Health to the Bones: Speak Words of Encouragement

Mark Hamby

When I grew up, my mother always wanted me to drink my milk. She said it would help me grow strong and healthy bones. The milk industry must have had some great commercial campaigns during the 50s and 60s, because we not only had to drink a glass of milk every morning and every night at home, but even in school we were forced to drink a bottle of milk. Looking back, I’m not sure pasteurized milk was the best thing for us, but I don’t think the cows were as contaminated with all of the growth hormones and chemicals that are used today. 

I find it amazing how advertisers can manipulate an entire generation of adults to believe in something that is supposed to be beneficial to children, when it could actually be harmful. Toothpaste is another example—or watching TV or video games. So much of what is harmful to children is packaged in the guise of good.

But there’s something far greater that is robbing our children of their health. There is a deadly disease that is harming our children, stunting, and in some cases depleting, the density of their bones. The disease that I am describing is called discouragementitis. Allow me to explain.

Would you believe it if I told you that children whose parents are professionals are exposed, on an average, to 1,500 more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes? This means that children who are raised by parents who are professionals hear 2,153 words per hour in contrast to children from welfare homes, who hear only 616 words per hour.

It was also found in a study by Raikes et al., in “Mother-Child Bookreading in Low-Income Families,” that parents who read to their children three to six times per week had greater vocabulary gains than children read to only once or twice a week. Children who were read to every day scored even better. And children who were read to as early as 14 months had particularly beneficial gains.1

A study conducted by Hart and Risley reveals that a 4-year-old child in a professional family will have received 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback. An average 4-year-old child in a working-class family would have accumulated only 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements, and the average 4-year-old child in a welfare family would have accumulated a shocking 125,000 more instances of discouraging words than encouraging words.2

Statistics are helpful and give us the big picture, but they often fail to explain the heart of the problem. For example, it is important not to equate welfare and income with parental effectiveness. Children who were raised by parents who were slaves in the U.S. during the days of slavery were often raised with higher morals and ethics than the children of the slave owners. So it’s not a matter of income; it’s more a matter of morals and values. And whether we find ourselves presently with the blessing of a professional career or temporarily on welfare, let’s keep in mind that our words are our greatest resource and more powerful in the raising of our children than money. Solomon, the richest man ever, reminds us that “pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). 

Let’s make sure what our children hear from us are words of encouragement, kindness, and life, for truly, pleasant words are health to the bones! 


1. “Mother–Child Bookreading in Low-Income Families: Correlates and Outcomes During the First Three Years of Life”: Helen Raikes, Gayle Luze, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, H. Abigail Raikes, Barbara Alexander Pan, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Jill Constantine and Louisa Banks Tarullo, Eileen T. Rodriguez. p. 927, Child Development, July/August 2006, Volume 77, Number 4, pages 924–953.

2. B. Hart & T. R. Risley, “Meaningful Differences in Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” University of Kansas, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Baltimore, p. 199.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at  or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Mark Hamby is the founder and president of Lamplighter Ministries, where he serves with a dedicated staff to make Lamplighter Publishing, Lamplighter Theatre, Lamplighter Guild, Lamplighter Life-Transforming Seminars, and Lamplighter Moments Daily Radio Broadcast a reality. It is his mission to make ready a people prepared for the Lord by building Christlike character . . . one story at a time. You can read or listen to the most recent Lamplighter production at

Publication date: November 5, 2012