Are you ever embarrassed or shocked by what comes out of your child’s mouth? Do you raise your voice, threaten, and coerce, but find yourself frustrated because nothing seems to work? Is there a simple, Bible-based plan that shows parents how to help their kids tame their tongues and walk in the transforming power of Christ?
Bible Gateway interviewed Ginger Hubbard about her book, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!: Biblical Wisdom for Taming Your Child’s Tongue (Thomas Nelson, 2018).
You write that “Why do they continue to act like that?” is the wrong question to ask of misbehaving and rude-talking children. What do you mean?
Ginger Hubbard: I was once the mom who was consistently taken aback when her kids spoke foolishly, whether it was in the form of whining, lying, or talking back. With an expression of shock, I would ask, “Why do you act like that?” After a closer look at the Word of God, I realized I was asking the wrong question.
Jesus explained, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, there’s merit to the old saying, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.” Our sin doesn’t begin with our mouths; it begins with our hearts. The sin that shows up in our words comes from inside of us, and it starts sooner than we might think. King David proclaimed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). When parents truly grasp the origin of sin and the total depravity of man, we no longer question why our children sin.
I slowly learned to quit asking, “Why does my child sin?” and began to ask myself, “When my child sins, how might I point him to the fact that he’s a sinner in need of a savior? How might I help him understand and live in the power of the gospel?”
What are elements of ineffective discipline that parents should avoid?
Ginger Hubbard: When children speak offensively, often parents respond in one of two ways: we either ignore the child, hoping he’ll outgrow it, or we administer some sort of consequence, hoping to put the fear of God in him. Both methods are ineffective, because they fail to train and instruct. There are occasions when ignoring may seem more convenient for us. After all, it does take time to “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Yet, to ignore a child who’s in need of correction and guidance is to selfishly place our own interests above the interests and well-being of the child.
On the other end of things, consequences for wrong behavior have their place, but they’re not a substitute for training and instructing (Ephesians 6:4). Administering consequences without following through with righteous training only teaches them one thing: there are consequences for sin. While that’s an important lesson, an even greater lesson is to understand the higher calling of living in ways that are pleasing to God and bring him the glory he deserves.
Our purpose in disciplining our children is not merely to teach them to avoid consequences, but to train and instruct them to honor God with their lives: that being “the way they should go.”
What should be the purpose of parents disciplining their child?
Ginger Hubbard: The purpose of disciplining children is not to merely achieve outward obedience, but inward change. Many parents have developed the philosophy that if they can get their children to act right, they’re raising them the right way. Yet, there’s far more to parenting than getting children to act right. We have to get them to think right, and to be motivated out of a love for God rather than a fear of punishment.
By moving past the idea that discipline is about rigid rule-setting or behavior management, we can set aside ineffective practices such as scolding, ignoring the offense, or merely administering punishment. Instead, we start to see that our children’s outbursts are prime opportunities for the ultimate goal of all parenting: to guide them to the redemptive work of Jesus and his transformational power.
What is your three-step plan you describe in your book?
Step 1: Getting to the Heart of Behavior
A wise parent will learn to move beyond the words of her child by addressing the issues of the heart. After all, if the heart is reached, the behavior will take care of itself. We’re told by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, that drawing out matters of the heart is no easy task. He states, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). Jesus set the ultimate example for how to probe the heart of another in order to draw out what lies within. When dealing with sinners, Jesus did not shake his finger at their faces and tell them what they were doing wrong. Instead, he would ask thought-provoking questions in such a way that the person to whom he was talking had to take his focus off of the circumstances around him and onto the sin in his own heart. Heart-probing questions cause children to evaluate themselves, which helps them recognize their need for Christ.
Step 2: Reproving Your Child Biblically
In Matthew 18:15 God commands that we reprove those who are caught in sin. A biblical reproof exposes wrong by shedding light where there’s darkness. Fortunately, God has faithfully provided us with all that we need to speak wisdom and truth into the hearts of our children (2 Timothy 3:16). We need not look any further than the infallible Word of God. Once we’ve determined the issue of the heart that drives the outward behavior, we can then address the offense in accordance with Scripture.
