we must know God’s perspective on parenting. And God allows us to know His thoughts on all things when we spend time with Him in His Word. Of course, our tendency is to base our methodologies on blog posts (ahem), tweets, and #hashtags, but we need a solid foundation upon which to stand – a Scriptural bedrock upon which to parent. A verse here and a verse there, mixed into the pot of our world’s ever-changing philosophies, won’t help us to stand firm. A double-minded mom cannot wield a double-edged sword.


For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)


The imagery of that “two-edged sword” in Hebrews 4:12, is that of a surgeon’s scalpel. Small and light and balanced in the Great Physician’s hand. He wields it carefully, dividing the healthy part of our thinking and speaking and parenting, from that which is diseased and harmful and needs to go!


As I mentioned, my boys are in a season of bickering, constantly correcting one another in nasty tones. The simple truth is, while I’m not tempted to throw my shoe over my shoulder, I am tempted to sling some nasty words. I’m tempted to jump in and join them in their tussle with one another! But I don’t want to! I want to fight for them, not fight with them!


My response to the boys in the car this morning, as we hustled off to school, was that God gave them only one person that they’re able to control— themselves. The SCRIPT I spoke comes straight out of Scripture. Galatians 5, which the boys and I had learned together, tells us that the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives includes the fruit of self-control — not others-control.


I speak this script often. I speak it calm and I speak it kind. I want them to remember what’s right when they do wrong, and I’m just the one to teach them.


Are there words in your vocabulary with your toddler or your teen that simply need to go? Do you need The great Physician’s scalpel? Let’s believe Hebrews 4:12 today. Get into God’s living and active Word, and allow Him to transform the way you speak to your children when they do wrong. Because you truly can do right when they do wrong. With the help of God’s Word, you can choose better words!


Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New is Wendy Speake and Amber Lia’s follow-up book to Triggers. For 31 days, they’ll walk you through some of the most common family struggles. From bedtime-battles to teenage defiance. One chapter at a time they craft a script for you to try with your children — a script based on the teaching of Scripture. With God’s Word guiding our words, we can do right even when our kids do wrong. Order it on Amazon here.