Tag Archive for power of words

From Complaint to Opportunity in One Word

Words are powerful, both the words we think and the words we speak. The words running through our thoughts influence how we feel about ourselves, the situations around us, and others. The words we speak influence those around us and our selves. For instance, modifying one little word in a sentence can change the sentence from a complaint to an opportunity. “I have to go to the store now” sounds like a death sentence. So does “You have to practice” or “We have to go to church.” But notice how it changes from a burden to an opportunity when we change one simple word. “I get to go to the store now.” “You get to practice.” “We get to go to church.” Simply by changing “have” to “get” the sentences produce different feelings. They change a complaint into an opportunity. They give a sense of anticipation, something to look forward to.

Let me offer another example. “I can’t do this” sounds hopeless. “I can’t make a basket.” “I can’t hit the ball.” “I can’t do math.” They all sound hopeless, deterministic with no chance of growth or change. Consider what happens when we simply had one little word. “I can’t do this yet.” “I can’t make a basket yet.” “I can’t hit the ball yet.” “I can’t do math yet.” Adding “yet” offers hope. It opens the door for the possibility of learning and growing. It presents the opportunity of doing each of those actions in the future, either through maturity, practice, or the gaining of knowledge.

One more example. Consider how these sentences rob us of our agency and fill us with guilt. “I should have eaten an apple instead of the chocolate cake today.” “You should start practicing now.” “I should study more to get a better grade.” “Should” provides a shorthand method of describing a choice we have made or need to make. As shorthand, it does not describe both sides of the choice. It only describes the choice not taken or less desired. By not describing both sides of the choice and not admitting to the choice, we rob ourselves of responsibility and agency. In fact, we often replace responsibility with guilt. And we take away the opportunity to practice the responsibility needed to do it differently in the future. Look how simply rewording these sentences allows for greater personal responsibility and opening up the possibility of doing it differently in the future. “I chose to eat an apple instead of chocolate cake today.” “You can start practicing now.” “I am going to study more to get a better grade.” Do you recognize how these sentences communicate personal responsibility? They open the door for the practice of agency. They proclaim that you have a choice; and your choice makes a difference.

What does this have to do with family? Practicing these subtle changes will make you a happier person—a person more focused on opportunity than complaint, more open to growing, learning, and changing, and more practiced at taking personal responsibility. Your family will be glad for to live with a person who does these things. Who wouldn’t? And your children will learn to do the same. (Read My Children are Copy Cats…Now What? to learn more about children learning from our actions.) They will also grow more focused on opportunity than complaint. They will be more open to growing, learning, and changing. They will practice taking personal responsibility more often.

Parents, Don’t Sabotage Your Children’s Ears

Parents want their children to listen. We want them to listen so we can teach them and keep them safe. But sometimes we sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen.

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by lecturing. Children stop listening when parents go on and on. Instead of listening and learning, they shut their parents out and focus on how their parent could do things differently (AKA— “is crazy). Instead of lecturing, keep it clear and concise, to the point. In fact, you can often boil down what you want to say to one, two, or three words. For example: “Nice words, please.” “Brush your teeth.” “Please help me.”

We sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by giving commands without any education. Children like to “exercise their free will.” (Don’t we all. But when adults do this, we call it “standing up for ourselves.” When children do it, we call it rebellion.) Many times, a little education goes a long way in getting children to listen and learn. So tell your children the reason behind the directive. For instance, “Milk spoils when it’s left out, so we better put it away.” “Glasses break easily.” “Unflushed toilets start to smell.” Statements like these offer the reasons behind our directives and communicate a trust that our children will do the right thing when they have all the information.

We also sabotage our efforts at getting children to listen by neglecting to be polite. We constantly tell our children to say “thank you” and “please” but neglect to give them the same courtesy. Remember, our children learn from our actions. They are more likely to listen when we remain polite. Our children also deserve our respect. When we treat our children with respect, they know they are valued. They are more likely to listen to a parent who has expressed respect and value toward them. So don’t forget the “thank-you’s” and “pleases” when speaking with your children.  “Can you help clear the table please?” “Thank you for watching your sister.”

