A young mother in her late teens walks into a room where her preschool children are playing. Their play is appropriate and the atmosphere in the room is calm and gleeful. Most parents witnessing this scene would walk through the room with a smile on their face and a spring in their step, with pride for their children’s ability to play so well together. Not this young mother. She blasts the children with unprovoked verbal assaults, claiming they have done or are doing something terribly wrong. Her verbiage is filled with insults reflecting upon their intelligence and self-worth as well as threats of physical harm.
The room grows strangely quiet and only after the mother leaves the room does a subdued expression of the previous play resume. What is indelibly etched in the memory of those preschool children is the demeaning tone of voice with which the words were uttered and the demeanor of the irate parent who shared them. The children are never physically harmed; however, they are the victims of what some would call verbal abuse. From a parent from whom the child should expect love and encouragement come words of chastisement and rebuke – words that hurt!
We, as parents play a pivotal role in the development of the child-rearing strategies our children will utilize with our own grandchildren. Our strategies and responses to specific situations during their childhood are recorded in their subconscious. Years from now when they, as parents, are faced with critical parenting situations, those subconscious memories and recollections will take over with our examples dictating their appropriate response to a given situation. If their “training” during childhood has included words that hurt, they will automatically revert to the use of the same as parents. If not, they may incorporate a very different experience in their subconscious response to a moment of parent-child interaction – words that heal.
Those of us who are blessed with the opportunity to open our homes as foster and adoptive parents have a unique challenge in our choice of words. Many children who become a part of our family, if only for awhile, have been life-long victims of words that hurt. It may not be because their parents are bad parents; it may be that such was the only child-rearing strategy modeled for them during their childhood. While exercising our responsibilities as parents of our own birth children or our foster and adoptive children, it is our challenge to intentionally instruct and model for all children in our care nothing less than words that heal.
Words that heal do not consist of some magic formulation. They are simply words that do not hurt. Previous generations may have lumped a large portion of such words under the category of good manners. Saying please, thank you, and you’re welcome are simple examples of words that offer respect and are not hurtful. In the instance of the young mother witnessing her preschool children happily playing, words of love, encouragement, and pleasure over their ability to play well together would have reinforced the behavior. If she had stopped, knelt to speak to them at eye-level, and offered physical reinforcement such as a “high-five” or a hug, the impact would have been even greater.
Every aspect of family life is impacted by our choice of words and the demeanor which accompanies them. What’s important is the careful consideration of the impact of our words, especially with little children, and intentionality in offering nothing less than words that heal in every situation.
How has your childhood shaped your interaction with the children in your home? Are words that heal hard to find and express? If you are comfortable with the concept of words that heal, share examples of how you use them in your home. If your home includes foster or adoptive children, they have brought with them their own bag of words that hurt. How do you respond, redirect, and in kind return words that heal?