Choose your words wisely.
May I ask you a question? How important do you believe it is to be aware of the choice of words that you use with your child in each and every moment?
I recently heard a man share a story about his childhood wherein it was his birthday and his mom was making the batter for his birthday cake. This man (as a child) asked his mom “What are you doing?” His mom responded “I am making YOUR birthday cake”. The guests started arriving and it then came time to cut and serve the cake. The mom cut the cake and started handing out pieces to the guests. The birthday boy screamed “Wait! No! That’s MY cake! You said it was MY cake!” The child proceeded to throw a fit. There was nothing in that boy that wanted to share the cake with others - he was told it was “HIS cake”.
Now if a parent were completely present with the child in the moment that the child asked a question such as “What are you doing?”, they would be aware of the importance of their choice of words. Here is an example of a “parental” response from my own experience in a similar situation (but just to be clear, not an instruction to follow):
“Well Joey, I am making a cake. We have invited some friends and family to come over because they would like to wish you a Happy Birthday. I am making this cake so that it can be shared and enjoyed by everyone as a thank you for coming. When it comes time to cut the cake, would you like to help me by handing out the pieces to everyone?”
In that latter choice of words, there was no “ownership” of the cake that the child could identify with. There was a clear explanation of what the parent was doing and what it was for. It also offered the child an opportunity to be a helpful part of it, which children love to do.
I remember one day I was caring for 2 children and we were driving somewhere. I saw a deer and mindlessly said “girls, quick, look out “Jane’s” window, there is a deer!”. I never gave that choice of words another thought, until some weeks later I was with those same 2 girls driving once again, when suddenly the older sister said “Look, there’s a horse!”. She was pointing at a horse, which could be seen out of the car window where her younger sister was sitting. Her sister then, with irritation, yelled “Stop looking out MY window!”
So, in just those examples you can see how vital it is that we be aware of ourselves when we speak and the choice of words that we use. When we speak mindlessly, we speak “from the past”, from “recorded” parts of ourselves that just speak for us. I sometimes call that “lazy speaking.” I know that may sound weird, but it’s true. How many times have you said something that you had no idea why you said it or knew after it came out of your mouth that it wasn’t what you wanted to say?
Now those examples that I just mentioned might seem a bit “benign”, but are they benign, or would the same hold true “across the board?”
My oldest daughter (now 36) told me that for a long time, she was so afraid to brush her teeth because she thought she might accidentally swallow toothpaste. She said I told her that if she swallowed toothpaste, she would die. Now I don’t honestly recall saying something like that, I truly don’t, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t say it. That’s the problem with speaking mindlessly. In speaking mindlessly, it becomes almost impossible to recall correctly what was actually stated, because we were not fully present when those words were coming out of our mouths.
In this situation, I may have mindlessly said something like “be careful not to swallow toothpaste because it could make you sick”. That comment was most likely mindlessly said to me somewhere along the line in my past, and in that moment with my daughter, it was mindlessly repeated by me. My daughter then possibly perceived that moment as “I could die if I swallow toothpaste”. When that same daughter got her driver’s permit, my mind started creating “worse case scenarios” that could happen to her. That’s a favorite “pastime” of the mind – it loves to identify with the worst.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see, from these examples, how every comment register’s in a child’s mind and how vital it is that we have our attention when we speak. Children believe what they hear as truth. A comment like “John always takes a long time to tie his shoes” becomes a belief that he is slow at doing things. Or a comment like “Hurry up, we need to get going” becomes a belief in a child that there is a need to rush through life.
So wouldn’t it make sense that if a child “records” and believes everything that we say and do as a trusted authority, that nothing “new” can take place unless there is an awareness of ourselves in the use of our words and actions in every moment with them? The past breeds the future from generation to generation when there isn’t an awareness of ourselves in the moment.
In order to be aware of our choice of words that we use, we must slow down and wait before speaking. A good practice is to count to 3 before speaking. That way, you will be able to be aware of the pushiness of “the past” that wants to speak for you. Wait instead and let that wave roll on by….
Exercise for the week: Practice counting to 3 before speaking to your child. This can be a very difficult thing to do, believe it or not. So, see if you can catch yourself (even if only after the fact) saying something to your child mindlessly, without being aware of it coming out of your mouth. If that happens and something is said to them, perhaps with force and fear, become present to yourself, aware of yourself in that moment, and then share with your child from that place, what you intended to properly communicate. Allowing yourself to “miss the mark” teaches the child that it is ok for them to “miss the mark” as well. All of it is an intended part of our journey in learning about these past parts of ourselves that we can see in no other way except through our awareness of them.
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