A wise Mum knows that her child has supersonic ears and will hear any and every conversation involving them. The doors might be closed, your house might have thick walls, but somehow, they seem to be able to hear these conversations. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t seem to hear with the same sensitivity when we ask them to do a task or run an errand – it is like they have “selective supersonic hearing”.
Ross Campbell in his book “How to Really Love Your Child” explains how our words can be used to show our children our love for them. It is more than saying to our children “I love you”. It is how you speak about them. There are two Proverbs that seem to express the power of our words very clearly:
- “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
- “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
The words we use to speak about our children can build them up, encourage them, nurture them and make them feel ok about themselves. However they can also crush them, hurt them and leave them feeling inadequate and unloved. There have been times in my life as a mother, when I have had to work very hard at curbing the words I spoke about my children when they were in hearing distance. It might have been over a coffee with a good friend while our children played, at a park with a group of other Mums or when my husband returned home at the end of the day. Sometimes, my children had driven me wild, and I couldn’t think of anything positive to say about them. This is the time to shut up.
I had to consciously think, ok what is something positive or good that I can say about my child that has happened today – not always easy – and say that and leave my rant for later, behind closed doors and in a soundproof room.
Mem Fox captures the dilemma for mothers perfectly in her book “Harriet, you’ll drive me Wild!“. Over the course of the day, Harriet manages to exasperate her mother again and again. The mother tries so hard to respond calmly and in an adult manner and finally she loses it at the end of a long and arduous day. I am not saying that we don’t get cross with our children, but there is a way of speaking to them that rebukes the behaviour rather than the child.
Remember, most behaviour of children is childish – it is going to irritate and annoy. But how can we still communicate that we love them despite their childish behaviour?
As our children get older, our words still matter. Five years ago, my daughter was in Year 12. The year before this, I had had a mild stroke and we had both lived a year with the after effects of my ill health – I was tired most of the time, sensitive to noise and exceedingly irritable. Susannah began her final year at school in a state of heightened anxiety – unable to sleep, eat or function. It was heartbreaking to watch. We organised her to see a psychologist, and I accompanied her to the first meeting. During this session, the psychologist asked me what I liked about Susannah. I can still remember her response. We had arrived at the meeting not speaking, I was annoyed with her about something, and she wouldn’t even look me in the eye. In front of Susannah, I listed a range of things that I liked about her, in fact loved about her. In front of me, I watched my daughter sit up straighter, and she raised her face and met my eyes. She was almost in tears. I am sure that she had picked up many negative words uttered by me in the previous year and this was something different and she responded.
This was the start of a turnaround in the dynamic between us. I came home chastened as I saw the impact my reckless words had had on her and prayed that I would be more careful of how I spoke to her and about her in the future. I am sharing this story with you, as I don’t want you to think that I have always been the perfect mother whose words were always sweet to my children’s souls, because this is as far from the truth as you could get.
If this is an area in which you struggle, can I encourage you to think before you speak. Write these proverbs up and put them on your fridge or next to your bed and memorise them and pray that God will change the way you speak about your children in their hearing, and how you respond to them when they drive you wild. There is another parenting book that I love which also addresses the power of our words is by Steve Biddulph “The Secrets of Happy Children“. He is a wise man and says much that is worth pondering.