The Power of Words
There were no overt signs of physical abuse on the adorable four year old girl, yet my heart ached for her. As I was shopping for a guilty mid afternoon snack on a road trip, I overheard a mother speaking loudly to her small child. The entire store heard. She was very harshly ordering the child around, telling her “no, she couldn’t have anything”, saying “shut up”, “move out of the way” and other rough orders in a hateful tone. The poor child followed her mother around the store, trying the best way a four year old can to meet unrealistic expectations.
After the mother checked out, buying herself cigarettes and a coke and nothing for the child, she commenced her angry tone, telling the child to “get out, go to the car.” They were parked next to me so I heard the verbal assaults continue. Maybe I imagined it, but beneath the sadness in the sweet child’s eyes, I also saw an edge of hardness forming. This is what she heard every day, and she was learning to protect her heart, growing a tough armor to shield herself from the verbal bullets.
No, there was no abuse worthy of calling child protective services, but my heart went out to that poor child and all the others like her. The abuse she’s suffering doesn’t leave visible scars but deep emotional wounds. Does she ever hear words of love and encouragement? What will her future and that of her children’s be if she never learns reciprocal love and respect? I knew it wasn’t my place to intervene but every part of me longed to look into that little girls eyes and tell her that she was valuable, that she mattered, that she was good.
I realize that I witnessed but a snapshot in time and maybe the mother was having a really bad day, but it’s a reminder that parents hold a place of incredible influence for children, a parent’s words carrying a weight of great importance and impact. Children hunger for words of comfort, encouragement and praise. A parents words can be a balm that soothes, a kite to help a child soar or a weapon that leaves a lifelong scar. Be your child’s cheerleader, their soft place to land. If a child knows there is one person in the world that loves them unconditionally, that home is the place where they are accepted and loved; they can persevere and succeed through a lot of tough times in this world.
Make a concerted effort today to say three positive things to your child. Find specific things to praise; thank you for getting up when I called you the first time, I like the way you shared your toys with your sister, good job setting the table, etc. And of course, sprinkle abundant “I love yous” in frequently. Your words will make a lifelong difference in your child’s life, good or bad, you choose.