We sabotage our efforts to get our children to listen by cajoling and persuading rather than giving choices. Cajoling and persuading gives your power to your children. Your children become the ones in control when a parent resorts to cajoling, demanding, and persuading. Many times, parents will then threaten punishment in an effort to re-exert control. Unfortunately, threatening punishment results in a power struggle. Your child digs in their heels and accepts “the challenge.” They “call their parent’s bluff” to see who is really in control. You might avoid this whole power struggle by offering a simple choice. Rather than cajole, persuade, and threaten, calmly offer a choice. This choice may involve a consequence, or it may not. If it does involve a consequence, use a natural consequence—a consequence directly related to the behavior. “Please put on your coat to go out or we can stay in.” “Put your toys away please or they will go into time out for a day.” If the choice involves a natural consequence, state it calmly AND make sure you are willing to allow the natural consequence to occur. If you save your child from the consequences of their actions, you rob them of the opportunity to learn.

These four suggestions may not work every time (nothing does). But they will work much of the time. And you will no longer find yourself sabotaging your efforts at getting your children to listen.

Those Aren’t Fightin’ Words

Every couple has their disagreements. Parents and teens have disagreements as well. Sometimes those disagreements escalate. Emotions flair. Words fly. We say things we wish we had never said. Rather than letting the escalation go that far, try doing or saying something different, something to calm emotions and deescalate the situation. Here are some words to try. Believe me, “these aren’t fightin’ words.”

Even if you disagree:

  • “Good point.”
  • “I’m glad you explained that to me.” “
  • “So, you’re saying that….”

To move into a conversation:

  • “Explain that to me one more time. I want to make sure I understand.”
  • “I’m not sure I really understand. Can you explain it more?”
  • “I understand why you would want that.”
  • “I see. That makes sense now. Have you thought about…?
  • “I hadn’t thought about that before.”

If it starts to escalate:

  • “You’re really passionate about this aren’t you?
  • “I can tell this means a lot to you.”
  • “You sound angry/upset/ frustrated.”
  • “I have trouble listening when you speak that way. Could you speak more calmly (or ‘change your tone’ or ‘lower your voice please’?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed, can we take a break and finish this conversation at (note a time)?”

Good to say at any time…and all the time:

  • “I love you.”
  • “Even if we disagree, we’ll figure it out together.”
  • “I’m glad we’re together.”
  • “We make good team.”
  • “I love you.”

These phrases are what John Gottman calls “repair statements.” They can help calm emotions during a disagreement and keep you on track for a positive resolution. Give them a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Words That Will Build Your Family

Words have power. An ancient king once wrote, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (King Solomon—Proverbs 15:4, NLT). Our relationships are built up or torn down by our words. I want to focus on how words, our words, can build our families up. For instance, our words can make our spouse and children feel welcome in the home. They can promote their sense of belonging. Simple words, like:

  • “I’m glad you’re home from school (work) now. I missed you.”
  • “I have a job that you can really help me with. I know you would be good at it. Will you help me?”
  • “I’m glad we were able to spend this time together. I enjoyed your company.”
  • “I’d love to share an ice cream with you. Do you have time to get some now or would another time be better.”  

Our words also inform our family of their importance to us, that they hold a significant place in our lives. They let our family know how we keep them in mind, even when they are not physically present.

  • “I was thinking about all the fun we’ve had together. Remember when….”
  • “I heard a song on the car radio that made me think of you.”
  • “I remembered how much you like…. So, I picked some up for you on my way home.”
  • “I really had a good time with you last weekend. My favorite part was….”

Words help us repair damaged relationships.

  • “I’m sorry. That was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”
  • “I can understand how you thought that. I really didn’t mean it that way. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Can I try to explain better?”
  • “I forgive you. What you did hurt me, but I love you and forgive you.”

Words also encourage and teach persistence and resilience.

  • “That was even better than last time. Your hard work is paying off.”
  • “That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But we learned a lot that we can use the next time.”
  • “Oops. We all make mistakes. Let’s clean this one up and keep going.”
  • “Sometimes we all need a little help to learn how to do something.”

Words can instill a sense of belonging and value. They repair damaged relationships and nurture relationships. Use them wisely for “wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction” (King Solomon—Proverbs 18:20, NLT).

