Create better speech patterns in your children

“Don’t say that!”

How often do we catch ourselves saying this to our children? In my Tips for Moms series, I’m going to give a simple tip we’ve used for the past 28 years with our own children.

Tip #5 – giving our children appropriate speech alternatives.

children expressing respectfully

Do comments like these get under your skin with your children?

  • I want that!
  • I hate you!
  • Why?

I remember when our oldest was little and we began hearing these things from her toddler lips. My husband and I decided that there had to be a better way other than simply saying, “Say that again and you’ll get in trouble.” We began to think of how God responds to us. He tells us in the NT to “put off” something but then He always links it with “putting on” something else! Then we thought of the parable of Jesus concerning the unclean spirit that is cast out of a man in Matt 12:44

“Then it says, β€˜I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.
Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there;
and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

We realized that we didn’t want to just reprove bad behavior for our children, we wanted to build GOOD behavior into our children; to fill them with righteous alternatives. And we didn’t like the “children should be seen and not heard” viewpoint. We wanted our children to have a voice, even if it was to voice discontentment. But we wanted them to learn respectful speech.

How can children learn how to say things in a respectful manner? We had to teach them alternatives!

  • When we would go to the store, it drove me nuts when our children said, “I want XYZ.”

They would begin to escalate in their wants and sound more demanding. But we didn’t want to simply squelch them. So, to give them a voice to mention the fun things they saw, we allowed, “It sure would be fun to have XYZ.” I responded, “Yes, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?” I heard them and validated their interest but it never turned to demandingness or even to discontentedness.

  • “I hate you” was simply NEVER allowed in our home!

It is a lie, they didn’t hate us. They were simply angry with us. So we allowed our children to say, “that makes me angry” or “I’m angry that you are making me do that.” BUT, being angry did not give them freedom to disobey. We allowed them to express their exasperation but didn’t allow them to disobey. There is a difference. After they obeyed, we would sit down and discuss what made them angry. We acknowledged their difficulty and let them know they were heard. Sometimes we even changed how WE did or said things so that we didn’t push their buttons. It’s all part of learning to communicate better to strengthen family dynamics.

  • We have all dealt with the toddler’s “why?”

Sometimes it is said and there is no answer.

“The sun is bright today.”
Um… just because??

But sometimes they are really questioning our authority. When our children were asking why as a response to a command, we didn’t want to just say, “You can’t ask why anymore.” Part of our job is to train them in wisdom, and that means explaining our reasoning to them. But that isn’t the same as giving them carte blanch to question our authority. So, we taught them to say, “OK, Momma. May I ask why?” First we expected obedience and then they could inquire. Sometimes we gave a reason, sometimes we didn’t. But we always wanted them to know they could always ask – not demand, but ask.

How about you? Look at the things your children say. Are they respectful or demanding? Are they mean and bossy or simply stating facts? Can you come up with alternatives for your children to say that would be respectful? Ask God for ideas and teach (and practice) your children to say those instead.


All Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB.
(image courtesy of arztsamui/


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  1. I still have a tendency to say “May I ask why?” instead of just “Why?” To everyone. It gets me some weird looks sometimes πŸ™‚

    • HAHA!!! “You have learned well, grasshopper!”

  2. Yesterday my boys were driving each other and ME crazy. I tried to let them rough house/wrestle out their pent up energy but that didn’t work. So, I sent them outside to shovel snow. I gave my daughter permission to stay inside. My almost 10 yr old (#2 child) wanted to know “WHY DOES ELLIE NOT HAVE TO SHOVEL?!” This child is very concerned that all things be “fair,” which really means he wants to do equal or lesser work than everyone else. So, I’ve started purposely making things “unfair.” I want him to learn to work cheerfully as asked no matter what. Back to his why… usually I try to give reasonable answers, but yesterday it was “Because I said so. I’m the mom. And that’s a good enough reason.” BTW, half an hour of shoveling did miracles for attitudes of 3 boys. πŸ™‚

    • πŸ˜€ Yep, sometimes the answer to their, “May I ask why?” was a simple, “No you may not.” At least the shoveling got done!!

  3. Kate…One of the things we corrected in our children was not to say “yeah” but to say “yes”. We, too, wanted them to speak respectfully and saying “yeah” was not accepted. This is a great post friend. And thank you for hosting. Have a great week.

    • Good one, Naomi, and one we did too! We had them add, Momma or Daddy to the yes.

  4. I like this. A lot. But now to remember and implement this in the heat of annoyance with a whining or disrespectful child! Lord help me!

    Actually, I’m assuming you covered this in a family meeting or something rather than the heat of the moment. We struggle with this. Hubby and I didn’t really grow up with official”family meetings” so it’s something that seems kind of unnatural to us and we often just don’t think about it. Would you be willing to share tips on the best times to share/set rules and guidelines with your children? I’d love to hear about that.

    Thanks Kate! Always appreciate your wisdom gained from “doing the thing” for a number of years. πŸ™‚


    • Tara, so much of what we’ve done has been through looking at how we did it WRONG! For us, we would set up a time for a Family Meeting. In it, we almost always started with confession and asking for forgiveness for being slack with follow through (almost always where we blew it). Asking for forgiveness for not faithfully disciplining them always sort of disconcerted the children! πŸ˜€

      Then we’d lay out the New Program that Kevin and I had prayed about and worked out, along with the consequences. Usually, with the implementation of a New Program, we set up a daily/nightly time of De-briefing. This was a time when we would ask, “So how did it go today?” We’d ask one another and we’d ask the children. These times actually proved very successful in keeping short accounts for how we were learning and following through.

      I hope this is helping to answer your question. If not, please ask further!

      (sorry for the delay on this…we’ve had some trials here and I’ve gotten behind on responding)

  5. I love the wisdom of this post, Kate.

    The concept of “putting on” after “putting off” is so important in our Christian walks and it is a great model for parenting our children and the words they use.

    We never allowed our children to use the word “hate” either. We find that it tends to breed negativity.

    Thanks so much for sharing this excellent parenting tip.

    • Hi Heather…sorry, I thought I was replying to this comment when I responded to a different one of yours! πŸ˜€