As a child, were you hurt by any of these harmful danger phrases?
And are you carrying on the grand tradition of hurtful speech–when speaking to your own children?
Don’t underestimate your words and actions on your children. Mocking, laughing, speaking words of death–these things will leave a negative indelible mark on your children. Did your parents leave any marks on you? If so, learn from that. Rather than judging your parents, learn from their parenting. Hurtful actions and hurtful speech can’t be taken back. You can apologize, but the words have been spoken–and the actions taken. Lashing out in anger and speaking words of death to little ones and then apologizing to them is kind of like smashing a plate. You can pick up the pieces and re-assemble them–and glue them together. But the plate will never really be the same again.
1) “Not good enough.” Children look to their parents for validation of who they are and how much they’re worth. For children it’s parents first, then God. Give your children the gift of self-esteem. Children find it difficult to separate what they do from who they are. We might think we’re telling our children that they didn’t try hard enough, or that their homework wasn’t good enough, but what they hear is that they aren’t enough. As a parent, you have the power to change your child’s world forever with just one word. Enough can be that word. Having said that–when you’re about to criticize your child’s work, try wrapping it in a compliment, such as, “You’re good enough to win the gold medal the next time if you keep practicing,” or “you’re smart enough to get an A the next time if you just keep studying.”
Imagine if tomorrow God came down from heaven and told you that you are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, and pretty enough just the way you are. You can make that happen for your kids starting right now. What a gift, huh?
2) “Why can’t you be more like (your brother, your sister, John, Mike, Trixie)…” is a spirit killer. Don’t speak words of death. We all know what it’s like and how it hurts to be compared to other people. Your children will do enough of that in their own heads when they grow up. We all do. When you feel like comparing your kids to other people, instead, choose the characteristics that you admire in the people you were about to compare your kids to, and compliment your kids on those characteristics. For example, “You know John, when I see you applying yourself to your schoolwork, it really makes me proud of you.” Or, “When I see the loving side of you come out when you’re with your little sister, I feel so proud to be your mother that my heart nearly bursts.”
3) “I am so fat–or stupid–or incompetent” or any version of that, including, “It’s hell getting old; I need a face-lift,” or any other self-degrading comments. If you have self-esteem issues, the surest way to pass those issues to your children is to talk about them in front of your children. Remember, our children model our behavior. That’s a fact and the truth. The words you use to describe yourself become part of their internal programming. Remember, you are everything to your child. When you say, “I am,” It’s going to turn out to mean, “We are,” and ultimately, “I am” in your child’s mind.
Any phrase you use to describe yourself will be planted in the brains of your children, and may well be the phrase they use someday to describe themselves. If you say something along the lines of, “I’m fat and ugly,” It’s like a magic spell you cast, and when your child reaches your age, they will look in the mirror and say the exact same thing. Hurtful speech matters.
Watch what you say about yourself in front of your kids. If you want to give your children the gift of self-esteem, say positive things about yourself as well as positive things about them. Look in the mirror in front of your child and let them hear you say beautiful things about yourself. If this is difficult for you, start by saying things to your child such as, “You know, when I look at you, it makes me feel beautiful, because you’re beautiful, and you’re part of me.” And eventually you’ll reach the point where you can compliment yourself as well as others.
4) “I’m ashamed of you.” Talk about the ultimate in hurtful speech. This is a delete phrase. There is never a good reason to hurt our children, and that’s the only thing this phrase accomplishes. It would be better to kick your child in the face…it would do less damage. If you feel like using this phrase, instead, try something along the lines of: “When you ___ it hurts me.” You can elaborate if you have a dramatic streak, and say something such as, “When you ___ it’s like a knife being plunged through my heart, and I feel as though I’m dying a slow, painful death,” But the basic pattern is, “When you ___ I feel ___.”
5) “You’re a ___er.” (Fill in the blank with any word that isn’t positive.) We can change a child forever with just one word. Children are made of words. We tell our children what they are. Every single word spoken to a child becomes a part of who they are, and once you say a word, there is no taking it back. Furthermore, if you’re going to label your children, make sure your labels are kind and loving. Any time you start a phrase with, “You’re a…” from this point forward you have two choices: put in a positive word, such as, “lover, creative thinker, helper, do-gooder” or stop speaking before you kill with your words. Any negative word that ends in –er, or any other negative label is toxic for children, and kills their spirit little by little. Don’t diminish your own children.
Additionally and importantly—laughing at your children—If your goal is to irrevocably injure their self-esteem—laughing at them will do it—especially if you laugh at them in front of other people. Kids might “look tough” but they aren’t tough—they’re children.
With all this said, if you look at any of the above and say, “Well my parents said that to me, and I turned out just fine,” or “I turned out great—it made me strong,” I ask you to reconsider this. Consider the possibility that you survived and became strong not because of this behavior, but despite this behavior.
You don’t own your children; they are little people in your charge and in your care. Treat them as the precious gifts they are and someday they’ll return the favor to you.
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