Our words are so powerful and have the ability to hurt or to heal. The very way we speak reveals so much about ourselves and how we think. Children are very vulnerable and impressionable. They take what we tell them as the absolute truth. They don’t question the things we tell them and internalize concepts of themselves and the world around them based on things we tell them.
How many have thought they were not good at math, spelling, sports, or some other activity all because a teacher, parent, or some other authority figure told you were not competent at it? Sometimes the injury is more subtle and harder to define because it is under the guise of a compliment. “Oh you’re quite the little…” fill in the blank. This can be just as harmful since the child then labels himself as “the brain,” “the athlete,” or whatever other label he is given. This label inhibits the child to explore what he or she may have an interest in exploring. Instead the child tries to live up to whatever expectation or label is given. This often happens in families where one child is said to be “the smart one” or some other label and a sibling may be standing nearby thinking and what am I? If Aunt Marcia says that he is “the smart one” then by deduction “I must not be.” You can see how detrimental this could be and how it is internalized.
Sometimes families engage in pet names. They may call a child chubby, skinny, lazy, slow, fast, or whatever other labels they may have heard in their own childhood. In some families these are even jokes which can cause more shame and humiliation for a child. Many times insults are couched in a joke and when the child becomes upset the person who lobbed the insult will hide behind, “it was just a joke.” This is really the worst because a child is not savvy enough to understand what has just happened and this causes much pain and suffering. You may see this with older kids or teens. There is a saying, that “there are no jokes.” Meaning if somebody says something that hurts, and the joke is at your expense, and nobody is laughing but the person who said it then it’s not a joke.
Words also have the power to heal. Positive words can go a long way to reinforce positive behavior and increase self-esteem. When your child does something that you really like and you want to see that behavior repeated then this is a good time to give your child some positive praise. You want to be genuine and authentic and not just say, “Good job.” While that’s alright if you’re new at giving praise, you really want to tailor it specifically to what your child did that you liked. You might say something like, “Wow that was really cool the way caught that ball,” or “Did you know that you knew how to spell that word?” The child connects the behavior that they did to what you were so impressed with and is bound to repeat it. Also give your child praise for just being themselves and not just what they do. Surprise them and give them a big hug and tell them, “I love you for just being you.” Then sit back and watch them glow.
Another really good time to tell your child how proud you are of them is in the evening right before they go to sleep. This is the perfect time because your child is receptive to the positive statements you give and they will easily register with the subconscious. This is the time to tell your child(ren) how much you love them and what they did that day that made you so proud.