I’m sure all parents would agree that our children test our patience, frustrate us and yes . . . even get on our nerves sometimes. If that hasn’t been your experience, please enlighten us all on how you do it. For me personally, I don’t think anyone has tested my patience more than my own children.

Of course, I love them, adore them, and think they’re the smartest and most gorgeous humans on earth. But there’s something about loving someone so fiercely that permits them to easily get under your skin.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

But in those moments when our frustration takes over, one thing we should always guard are the words we speak concerning our children—both when they are present and even in their absence.

Yes, we all need a safe place to vent. We all need a judgment-free parent community (that might even just consist of one person) who we can open up to about what we’re going through with our children. Yet everyone has not earned, nor is everyone worthy of, a seat at our kitchen table as we dive deep into that space of vulnerability.

One of our responsibilities as parents, is to guard our children. And in guarding them, that also means, omitting negative speech concerning them.

This can even be as subtle as countering a compliment regarding our children. At one point I noticed that every time someone complimented my children, I’d attempt to neutralize it.

Your son is so handsome.
Yes, but he’s such a handful.

Your daughter is so smart.
And she knows it, too.

I realized that my discomfort with compliments was a learned behavior that was placing my children in a negative light. And as parents, we should respect our children more than that.

Even if some of our frustrations are valid, speaking those thoughts about our children isn’t always the most helpful. For instance, when responding to your child, it might be helpful to ask ourselves: what is my goal in saying this? If the goal is to make them feel as bad as you currently feel in that moment, fire away. But if that’s not your goal, it might be helpful to keep quiet until you’ve formulated a response that communicates the depth, resilience, and eternity of your love for them.

Words hurt. Words especially hurt when they come from a parent. If a child hears a parent talking negatively about them, their brain could begin to process that as being unaccepted, unlovable, and unwanted.

In our adult brains, we know that’s not the case, we’re just frustrated. But the processing ability of a child or teen doesn’t understand it like that. Especially if it happens consistently. Children might not have the language to articulate it in that capacity, but it will be played out in many other ways. And what does this do? It creates unhealthy negative cycles.

If we’re engaging in more negative than positive talk about our children, perhaps we should figure out why. What is it that you believe to be true about them? Maybe it’s time to change what you believe. Because what you believe about them is likely who they will become. That’s how powerful your words are. This week, let your kids overhear you saying positive things about them.

One of the best ways to fight for the heart of your kids is in the way you talk about them while they are in the room, but also while they are not.