Speak the truth in love

honey“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

Ever try out a new recipe on your family? After poring over cookbooks, shopping for ingredients, and chopping, simmering, and stirring all afternoon, wouldn’t you be crushed to hear your husband grumble: What is this stuff? Why’d you have to put mushrooms in it? There’s too much garlic. It’s too runny. It needs salt. This tastes awful!

Even if it were true.

We all know how demoralizing it feels to be squished by a withering comment. We also know the warm glow that embraces us when someone speaks a word of affirmation. It should come as no surprise that our words yield such influence. After all, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

Of course there are times when correction is warranted—daily, in most homes! Beds made in a sloppy hurry. Dishes coagulating in the sink. Careless math errors. A hastily written paper. Backtalk. Do we gently reprove, or do we rebuke harshly?

As a child, when I was pouty, whiny, demanding, or mean, my dad would say, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Dad didn’t know the Lord back then, but he sure understood the scriptural principle about the power of our words:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Prov 15:1

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

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. Proverbs 31:26

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. Ephesians 4:15

A Spoonful of Sugar

A spoonful of sugarWho loves to be broadsided by a two-by-four that’s been spiked with nails of criticism and disapproval? Wouldn’t we rather feel appreciated or told we did something well? And if the medicine of correction is warranted, doesn’t it go down easier with Mary Poppins’ proverbial spoonful of sugar?

Whenever a mom calls our office or sends an email to share her child’s WriteShop paragraph with us, I think in her heart she really wants affirmation that she’s doing this “right.” Inexperienced and intimidated, she mistrusts her ability to teach and edit writing. She isn’t calling me so that I can point out her student’s failings or to find fault with her teaching. She doubts and berates herself quite well on her own! 

No . . . my heart, my ministry, is to encourage her in her role as a homeschooling mom. I want to help her see the things she’s doing well, and to show her that her child IS improving under her guidance and direction. So I always make a point of identifying some of the details I especially like about her child’s composition. This helps her recognize that she’s not such a bad writing teacher after all! And in our conversation, I try to prompt her to look for ways to bless her student’s efforts as well.

The Inkwell and the Honey Pot

It’s not easy to edit or grade a student’s composition. Our inclination is to lash out with our mighty red pens and point out all the mistakes, much like the thoughtless husband who disapproved of his wife’s recipe attempt. You can write better than this. I’ve told you a thousand times to write shorter sentences. It’s too wordy. It’s too vague. Where are your commas? Did you put ANY time into this?

Don’t get me wrong—we have to make corrections if we expect to see his writing improve! But we need to dip our pens in the honey pot too, not just the inkwell, so that when we speak the truth about those errors, we do so in love.

So how do we bring encouragement to our kids when their writing still begs for attention? Before the red pen strikes, we must search for that which is praiseworthy and, upon finding it, offer affirmation. Quoting Abraham Maslow, Dr. James Dobson says, “It takes nine affirming comments to make up for each critical comment we give to our children.”

Nine? I thought I was doing well to sandwich my constructive criticism between only two words of praise! And realizing that it’s just as hard for other parents to think of nice things to say, we actually included a section in our Teacher’s Manual called “Positive and Encouraging Comments,” with over 125 uplifting ways to affirm or gently correct our kids’ writing with sincerity, not false flattery. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Ways to Praise Wisely

What a descriptive narrative!

I love your simile.

Great word choices! My favorite words are shimmering, twinkling, and lustrous.

Excellent use of emotion words. “Ripples of panic down my spine” drew me into your experience and made me feel like I was right there!

You should be proud of yourself–you’re doing a wonderful job.

Ways to Criticize Constructively

This is a solid basic paragraph. Super! Now you’re ready to add more pizzazz and detail. 

I see that you used two similes in a row. Can you reword one?

If you use your sentence variations correctly, you’ll be able to get rid of those pesky “to be” words.

This sentence needs just a bit more description.

You have the beginnings of a strong essay. Now you can work on development of _____ (facts, details, etc.)

So before you correct your child’s next composition, prepare yourself to speak the truth in love: First, pray that the teaching of kindness would be on your tongue. Next, sweeten your lips with honey from the Word. Then you’ll be ready to drench your budding writers in honest praise, correct them in a spirit of love, and watch them begin to soften toward writing.

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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