A Critical Spirit – Part 2

Last month we were discussing a critical spirit. We started with evaluating the results of having a critical spirit and speaking critical words. If you haven’t read that article, it can be found here.

Several of the responses to the July Mom’s Corner generated a desire in my heart to take the order of the information in this series differently than I had originally planned so that it practically addresses the issues with which you are dealing. The main question that came in concerning being critical was along these lines: “How can a mother raise her children for the Lord Jesus Christ without constantly criticizing them?”

Here are a couple of those e-mails:

“I loved this month’s Mom’s Corner.

I’ve never considered myself to be habitually critical, but I find myself lately being more and more so! Where did this come from? I am eagerly waiting for next month’s Corner to learn how to gain victory over it. I am especially interested in your thoughts on it regarding the mother’s role in correcting children . . . especially recurring issues that tend to lead to nagging.” Sandy

“I just recently read your July Mom’s Corner. Thank you for choosing such a great topic for me as I seem to struggle much in this area. It seems that every night I go to bed and ask the Lord’s forgiveness for nagging and discouraging my children. I also beg for a new day with a new approach tomorrow. And so the cycle continues with not much difference, unfortunately. I have posted verses in my kitchen window and like I said prayed often. How discouraged I am. But I also can’t seem to figure out what to say to encourage children who are NOT trying very hard and are NOT doing all to the glory of God. It feels very false to find something to encourage in those moments. Any thoughts on this? What do you say when the effort is just not put forth and their attitudes are poor? Thank you for your time.” Carrie

As Christian mothers we desire to raise our children as Ephesians 6:4 tells us, “ . . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In this process, we know that it will be necessary to correct our children, point out what they have done wrong and what they have neglected to do. Certainly as we do this, our children are the last ones we would ever want to discourage through criticism because we love them so very much. Instead we have the goal to encourage and spur them on as they grow not only in stature but also in wisdom. Yet like Carrie, when we teach, correct, and perhaps discipline for the same offenses over and over, we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle of frustration, criticism, repentance, prayer, hope, and then failure again.

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands” (Proverbs 14:1). Perhaps as we consider overcoming a critical spirit toward our children, we could think of this verse as reminding us that we will either build up or pluck down our families with our words.

What would be the difference between criticism and the admonishment we are biblically directed to give our children? Do you remember the definition of criticism? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is, “to find fault with; point out the fault of,” but the definition of admonishment is, “to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to.” Criticism negatively states the fault while admonishment positively moves the child away from the problem and toward the solution. There is a huge difference in these two not only in the words that are used but also in the attitude behind the communication.

Observe the difference between a critical mom and an admonishing mom. Here are the type of words that can come from the frustrated mother. “How many times have I told you to take out the trash? You never listen to what I say. How will you ever grow up to be a responsible man if you can’t even take out the trash? You’d better get this trash out now!” Can you see the tearing down effect of these words on the child’s heart? Do you almost get a feeling of vengeance?

There is a definite tone of voice with this conversation that communicates to the child the level of his mother’s unhappiness. These words are personal attacks on the child, leaving him without direction or hope, just a feeling of failure. She also undermines her goal of helping her child be responsible because she doesn’t assign him a consequence.

Let’s hear from the admonishing mom. “Son, you have the responsibility to take out the trash. Since you haven’t done it, you need to stop what you are doing, and do it now. I am also giving you lunch cleanup alone as a consequence for not doing your chore. It is important that you grow up to be a responsible man. That starts right now by learning to do the things that are assigned to you to do. Colossians 3:17 says, ‘And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ Do you know that would mean even when you take out the trash you are doing it for the Lord and in His Name? It is to be your best for Him. I know you can do that.”

This mom maintains a gentleness to her words and interactions with her son even if this is the tenth time that week she has had this same conversation with her child. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). That tone of voice encourages the child rather than discourages him.

Proverbs 16:21 tells us that “. . . the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.” When we correct a child, our aim is that he would learn something from our words. Therefore, it is imperative that we choose not to allow those tones to creep into our words of correction but rather keep them gentle, pleasant, and sweet.

Next we can see that she gives her child a consequence. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Mom isn’t critical, angry, or harsh with her child. She simply tells him his consequence and waits patiently for the rest and delight to her soul that is to come from her correction. That may be a work that is awhile in the process.

A tool that we recommend to help you with consequences is the If/Then Chart. The theory behind the If/Then Chart is to tie a specific Scripture to actual wrong behavior along with a consequence. On the chart are offenses children can be guilty of committing, a verse for why that behavior is unacceptable, and a consequence that the parent has chosen. Then when something happens, all Mom has to do is go to the If/Then Chart rather than having a critical attitude or critical words for her children. Consistent correction will help the child overcome the problems that are instigating the critical spirit in the mom.

While the admonishing mom definitely points out what her child didn’t do, she gives no judgment about the past or the future. She doesn’t sound disappointed in her child, but instead holds out the expectation that it will be better for him in the future.

How about another example. Two sisters are squabbling over a toy loudly enough that Critical Mom becomes involved saying, “Stop it, right now! Just stop it! You two are supposed to be best friends, but you act like worst enemies. I am sick and tired of listening to you fight with each other. You know better than to act like that. Won’t you ever learn to get along?” Those critical words might stop the quarreling temporarily, but they aren’t going to be the impetuous for lasting change.

Let’s move our attention once again to Admonishing Mom. “Girls, I am sorry that you aren’t nicely sharing the toys. You will need to sit on a dining room chair for five minutes. Then you can try again. Remember Ephesians 4:32 tell us, ‘And be ye kind one to another . . .’ If you don’t share with each other, you are not being kind. When the timer goes off, you may return to your room where I am sure you can both be nice to each other by sharing your toys.” Here we observe pleasant words, a consequence, Scripture to back up the positive behavior, and the hope that they will be successful next time.

Try having a biblical plan to help you overcome critical words. That plan would include sweetness of the lips, consistent consequences, and words of encouragement rather than despair. I even suggest that you practice in front of your bathroom mirror each day a couple of interactions with a child who needs to be corrected. I think that will help gentleness become the norm over criticism. Next month I would like to delve into the spiritual roots of criticism, but my prayer this month is that these practical suggestions will start not only Sandy and Carrie toward their goal of avoiding the trap of criticizing their children but also you as well.