Step 3: Training Your Child in Righteousness
It’s never enough to tell kids what not to do; we must teach them what to do. In the book of Ephesians we’re told to “put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Teaching children to “put off” wrong behavior comes naturally for parents, mainly because we find wrong behavior unpleasant, but the key to successful parenting is found in training them in righteousness. It’s equally important, if not more important, that we teach our kids what to put on when we tell them what to put off. This is what training them to walk in the righteousness of Christ is all about.
Each chapter of the book focuses on one particular way children transgress in what they say or how they say it. List the various tongue-related offenses you address and select one to explain how parents should respond to it.
Let’s look at whining. Children who use demanding forms of communication to express their wants and needs are in bondage to their emotions and lack of self-control. An enslaving addiction to whining does not make for a happy child (or parent). Some may assume the Bible does not address whining or how to handle it, but if we look past the outward behavior and seek to address the heart issue, we understand that whining is an issue of self-control. And God has a lot to say about self-control. He compares a person who lacks self-control with a city whose walls are broken down (Proverbs 25:28), and he deems self-control so important that he lists it as a priority virtue (Galatians 5:22-23).
Step One – Ask Heart-Probing Questions
Asking your child heart-probing questions helps her to evaluate her own heart and take ownership for the sin that’s there. You might ask, “Sweetheart, are you communicating with a self-controlled voice?” Granted, she may not answer. However, even if she doesn’t, you’ve still helped her to evaluate her heart and consider her own lack of self-control. She’ll ponder the answer, even if she refuses to verbalize it. If she shrugs her shoulders instead of answering, avoid a power struggle by gently speaking the truth on her behalf: “No, you were not communicating with self-control.”
Step Two – Reprove Your Child for Whining
It’s important to speak calmly so as to model the self-control you desire your child to learn. You might simply say, “Honey, God wants you to have self-control, even with your voice (Titus 2:12). Because you need to learn to speak the right way, I will not discuss this while you’re whining.” Explain to her that not only does God command her to have self-control, but that when she asks him, he’ll empower her to live in accordance with his command. You might say, “Sweetie, did you know God will help you to speak with self-control if you ask him?”
Step Three – Train Your Child to Speak with Self-Control
As a consequence for whining, have your child wait three minutes before communicating with you again. Be sure to explain that it’s love that motivates you to train her. You might say, “Sweetheart, I love you too much to allow you to speak foolishly. Because I want to help you learn to speak with self-control, I’m going to set the timer for three minutes” (you could use a kitchen timer or stop watch). Then explain, “When the buzzer goes off, you may come back and communicate the right way.” It may be necessary to demonstrate the correct way to speak to help your child along. By requiring her to communicate the right way, you’re correcting her for wrong, but, even more important, you’re training her in what is right.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Ginger Hubbard: As a homeschooling mom, it was such a privilege and blessing to be with my children all the time, but there were days when I’d grow weary in trying to be consistent in training them, especially when dealing with some of the same discipline issues over and over. I found the inspiration I needed to keep on keeping on from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” That was my life verse for parenting.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Ginger Hubbard: There’s not a heart big enough to cut and paste into this answer. I use Bible Gateway regularly as a quick reference go-to for locating passages of Scripture. It’s the primary tool I use for writing and preparing for speaking events.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Ginger Hubbard: Parents, be encouraged. God promises that just like when we labor in a garden, we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Through the prompting and power of Jesus, let us keep on sowing the seeds of righteousness. And I can think of no garden as worthy of seed planting than the fertile soil of our children’s hearts. To God be the glory.
I Can’t Believe You Just Said That! is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Ginger Hubbard is a sought-after speaker, an award-winning writer, and the bestselling author of I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!, Don’t Make Me Count to Three!, and Wise Words for Moms. She has spoken at hundreds of parenting conferences, mom’s events, and homeschool conventions across the country. She is a veteran homeschooling mother of two adult children and stepmom to two much-adored stepsons. She and her husband Ronnie reside in Opelika, Alabama. To connect with Ginger, visit her website at www.GingerHubbard.com.
Help your children understand the Bible by becoming more familiar with it yourself. Join Bible Gateway Plus. Try it right now!