The War of Words

Ending the responses that trigger the conflict between you and your children

When your children were young, you spoke words of life into their little beings. They cooed and you cooed back. You had no intention of ever berating your babies. Even if you yourself were raised in a home full of heated arguments, explosive and loud, you never intended to pass that legacy down. In those early years you held great hope that your family would build each other up with your words.

But since the start of those “terrible twos,” a battle of words has raged between you and them; amongst siblings in backseats, and teenagers with backtalk. It started with simple “No, Mommy, no…” when changing diapers or serving peas, but before long, toddler lips pursed in negative words grew into loud yelling matches. And you’re plain worn out from the warring and the shame. You want to retreat, but their constant bantering sets you off faster than anything else. It’s your trigger —Kaboom! You bring out the big guns and end the skirmish with a few choice words, because your voice is the loudest.

… We steal the show with our own fit throwing.

The problem with this battle strategy is that when we attempt to discipline them with our own aggressive voices, we usurp the teachable moments. In other words, we steal the show with our own fit throwing. Think of it this way: When our children do wrong and we stay calm and controlled, they know that they’ve done wrong. They do! They know it down to their convicted little cores! There is power when we bend down, touch their shoulders, and look them in the eyes. “That wasn’t a nice thing to say; can you try again?” However, when we exchange angry words for angry words, nasty face for nasty face, slamming door for slamming door, and tear them down with our words because they tore us down with theirs, they will never feel remorse for their own actions.

I think this is what God means in Romans 2:4: “…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” When we learn to parent like God parents us, out of a calm and stable sense of our own authority, our children have the holy opportunity to experience true repentance. They feel a healthy heartache over it and take ownership of their sin in the quiet spaces that we don’t demolish with our loud and constant nagging. What a gift we give them when we stay in control. What a gift we forfeit when we blow up and talk back to their backtalk.

“Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!” (Proverbs 15:23, NLT)

Yelling back at them when they yell is never the right thing at the right time. And so today I am encouraging you to slow down and to make a plan, that you might see the moments when they backtalk not as invitations to fight, but as opportunities to lead them kindly to repentance.

Unfortunately, the right response to their wrong behavior doesn’t just happen by accident. Before you react, you need to consider the right response. I have chosen, in moments void of conflict, to craft a few phrases to use when their words are full of venom. Words like, “Son, I know that you don’t want to fight with me. So when you are ready to talk, I am ready to listen.” Similarly, “Buddy, God didn’t make me to fight you.” Of course, this doesn’t immediately quench their anger, so often I firmly tell them, “I need you to spend some time in your room so that we don’t hurt our relationship with our words. Please stay there until I come to you. Then you will have a chance to tell me what’s on your mind in a kind way.”

I’ve made a commitment to the Lord, to myself, and to my family to not engage in the battle any more.

I believe that when our kids do wrong… we can still do right. But, again, it’s not going to happen on its own. Start by pinpointing a few of your most recurring triggers, then figure out what you mean to say before you say something mean.

Of course, this is often harder than it sounds. When your kids are all amped up and ready for a fight, they often push through our gentle firewall with more back-talking reasons why they won’t go to their room. Or they go and come immediately out with equally loud reasons why they are right and you’re an ogre! But I’ve made a commitment to the Lord, to myself, and to my family to not engage in the battle any more. So I walk them back to their room and repeat myself, “I will not fight you. I will talk with you in a little bit. Please wait for me.”

In the quiet that follows, remind yourself that it is not our job to strangle them into submission. We can only navigate our own free choices, not control theirs. You can only hold captive your own tongue, leading by example, training them to do likewise, but you cannot badger them into repentance. Lord knows I’ve tried!

I have received letters from exasperated dads and moms shocked by their anger and the ease with which curse words and shaming blows flow out of their hearts. Parents are desperate for change— but we must be more desperate to change our own hearts than to change our children. From cover to cover in our book, Triggers, we take a brief look at 31 of the most common things our children do wrong—those things that trigger our explosive responses. However, instead of focusing our attention on how to get our kids to behave so that we don’t have to get angry, we invite the Lord to tell us about our own hearts.

Do we want to see our children obey? Of course! Are we prayerful that their words will be gentle and honoring? Absolutely. But we can’t force peace to well up within them and spill out over their lips. That’s not our job. We can only control our own tongues, as we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. God promises when we abide in Him and He abides in us, we will bear His fruit in our lives. One of those big-juicy pieces of fruit is self-control. God never promised us others-control, only the ability to control ourselves with the help of His Holy Spirit. 


“Dear Lord, slow me down. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, slow me down that I might consider my words carefully. Empower me to build my loved ones up, even when they are attempting to tear the rest of us down in their own emotional angst. Let there be peace in our home, and let it begin with You at work in me. For it is no longer I who live, but You Who lives and speaks from within me. I want to respond as You would respond, rather than react in my flesh. Amen.”

This article is an excerpt from Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Words for Gentle Biblical Responses, by Wendy Speake and Amber Lia. If you struggle with anger each time your children act childishly, we recommend you grab a copy.

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