A few days ago, my husband told me about a conversation he overheard. He was on the line with someone and needed to give the man a phone number. The man having no pen with which to write asked my hubby to hold and proceeded to call his daughter to get him the pen. Rather than call his daughter by her name he called out “Oponu” (which in Yoruba means dummy) “get me a pen”. As the child seemed to be taking her time he repeated the same name again. I can still hear the pain in hubby’s voice as he was relaying the story. Extreme you might say. Hmm! how many times have we caught ourselves saying to our children – “you’re so slow”; “You’re so careless”; “You never do anything right”; “You’re the cause of my problems”….
For parents, life gets busy and we inadvertently take out our stress on our kids. It still stings when my children remind me of some of the things I said to them several years ago when I was in a very stressful job. Thankfully we can laugh about most of those “painful” incidences now and I’m eternally grateful to God that some of my careless utterances didn’t leave them scarred beyond redemption. The scary part is that I don’t even remember making most of those utterances!
While we really don’t mean a number of harsh words or labels that slip out in moments of frustration, the words we speak to our children become their inner voice and the labels we spew out have a tendency of becoming a part of who they think they are. The way we talk to our children matters. It teaches them a whole load of things including how to talk to others, how relationships work and how they should view themselves. Our critical and harsh speech to our children apart from being very hurtful conveys to them the message that they are not good enough. It also breeds fear and results in strained relationships with them. I’m by no means suggesting that we walk on eggshells around our children. We should confront and correct where needed but let’s retrain ourselves to speak positively for maximum benefit. For instance, rather than say, “you’re so careless” you can say, “you need to be more careful.” Rather than label our children, let’s label the action. For example, it is foolish not to study for a test and expect to pass but that doesn’t make the child a fool. It is stupid (very) to get into a car with strangers but that doesn’t make the child “stupid”. I’m sure you get the picture.
We should leave no doubt in the minds of our children about our love for them regardless of how stupid their actions or inactions may have been. Being mindful of what we say when we scold them and correcting ourselves when we slip up (which is inevitable) is another vital lesson for our children to learn humility and exercising restraint. If we want our kids’ inner voices to be encouraging and loving, our words to them should be the same way.
By virtue of the authority we have over our children, our words have a tendency of becoming prophecies spoken over them. What are you prophesying? And while we’re on the subject, let’s also remember that sometimes what we don’t say can matter as much as what we do say because OUR WORDS REALLY DO MATTER.