4 Things We Say But Children Hear Differently

We tell our children certain things and what we think we tell them might be different than what they actually hear us saying.

No One’s Home

When one child answered the phone, the father looked at him and lip-synced “I’m not at home” so he told the person on the phone that his dad is not there. Of course that wasn’t true. The child was looking right at his dad when he lied for him on the phone. What did this tell the child? It told the child that lying is okay in some circumstances, like when you didn’t want to be bothered. The father didn’t intend to teach the child that, but that’s the way the child thought “It’s okay to tell a lie, and especially if it’s something we don’t want to do. The father never said that, but by his actions and words, that’s what he was teaching his son, whether he realized it or not. It’s true that more is caught than taught, so what the father thought was just a way to get out of a phone conversation was a lesson for the child: “Lie if you don’t want to do something….it’s okay, dad does, so why shouldn’t I?” Dad said this but the child hear something totally different.

Lousy Driver

When driving home from church one day, the family had to stop for a train, and it was a long, long wait. They sat there for about 20 minutes and then the train finally moved, but there were huge amounts of traffic backed up. The bumper to bumper traffic made the trip home longer. The kids were all hungry by now and starting to get fussy and the father was trying to get home as soon as possible, but the slow drivers in front of him started to aggravate him. Finally, he started creeping closer to the car in front of him, and in fact, so close that it appeared the bumpers might touch…and the father couldn’t pass because of the oncoming traffic from the other direction, so he started yelling at the driver in front of him, and started calling them names. That’s when it got quite in the car. The children could tell their dad was angry and everyone in the car was afraid to make a sound. It was a long drive home that day, but what happened was the children may have learned that when they’re faced with problems, like heavy traffic, they can lose their temper like dad.

Roasted Preacher

All too often we have people for dinner instead food, and instead of inviting people to dinner, we have them for lunch. For example, one man who had gone out with some other people after church started ranting on the pastor and his message. It was obvious to everyone at the table that the man thought the pastor was not doing a very good job. One woman finally stood up for the pastor and said she hates to have “Roasted Preacher” for lunch every Sunday. She was right. It’s not good that we talk badly about people behind their backs. In fact, it’s one of the most unloving things we can do. When we talk negatively about people who are not there, and are not there to defend themselves, we are only hearing one side of the story, so when we speak badly about other people who are not there, this tells children that it’s normal to “talk trash” about people who are not in their company, even if they might deserve our respect (and they do). It’s fine to talk encouragingly about others, but when it’s negative, it’s like telling our children, “We talk about people we don’t like to others, but not in front of them.” The parent might think there’s no harm in saying, “Can you believe so and so said that” but the child hears, “If you don’t like someone, tell everyone you know.” What we say is not always what children hear.

I Love You “If”

We can so easily get caught up into making our love conditional. One example is when a child is told “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” when they get good grades, but then express disappointment when the child doesn’t do as well. The child might see that the love of their parents is tied to their achievement (in this case, their grade cards), and this sends a message to the child, “If I don’t do well in school, my parents won’t love me.” Sadly, many children grow up feeling that way, but parental love should not be conditioned on a child’s performance. The child might not say it, but they might begin to see that if they don’t perform with excellence, then the parent won’t love them or the parents won’t love them as much as they would if the child did “better.” We might think we’re doing good to shower our children with praise after getting an “A’s” but then if we shrug our shoulders if they get B’s and C’s, we’re saying our love is conditional on their performance. Don’t let this happen because the child will feel that love is earned and not a free gift, just the oppose of what the Bible teaches.


Children and grandchildren pick up a lot more than we realize. They are seeing and watching us all the time. You might say one thing but then do another, but the child will learn more from what you do than what you say. Action does speak louder than words, for good and for bad, so make sure you speak the truth, try to suppress your anger, not make your love conditional on a child’s performance, don’t speak or gossip about others negatively, especially when they’re not there, and remember that more is caught that taught. Children can’t hear what we’re saying if our actions are drowning out our words.

May God richly bless you,

Pastor Jack Wellman

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