5 Things Kids Need to Hear Dad Say

by Chris Pennington

dad sitting with daughter on a dock

Little ears are always listening. That reality has washed over me so many times, and yet I still forget it.

My most recent reminder came courtesy of a planned visit by my in-laws. I was driving while chatting on the phone and my four-year-old was happily playing with some toys in the backseat. I lowered my voice, “Yeah—so Megan’s folks are…you know…this week. Sorry, got kids in the car here.” Pretty subtle, no?

“Who’s coming!? Are we going somewhere? Vacation! Is it grandma? Dad…dad! Is someone coming to my house?”

I tried…😑

Because our kids are always listening, dads need to speak intentionally. Your kids not only hear what you say; those words shape their little hearts. Here are five things your kids need to hear you say.

1. “God loves you.”

God is love and he showed his love definitively by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for sinners who hated him.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Like all of God’s characteristics, love is not a standard God lives up to, but a word we use to describe the nature of God. He is the standard, the ruler, and the source of all his attributes. Simply put, God defines what love is, and every other expression of love is only a sampling of the source.

God loves your kids more than you do. Yes, it’s true! Even when you’re not loving, emphasize God’s love. When you are loving, point your kids to God’s love as the ultimate loving Father. On beautiful days, remark at God’s kindness in sending the sun. On rainy days, point to his grace to all—even those who hate him. When you lie down, when you rise up, when you walk by the way, point at God’s love and exclaim, “Look how God loves you!”

2. “Dear God…”

I live nearly 1800 miles from my dad, but I can tell you where to find him this morning. He has his patterns, and he’s fairly predictable. I can tell you he’s kneeling and praying, just like he was in 2010, 2000, and 1990.

Dads who pray teach their kids God is sovereign, powerful, loving, and involved. Make prayer a key quality of your home by modeling it. This week pray in front of your kids when you’re…

  • making a decision
  • thankful for provision
  • repentant and broken
  • needy and dependent
  • faced with an obstacle
  • concerned and troubled
  • overjoyed with God’s character

3. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

Dads are sinners because dads are human. The Christian home, however, should be a place full of repentance, forgiveness, and grace. As dad, you have the privilege of modeling those characteristics from both sides.

Believe it or not, asking for forgiveness is one of your most powerful teaching tools as a dad. Have your kids ever heard you say…

  • “What I said was sinful and angry and it hurt you and God. Will you please forgive me?”
  • “I was being selfish and only thinking about what made me happy. That was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”
  • “Your dad is a big sinner and that’s why I need Jesus. I need him to forgive me every day.”

The more frequently you admit your failings, the more your kids will see the grace of Jesus, the power of forgiveness, the nature of godly grief, and the beauty of undeserved favor.

4. “Your mom is the best!”

Proverbs 31:28 says of the virtuous woman, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:”

The stability of your home depends largely on your relationship with your wife. Your kids need to see your love on constant display. How can you praise your wife to your kids today?1

I remember my dad constantly reinforcing how much he loved my mom. “Your mom is my best friend” or “Isn’t your mom beautiful!?” These are the building blocks of a happy home.

5. “What do you want to do?”

In practice, adult friendships are often based on shared interests.[^2] It’s easy to carry that thinking over to our kids.

It’s tempting to think, Out of the things I like, which would my kid like to do? or What can I get done this morning while the kids watch TV? While it’s not healthy for a home to revolve around the whims of a two year old, I fear too frequently they revolve around the selfishness of a thirty-two year old.

I’ve made an intentional practice of asking, “What do you want to do?” The result? You may find me braiding hair (don’t ask how it turns out!), playing soccer, painting toes, reading books, playing with action figures, and much more. While it may be easier to just turn on the TV or buy my daughter a new toy, nearly nothing communicates my love like kneeling on the ground and playing her way.

God Himself models this condescension when He counts the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7), gives the bread we eat (2 Corinthians 9:10), governs our local weather (Matthew 5:45), and marks every time we sit or stand (Psalm 139). These intimacies fill God’s tender, fatherly care and empower our imitation of the Father of fathers (Ephesians 3:14–15).

BONUS: “I love you!”

This should go without saying, but sadly, it often does. You may be tempted to simply show your kids love. “Of course I love my kids! Do they really need to hear it?” While actions of love are important and necessary, words add a specificity to those actions. Think of it like a song. Without words, music can communicate only generally. So are your actions without words. The best you can hope for is that your kids get a general sense that you love them. There’s almost nothing more securing for a kid, however, than to sense their dad loves them and then to hear those accompanying words, “I love you!”


  1. It’s also crucial for your kids to hear you praising your wife to other people. This often communicates a genuineness to your love that’s hard to replace. Too often, kids hear their parents talk negatively about each other. Who can you praise your wife to in front of your kids this week?

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