Yes, the MA after my name makes me a Ma, and a GrandMa, and in those two roles I?ve learned a lot about good communication, maybe more than in the courses to get my M.A. I hope I?m doing it better now as Grandma than I did as a young Ma, and I hope to communicate biblical principles to young families and grandparents alike about how to better communicate with children.
Sandwich communication works because it follows a model we find in Scripture. It works in the workplace. It works in friendships and marriages. It works especially with children who are so tender and vulnerable to harsh words that seem to characterize our culture.
Some adults seem to have a bee in their mouth, with stinging words pursuing victims. Anger never gets righteous results—results, yes; righteous, no (James 1:19-20). Dishonesty also characterizes our culture, with people saying whatever builds their case rather than what is true (Ephesians 4:25, 2 Timothy 3:1-5). Children are sometimes slapped with labels they don?t deserve, but grow up believing are true because those who supposedly care for them have used them so frequently.
I recently watched a dad in about ten minutes correct his daughter three or four times in a way that left her with a downcast spirit. Her expression said, “Can?t I do anything right?” She finally just said or did nothing; she melted into the wall and disappeared. Results—yes. Good results—no! I?ve seen parents out shopping who corrected a child so harshly in public that I feared for that child in private. Children are our heritage, and are to be corrected for God?s glory, not parental convenience. There is a major difference.
Begin with the Positive
When communicating anything to your child, but especially a correction, begin with a positive. When Christ corrected the churches in Revelation 2-4, He began by telling each of them what they were doing right (2:2, 3, 9, 13, 19; 3:4, 8, 19). Each time we approach our children we need to affirm their positives, what they do well (Ephesians 4:28-29).
I?ve heard parents say, “I don?t want them to become proud….” That statement cannot be used as a justification to violate the principle that everything coming out of our mouth is to be for the building up of another. Let God convict them of their pride, not us as parents and teachers.
Correction means to show the child how to do it better, or God?s way, and to build on what He is already doing right. To the seven churches, the Lord then went on to correct that which needed correction, and the whole discussion ended with an invitation to do what was right (Revelation 3:20-22). What an encouraging model that continues to challenge believers through the ages!
A child is getting his tempera paints all over the place. “You?re so messy; why can?t you do it like Joni?” This message communicates, “You are not as good as Joni; messy is your nature so I guess you?ll never change; your messes are inconvenient for me.”
How could that parent or teacher begin with a positive? Try something that is true, like, “I like the colors you are choosing for your picture! Here, let me give you a paper towel to clean up some of those drips! I can?t wait to see your finished picture!”
The positive approach gets the child?s attention that he is doing something of value to you as well as to him, that he really does have some good qualities even though they may still need some polishing! He is more open to hear the correction that comes in a climate of affirmation.
Time for the Negative (or Correction)
The negative loses its negativity when it is truly correction. I always hated it when a teacher just told me I had it wrong—I still had no clue about how to fix the problem or I wouldn?t have gotten it wrong in the first place. Some children are left feeling that same way by parents. Yes, they know it was wrong, but they still don?t know what to do to correct it. How do you correct being a lazy slob if you’re told that?s who you are? How do you correct a math problem you don?t understand?
Defining the true problem is the first step. Character labels don?t define the problem, they only attack the person?s being, who he is. A child made in the image of God has wonderful potential to change any wrong thing she is doing, and she needs to be reminded of that continuously in the process of corrective sanctification. So a child is not a lazy slob; she is failing to make her bed before breakfast or take out the garbage when asked. That is a problem that can and should be corrected. “This is what I want you to correct and how I want you to do it.”
Finish the Deal with a Positive
Now the negative behavior is being framed first in a positive and also ends in a positive. “You are a strong boy and very capable of carrying your load around our home. We value you as a team member of our family, and we expect you to carry out your share of the work. Because we love you and want to train you for life, we must insist that you do ___by dinnertime, or face the consequences of ___. We are confident you will choose to make a wise choice that honors God and your parents because we have watched you growing in your love and obedience in so many ways.”
This kind of communication quickly reaches the heart of most children (or adults, for that matter). If a child?s spirit has already been deeply wounded, it may take some consistency on your part for the child to respond well. He must come to believe he has intrinsic value because he is made in the image of God and because he can change to become more and more like Jesus in everyday life.
With such hope, this generation of children will truly grow up as a heritage to the Lord, experiencing daily change through the power of God?s Word lived out in the home. Simply taking the time to think about how we communicate to children will make all the difference in the next generation (Ephesians 4:29-32). Daily life with your child or grandchild will give you many opportunities to practice and perfect your new “Sandwich!”
- Ask the children in your life if they feel like you are mad at them: 1) Never 2) Sometimes 3) All the time. Ask forgiveness if it is # 2 or # 3. Remember, man’s anger never produces God’s righteousness (James 1:19-20).
- Recognize that your anger is usually about what is inconveniencing you, not what your child truly needs to correct. He is childish because he is a child. So were you. Give him time and instruction in a few specific changes at a time and praise his progress.
- Keep a “Journal of Corrections” for your children. As you practice this new way to communicate, learn to go to the journal before you approach the child, writing down what is the “Problem to be Corrected.” Then plan the “Sandwich” that you will give your child, first a positive related to what needs correcting or overall positive character you see in him. Then carefully word the Correction in a way that guides him to biblical change for God’s glory. Finish the Sandwich with the Bread of Life, God’s love for him, your love for him and your confidence in his ultimate maturity (Hebrews 12:5-10).
Join the Conversation
How would “Sandwich” communication feed your child nourishment from God’s Word?
Note: This article was originally posted in the Biblical Counseling Center’s e-Counselor’s Weekly Guide. You can read it there at Sandwich Communications.