The Power of Politeness

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."--Ephesians 4:29 I have always felt a twinge of guilt when I find myself speaking harshly to my children or ordering them around. A little voice in the back of my head always seems to ask me, "Would you dare speak like that to your neighbor? to your friends at church? Or even to the clerk at the grocery store?" You know the answer as well as I do. Then why do I think it is okay to bark commands at my children---and then wonder why my kids are so ungrateful to me?

A couple of days ago, I was reading the book Caps for Sale by Esther Slobodkina to Jonathan. If you haven't read it before, it is a delightful story about a peddler whose caps are "stolen" by a bunch of monkeys. In his efforts to get them back, he scolds them, stomps his feet and yells at increasingly more agitated levels. The monkeys copy his every move (Jonathan's favorite part). Finally, he gets so mad, he throws his own cap down. You can probably guess what happens. The monkeys copy him and throw their caps down...and that is how he gets all his caps back.

As I was reading this book for the hundredth time, the thought struck me: the monkeys copied not only the peddler's negative behaviors but the desired behavior as well. The peddler got his caps back because they did what he modeled (albeit unwittingly) to them.

This is the same way with our kids. When I was teaching preschool or when we have our kids' friends over, I always smile when I hear them talk like their parents. It's a natural thing to do. (Hmmm, I wonder what my kids sound like when I'm not there!) They will parrot back what they hear most often. Monkey hear, monkey say.

When I start ordering my kids around like an army seargant, I can be sure to hear the same thing coming from their mouths later on. I cannot tell you how many times my words have come back to bite me. But on the flip side, when I have consciously made the effort to speak words that build up my children, specifically the simple words like "Please" and "thank you", I have found that it also affects the tone of my home. Whether it is a regular chore faithfully accomplished or a special effort at helping around the home or even an assignment well done, I have found that my "wholesome words" reap great benefits.

Although we may not want to hear this, the fact is this: As mothers, we have incredible power to shape and direct our children's speech, actions, and behaviors simply by modeling it in our own lives. Perhaps that's the catch. We want kids who behave but don't want to set the example for them. But I think that is the honest truth. If we want kids who speak wholesomely, they need to hear it from us first.

It is hard to say those words, especially if they don't come naturally or if we don't think they deserve it. But do it anyway. I have found that saying "thank you" to my daughter when the atmosphere is tense between us has done much to help ease the tension. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Simply saying thanks is a way of acknowledging that what they have done is important. Likewise, prefacing our requests with "please" helps us to treat our children like they are humans, not servants.

Whether our kids respond or not is not the issue. The fact is that God calls us to be examples and models for our kids. I believe that when we set the standard high, starting with ourselves, we help prepare our children to be the salt and light in the world that God wants them to be.

Little words, big impact.