We are in interesting times of fake news, false narratives, and distorted perceptions of reality. As a parent, I worry about the future of how much information our children will ingest and how accurately it is portrayed.
First it starts with a simple concept – words matter. We’ve heard the expression: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I officially challenge this notion. Words can hurt.
We can manage hurting words in two direct ways. First, be mindful of our own language. Second, be mindful of the degree we allow words to affect us.
In order to teach our children that words matter, let’s pay attention to the words we use around them. From infancy, our children watch our actions more than listen to what we tell them. If we tell them not to yell, don’t interrupt, and stop swearing – we must ask ourselves, honestly, are we modeling those requests? Children act as mirrors and are often magnifiers of our shortcomings. Ugh. Whoops.
Don’t fret, even though we all make those missteps, mistakes, and hiccups – we can still help guide our children to understand that words matter and how to be mindful of our own language. We do this by discussing the importance of language and the meaning of words.
I remember the first time one of my children used the word “hate.” I cringed. To empower them, the conversation went something like this:
Kid: “I HATE so-and-so”
Mom: “Do you know what the word ‘hate’ means?”
Kid: “It means you really, really, really don’t’ like it.”
Mom: “Sort of… let’s Google it. ‘It means intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.’ It is a very powerful word and should be used wisely. If you direct that word toward something with feelings, you can really hurt them, so it should never be used that way. Some good examples of the word are ‘I hate getting stung by yellow jackets,’ or ‘I hate how much sugar is in everything.’ If you want to say something but don’t mean it to be super damaging it’s better to say: ‘I really don’t like…’”
By taking the time to teach what words mean and how they should be used hopefully sets our standards higher collectively. On the flip side, if we are recipients of hurtful words, we can acknowledge it hurts, perhaps call it out, and then focus on the good and move on.
Be mindful though, this exercise often holds us to those higher standards of language so our kids may call us out if we use the language inappropriately. Ugh, at least they are paying attention!