Have you ever considered some of the things that come out of your child’s mouth as inappropriate verbal behaviour.  Once I started seeing it this way – a behaviour – I was able to start thinking through some parenting strategies to help my child communicate better.

A mother’s ears are incredible – at the same time of hearing everything we can also tune out what we don’t want to hear. Inappropriate verbal behaviour gets established in our children’s lives because we don’t hear it. It is like the electricity running through a fridge – we don’t hear it – it is background noise, but then circumstances change and we actually hear how loud it is. (like in the middle of the night – or when the fridge dies we hear what is no longer happening!)   Though there are benefits to being able to tune out to our kids it doesn’t help us in the times when our children’s noise is inappropriate.

We tend not to hear until it has become an established form of communication. Our children need training in how to use their voice as much as they need training in using their hands.   Our mouth is able to communicate such complexities:  love, hate, joy, sorrow, life, death.   Of course, not all that we say is appropriate.


The key is: There are two kinds of inappropriate communications directed towards parents:  self-control issues and heart issues.


Children of all ages can express their feelings, desires and conversation in inappropriate ways. These expressions will change as they grow older, please don’t think this is a toddler issue, or a teenager issue – verbal behaviour is something that needs to be trained, practised and monitored throughout life. To be honest – have you ever said something inappropriate – I sure have; which just shows it is a lifelong discipline and we need to establish our children in good practices now.

After brainstorming different types verbal behaviour have come up with a list of around 20 different expressions. Some of them are self-control issues and some of them are heart issues. Some will be expressed by toddlers, some by teenagers. The idea of listing these is so that we can start to tune in our ears and address these things for what they are.

Heart-based verbal behaviour will look like:

  • Temper tantrum – yelling, squealing
  • Manipulation / Control – I don’t love you anymore!
  • Arguing, questioning, debating, negotiating, pleading

Self-Control verbal behaviour will look like:

  • Inside / Outside voice – whispering
  • Name calling – unkind words
  • Whinging
If you want help in discerning between heart and self-control, download my free cheat sheet that lists different ways our kids communicate. 

If we are not careful, we can make any issue an obedience issue.  So I have tried not to come at these verbal issues from that perspective, but rather by considering the contexts that I think of when I think of kids practising these things, what is the state of their heart. You may think of different contexts, different examples when you think of these things and you may decide it is a self-control issue whereas I thought it was a heart issue. That is quite okay – the purpose is that we start to hear what is going on and to do something about it!


General overview of how to deal with inappropriate verbal behaviour:

1–Know what is appropriate in your house, for each child (what is appropriate changes as our children grow and mature – keep this in mind.)

2–Teach and train to the standard – be consistent (remember that background hum – we want to tune in so we can help our children respond to people and life appropriately)

3–Know your consequences – make sure your consequences are helping your children learn to respond more appropriately.


General guidelines for self-control verbal behaviours:

1–Model encouraging communication each time you speak to your children – how you deal with frustrating circumstances and disappointments will have an impact on your children.

2–Consider influences in their life, are they mimicking peers? TV characters? Etc

3–Teach self-control as a character trait – Teach them to stop, think, act.  One verse we introduced to our kids was “Anger does not produce the righteousness of God” James 1:20.

4–Don’t address every inappropriate verbal behaviour at once.  Choose the one issue that is bothering you the most – and teach and train that issue.  For all the others – simply remind them and get them to try to communicate appropriately.

5–Arrange their day so that we keep them functioning to the best of their ability – according to their moral and developmental growth.  When their activities match their ability to show self-control, we will have less verbal explosions to deal with.

6–Keep your children playing where you can see them, this way you can step in and help them when they are about to lose their self-control.  We help them by showing them how to respond appropriately, and as they get older we can help them see the decline in their self-control, and give them the tools to deal with it themselves.


General guidelines for dealing with heart-based verbal behaviours:

1–Don’t get into power play – remove them (or yourself) until they have stopped being so vocal.  There is no success in speaking to an angry or upset child.

2–When they stop the outward expression of their inner turmoil, address the heart – try to understand what is going on.

  • For very young children, often isolation, and a reminder to have a happy heart will bring about change
  • Remind them of their choice – good response, bad response, happy voice, grumpy voice
  • For older children, after they have had a change of heart you need to talk to them about what was going on and how they can respond more appropriately the next time

3–There may still be consequences: just because a child has calmed down, doesn’t mean there isn’t any consequence – but the consequence has to be to help them learn something.  This is where we need to think deeply – what was in their heart that drove them to respond that way?  Was it insecurity? Self-centeredness? Fear or Anxiety?  Yes, they need to learn to respond appropriately, but we need to help them deal with the inner issues as well.

4–If your child is struggling with a particular response to life deal with it on its first show every day. (Continue addressing their heart throughout the day, but listen for that first time and be onto it)

5–Make sure you teach them an appropriate way to deal with the things that upset them.  Often this is best done, before an issue arises – look for opportunities to teach them before they need that lesson.


These expressions of communication (whining, negotiating, threatening, squealing etc) are learned behaviour – the reason the children practice them is because they work! It doesn’t take them long to realize that when they go on and on at us we will cave in. Or if we get frustrated enough we will give them our full attention. It works – else they wouldn’t use it!

The way our children communicate is an insight into their heart

We cannot afford to tune out, and just hope one day they will not be as loud.  We only have to think of our own forms of communication – when our heart hurts we have less control over our tongue – the same goes for our kids.  We need to help them in this area – not just punish them for making noise, but really address the heart issue and give them the tools so that they can communicate their delight and pain in helpful ways for the rest of their life.

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