Using Words That Reach Our Children

Brian Holloway is a Stanford All-American and five-time NFL All-Pro. He excelled as the team captain of the 1985 New England Patriots AFC Championship Team. In 1986, at age 26, Holloway was one of the principal architects of the NFL's growth strategy that produced a landmark $18 billion TV contract in 1998. Look for his distinguished football accomplishments to be recorded in the Pro Football's Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame coach and NFL dynasty-crafter Bill Walsh calls Brian "A true champion. A playmaker and a leader that calls out the best in people." He is also the father of 10 children, grandfather of 7, and my personal best friend.

In our current political climate, how do you prepare your kids for the crazy world of social media? How do you convince them not to join in with hurting others online?

Currently, our traditional media outlets—whether online or on TV—are all looking for ratings. Unfortunately the highest ratings are coming from a tabloid style of communication; instead of reporting the news, they are just creating a sensation.

That’s why you can sometimes find more about what’s going on in the world through social media. Even things released from the government and White House may be smoke screens, so that we don’t react to what’s actually going on behind the scenes. That might just be what we have to live with from now on.

It’s an important time to look to the Bible, to the Word of God, to really see the state of the world and also of ourselves. What am I broadcasting as an individual through my life? On social media?

Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light (Luke 11:33, ESV).


So as a father, it sounds like you have to help your kids focus on speaking hope and life into other people.

I’ve raised my kids in such a way that they see the benefits, the opportunities, and the healing that can happen in the lives of other people because of God’s word. They will receive a bigger future because of this hope that they have from God.

The words that we use matter. Young children are labeled by their parents and by their father. When a dad is present in his daughter’s life—and modeling what a young man should do—she has an entirely different expectation of what relationships should be like. A young girl without a present father in her life spends her time pressing against and running past boundaries, fighting in anger against the father who isn’t in her life and perhaps was never in her life.

Are you modeling how to speak life into other people?

I’ve been doing this a lot with my kids: I repeat back to them what they’re saying. So when I’m talking to my children, I’ll say, “Let me be sure I understand what you’re saying.” Then I repeat what they said and I say, “Is that what you’re saying?”

Another thing I’ve done is to create a code word for each one of my children. This is a word they can say if they are feeling really disconnected from me, if they think I’m not listening. When that word is spoken, we agree to start all over again. We leave everything that we’ve said before behind us, and we start the entire conversation over. We’ve even gotten to a point where we can check back in with one another a week later to say, “Is there anything I need to clean up from our last conversation?”

I’ve learned that my children will often interpret something I’ve said in a much different way that I meant it, or even said it because in that moment it wasn’t communicated or heard well. Maybe I said something to them, but because of my tone, they misinterpreted it or took it in a different direction than I wanted it to take. This allows the opportunity to include forgiveness and reconciliation in a relationship. This allows healing and love to grow wide and deep within a family. It also prepares them for their future.

One of the things that was most amazing to me was learning that each one of my children needed a different form of communication from me.

What’s the best way to bridge the gap with a kid who’s really angry?

When you have a kid who’s at the “I hate you” stage, what they’re really communicating is, “I love you and it failed.” This phase is the parent’s opportunity to say, “Those are very strong words. Why don’t we sit down and you can help me understand what happened, why I haven’t met the goals that you expected me to meet. I’m going to take notes while you’re talking and write it all down.”

You continue writing and asking until you’ve emptied out and reached the bottom of that hate. And then you ask the question, “Give me some recommendations on how to communicate with you. If I want to communicate something to you, what would be a word that I could use?” And then we lay out an agreement for what the words would be for that particular child.

The worst thing that you can do with a child who is saying “I hate you” is to respond emotionally or in anger. That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying there’s a problem, and as a parent it’s your job to discover where the breakdown is, and to love them through it.

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Published on February 19, 2018.

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