“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” — James 1:19
I personally believe that these words are some of the most difficult to have ever been commanded. I try and try to listen first and speak second. I try to see things from the others perspective, to squash my anger before it begins, and to respond with a loving heart. I try and try and I fail.
I do not think I would be speaking out of turn to say this is true of everyone. Good listening skills and a tamed tongue are skills we seek after. In interacting with others, they are traits we admire and desire to see within ourselves. But are we using this same passage to inform the way we interact with children?
Many people feel completely justified in speaking to children in ways they would never speak to another adult. We are often disrespectful and angry in our responses and do not take the time to truly listen when they have something to say. We take James 1:19 and tack on a “unless your children are being really annoying. Then, get as frustrated as you want.” We unwittingly operate under the belief that since we have the authority over children, we are therefore more important; they should listen to us even when we don’t listen to them. And since children seem to come programmed with advanced intel on how to best annoy us, we feel warranted in our anger and frustration.
Please do not misunderstand me and think I am saying we should treat children the same way we treat other adults. Children need to be guided and taught how to respect authority. God’s command to “honor your mother and father” is repeated over and over in Scripture, and parents have an immense responsibility to teach this obedience and respect. Yet we are hindering this message when we teach respect, yet do not model it.
Children watch everything we do. And the WAY in which we speak to them matters almost as much as the words we say. If we show a disinterest in listening to what they have to say, we are demonstrating to them that what they have to say is of little importance and we do not care about it. This is modeling the very behavior we are trying to convince them in unacceptable! When they do something that gets under our skin and we respond with anger, we are demonstrating that while we find their tantrums unacceptable, we are free to have our own. This hypocritical attitude often becomes “do as I say, not as I do” without us even realizing it. And it greatly impacts our ability to teach and guide them towards a loving God.
Instead, let us be encouraged by using this same passage in James to influence our relationships with children. Let kids learn how to control their anger through watching your own self-control. Allow them to hear what respectful speech sounds like when they listen to you. Give them an example of what a good listener looks like by modeling for them the very behavior you hope to cultivate. We should never forget how much children learn from us when we aren’t trying to teach them.