Two Tips For Better Marital Communication

“That’s all you did today?” With those words the marital conflict began. Heart rates quickened. Pulses started to race. “You never appreciate anything I do around here!” Now both partners started talking over one another. Winning (and thus gaining of sense of safety and control) became the goal of this “heated discussion.” Criticism increased. Defensiveness turned to accusation. Both people jumped to conclusions and both said things they never really wanted to say. Why? Because one statement, perhaps poorly phrased, was misunderstood and triggered the fight or flight response. Their rational brains were no longer running the show. Instead, their “fight-or-flight-to-save-your-butt-brains” were running things. But what could they have done differently? It’s hard to do things differently in the moment of defensiveness and anger. However, there are skills you can practice in the daily life of your marriage that will prime you to make a better response in such a moment. Practicing these two tips with your spouse when you encounter minor disagreements or during everyday conversation can prepare you for a better response in the “heat of the moment.”

First, practice thinking about the words you use when talking to your spouse. Some words come across as privileged, patronizing, or moralizing. For instance, “I need you to…” can come across as though my need is more important than your need, especially in a moment of conflict. It sounds entitled, as though “I” am entitled to having “my” needs met even at “your” expense.

“You should…” is a moralizing statement. It sounds as though the listener is wrong if they do otherwise. It induces guilt. In the words of Albert Ellis, “Don’t ‘should on people.”

“I encourage you to…” sounds patronizing, especially during the heat of an argument. It sounds like a way of saying, “I’m really right and ‘I encourage you’ to take the time to recognize that.”

So, what can you say instead?

  • Try “It would really help me if you could….” Or, “I would like it if you….” These statements offer invitations to possible solutions.
  • You might even try switching the “I” to “we.” “We might need to….” Or, “maybe we could….” These statements recognize that the marital partners form a team with no single partner more important than the other.
  • An even bolder approach is to take ownership for our own part in the conflict and the solution. “I need to….” Or, “tell me again so I can better understand what you mean” are statements that help with this. 

Second, practice recognizing the difference between the content of what your partner says and the relationship message underlying the content. The content merely refers to the topic of discussion or disagreement. The relationship message speaks to the connection between you and your spouse. Many times, a statement about content becomes a misunderstood relationship message because of tone of voice (which may be impacted by mood, tiredness, other people), the context, or the emphasis placed on certain words.

  • For instance, “That’s all you did today?” can easily be misunderstood to mean “You should have done more.” When it might simply mean “I didn’t realize it was such a big job and would take so long.”
  • “You’re home late” can be misunderstood as “You don’t care enough about me to get home earlier.” It might mean “I didn’t realize you would be so late. What happened?”

The only way to know is to check your initial reaction of defensiveness and anger so you can ask for or offer clarification. “Yes, it turned out to be a bigger job than I thought.” “Can I show you how much I did? It’s surprising.” “Sorry, traffic was heavy. I wanted to get home earlier.” “Yeah, I got a last-minute phone call at the office. Did my late arrival mess up any of your dinner plans?”

Think about the words you use and what they might mean during conflict. Recognize the difference between the content of the message and the relationship message inherent in a statement. These are subtle practices. However, paying attention and practicing these two tips can bring reduce conflict and bring greater intimacy to your marriage.

Is There a Hole in Your Marital Roof?

Roofs are important.  More specifically, roofs that don’t leak are important. Roofs with no holes. Roofs that protect. My family and I stayed in a cabin at St. Johns. We liked to eat on the deck. It had no roof, but it really wasn’t a problem until an iguana climbed onto a branch above my daughter and well… “relieved” himself in her cereal. A roof would have been nice.

Or, the time my family and I went camping when I was a kid and it started raining. I mean pouring. It always did when we camped. Of course, we had the tent and a dining canopy to keep us dry. But they were old school and as soon as you touched them, they started leaking. Drip…drip…drip. Drip on my head. Drip on our game. Drip on the table. Yeah, a solid roof would be nice.

Recently my wife and I visited a beautiful location in Cartagena.  They had a nice outdoor dining area. A mango tree grew just outside the walls of the roofless dining area and its branches offered some shade. Nice…until mangoes started dropping off onto peoples’ heads.  Needed to add a roof for protection.

