“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”
Most of us have probably come across this phrase at least once in our lifetime, and some of us may have even taught it to our children during conversations about bullies in school and/or in the neighborhood. A number of us may even take pride in the fact that we can withstand any “verbal assaults” that may come our way by letting the words go through one ear and out the other. Those who are able to do this and not be bothered at all are, in a way, truly blessed, as this indicates a relatively healthy self-image and level of self-esteem.
However, this is not usually the case for our young children, who are at a very impressionable and sensitive stage in their lives. What we say can and will have an impact on their development, whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not.
Karen Stephens, director of the Illinois State University Child Care Center and author of the book The Child Care Professional, wrote about how the careful choice of words protects self-esteem in her parenting column. She emphasized:
• “Children take words to heart, especially from the adults they love.” • “Children want and need to believe what their parents say about them. It’s our responsibility to give them something worth believing.” • “The verbal and nonverbal tone at home… and school has a direct impact on how well a child regards him or herself.” • “The resulting self-esteem will affect relationships in school, work, marriage, parenting, and even grandparenting.” (writer’s note: Shocking, isn’t it?)
Stephens goes on to say that parents who wish to raise proud, confident, and responsible kids should “learn how to prevent damage to (their) children’s mental health.” Through our behavior and speech, we communicate to our children the boundaries of their potential.