Yes, it’s nice to have a roof…even in your marriage! Paul, a first century Jewish evangelist, tells us that “love bears all things” (I Corinthians 13:7). Interestingly, the Greek word for “bears” (“stego”) means to “cover, to protect.” It’s the verb form of the Greek word for “roof”! In marriage, love is like the roof over our heads. Love takes action to cover, to protect, to preserve. A roof protects the security of our home by keeping weather, animals, and other harmful menaces out of our house. But what does love protect our marriage from? More specifically, what does love protect in your marriage? 

  • Love protects our reputations. Rather than talking trash on a spouse, love lifts a spouse up. Love elevates a spouse to others. Love speaks words of admiration about a spouse. Love does not broadcast a spouse’s shortcomings or mistakes but works first and foremost to resolve them in the private intimacy of their relationship. Love stops the gossip that threatens reputation and seeks the truth that can replace that gossip.
  • Love protects us from hurtful words. Love offers words of blessing rather than words of cursing. It offers words of encouragement rather than words of discouragement. Love does not drown a spouse in impolite, angry words but showers them with words of kindness and love. Rather than criticize and put down, love lifts up and encourages.
  • Love protects from outside forces that interfere with a healthy marriage.  Love keeps those things that do not belong under a marital roof out of the marriage—things like pornography, unhealthy people, and overscheduled lives. Love strives to keep the marriage a safe haven, a place where nothing interferes with a growing love and intimacy.

Yes, a roof protects. It covers. It keeps the unwanted out and enhances safety and security within. It allows us to be vulnerable and grow more intimate without fear of outside factors interfering. Love does the same. Love is the roof over your head.

Parents Be Careful What You Say (AKA, Don’t Give Your Power Away)

Have you ever had “one of those weeks”? I have. We all have. Then, you come home and everything your children do and say becomes a source of irritation. Later, you tell your friend (or maybe you even say it to your children), “They were really pushing my buttons.”  And there it is, a phrase that gives your parental authority away. “You’re pushing my buttons” gives all your parental power to the person pushing your buttons…your children.  It disempowers us and leaves us at the mercy of the “button-pusher.”

A similar phrase with similar results is, “You’re driving me crazy.” Just like “They’re pushing my buttons,” this phrase is often followed by the great “giving in.”  “You’re driving me crazy; just do what you want.” “You’re driving me crazy; go ahead and….” After all, no one likes the “drive to crazy.”  We all want to get off the road as soon as possible, hopefully in what’s left of our “little oasis of sanity.”  Unfortunately, we give away power every time we get to the place of “You’re driving me crazy” and blindly drive right by our desired “oasis of sanity.”  

“You’re pushing my buttons” and “you’re driving me crazy” both give away parental authority and place it squarely in the hands of our children. When we make these statements, we have neglected our own power to manage our “buttons” and our “drive.” We have given our power to our children. And, our children know how to use it. Once they know how to “push our buttons” and “drive us crazy” to get what they want, they will do it over and over again.

Instead of letting the little munchkins “push your buttons” and “drive you crazy,” step back and take a breath. Soothe your own emotions. Realize that your children are not in control of your emotions, you are. Take control of your emotions. Take a break and collect your emotions and get back on the road to sanity…take charge of your buttons.

After you take control of yourself and our emotions, get curious. Begin to wonder, “what is actually going on”? Give an objective description of the situation and what led up to it. Make sure you have an objective description of what your children are doing, what they are asking for, and how they are asking. And, get curious about why your children are approaching you in this manner. Have you taught them this type of interaction? Have you been feeling tired and so been a little distant lately? Are they tired? Are they going through a phase of demandingness? Get curious and get some answers.

Finally, seek a solution. Stay calm. Set a limit. Give a choice. Make a deal. Any number of options may prove a great solution to the particular situation in which you find yourself. Get curious, be creative, and seek a solution. As you take control of yourself, get curious, and seek a solution you’ll find your children “push your buttons” less often. They won’t be “driving you crazy” so much. You will have a greater parental authority allowing you to lovingly respond to crises, demands, and requests that arise.

Listen to Yourself…For Your Kid’s Sake

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Words are powerful.” I’m not the first to say it. Many have said it before and many will say it again. Why? Because it’s true…words are powerful. Words shape our world. They shape our families. They shape our children and our children’s thought patterns. If we constantly call our children “lazy” or “selfish,” we will see them as such. On the other hand, if we call our children “funny” or “caring,” we will see them as “funny” and “caring.” In other words, the way we see our children is shaped by the words we use to describe them.

The words we use to describe our children also impact how they begin to see themselves. When we speak of our children as “lazy,” they begin to see themselves as “lazy.” When we speak of them as “caring”, they begin to see themselves as “caring.” As you can see, the way we talk to and about our children has a huge impact. That means we need to listen carefully to our words. We need to listen to hear what kind of message our words communicate to and about our children. Hear are some words to listen for…and change.

  • Name calling. Everyone knows name calling has a negative impact on children. But name calling can also be made in subtle statements. “Don’t be stupid” is a subtle way to call someone “stupid.” “Don’t you every think” is paramount to calling someone “stupid” or “careless.” “Do you ever do anything but sit around?” is really calling someone “lazy.” “Your room is a pigsty” sounds a lot like calling your child a “pig.” Not only are such statements disrespectful, they don’t create a desire to change. Instead, they can lead to resentment, self-deprecation, and hopelessness. Why not simply say what you mean in clear, respectful language? Instead of saying “Don’t be stupid” ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how their actions will accomplish it. Rather than accuse them of “always sitting around,” help them think about activities they can do. Don’t just label the “room a pigsty,” tell them to clean it up, give reasons you want them to have a clean room, and explain the consequence of not cleaning their room. You are more likely to get the results you want. You will also teach your children respect and communication at the same time. (Read The Power of Words for more the impact of words.)
  • “You’re such a smart girl (boy).” Global labels like smart, clever, or good hinder your children’s progress. They often lead to children becoming less persistent and even doubting themselves (Build Your Child’s Success Mindset). Instead, ask your children what they did to achieve that grade or how it felt to accomplish that task. Focusing on effort and the results of effort leads to children who are more persistent and adventurous.
  • “Because I said so.” Let’s face it…it’s just more respectful to offer a reason for a limit, request, or rule rather than simply expect blind obedience. We don’t want our children to respond with blind obedience to all demands and requests they receive. We want them to think for themselves. Learning the “why” behind rules will help them internalize healthy rules and learn to think for themselves. So, rather than simply say “because I said so,” offer an explanation that your children will understand. (Read Because I Said So to learn an excellent alternative to the statement “Because I said so.”)
  • “Calm down” or “quit crying before I give you something to cry about.” Both statements minimize and dismiss children’s emotions. It teaches them to deny their emotions. And, no one ever responds to “quit trying” with “You’re right. I really have nothing to cry about so I’ll just stop right now, smile, and be happy.” You can help your children learn to manage emotions by teaching them to label emotions rather than dismiss emotions. When children learn to “name it” they can “tame it” when it comes to emotions. Talking helps them calm down.

Listen to yourself over the next week. Do you say any of the four statements described above? If so, work at replacing them with better alternatives. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make for your children and your relationship with your children!

Speak Spring Into Your Marriage

I love spring. After the long, cold, and dark winter, spring is so invigorating. Daylight pushes the night back as the warm sun peeks through the trees. The air warms. Grass turns lush and green. Trees bud, blossom, and fill in the empty spaces between branches. Squirrels scurry to gather provisions hidden through the winter. “Butterflies flutter by.” Birds sing as their eggs hatch. I love spring.  It invites us to open our doors and let fresh air fill our homes. It calls us to walk among the blooming colors and play in the green grass with those we love.

Did I say I love spring? Well, I do. In fact, I want the environment of spring to fill my home and surround my family all year long. I know outdoor seasons change but I also know how to keep spring in my family’s heart all year round. And, you can do it too! It’s simple really. All you need to do is commit to this one action every day. At most it will take a couple of minutes, but it will bring the fresh air of spring flowing into your home and the blush of new blossoms adding beauty to your relationships. One action for a happier spring-like atmosphere in your home. Here it is:

Every day commit to praising each family member for something they did during the day. Catch each person doing something right and tell them so. Offer them praise. Focus the praise on one specific act you witnessed during the day.

That’s it. Simply offer a word of praise or gratitude to each family member every day. Sounds simple, but “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Solomon-Proverbs 18:21). Use your tongue to offer a specific praise to your spouse, parent, and each child daily and you will bring the new life of spring into your home and family!

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

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