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The Power of Words in the Life of a Child

'Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'

I’d like to bludgeon the person who came up with that statement. Seriously! If not with actual sticks and stones, at least with a few choice words!

What a lie!

Even as we utter this line of defense, we know it’s not true. Or we’d have no need of those words.   

We use the phrase to defend, then lash out and cover our true
feelings. 

You hurt me, but I can’t show my vulnerability, so I will pretend it didn’t hurt, and in the process, I will hurt you with my own words.

Words can hurt worse than sticks or stones!

I’m positive I got hit with a stick or a stone as a kid, and surely it hurt. It may have even left a mark. But I can’t remember the details of such situations, and I don’t have any scars. 

But words? If I sat and thought about it, I could probably come up with a list of hundreds of hurtful phrases that were spewed out of the mouths of other kids, teachers, even parents, without a thought as to where they would land, leaving me devastated.   

Words burn ears, pierce hearts and scar minds.

Who would take time to make a list of words that stung? Why revisit that pain on purpose?

But I know those words are there. They come back at unexpected times.

You know what I’m talking about. We remember.

I wonder: What words have I spoken that my children will remember — and wince at?

Our words have the power to shape our children, for better
or for worse. 

Anne Ortlund, in Children are Wet Cement (Spire), talks about the power adults have in the life of a child, who is “helpless in the hands of the people around him … pliable to their shaping. They set his mold. What will he become?”

Once, on a mission trip, I met a little boy whose “father figure”
had chosen to nickname him “Satan.” Had he given no more thought to this than he would in naming a junkyard dog?  What was he saying to this precious boy who was, in reality, beautiful and innocent
and tender-hearted?

I remember getting down on that 4-year-old’s level, putting my hands on his shoulders, looking him square in the eye and saying, with an urgency I’ve never felt for anything in my life:  “Listen to me. You are a Child of God. You stand for what’s good and right.” I
repeated his real name and told him that anyone who tried to call him something else was a liar. Just then, I could feel his “dad’s” presence behind me, and I had to release him to that evil man. 

I often wonder: Where is this boy today?

Ortland tells that Abraham Lincoln tipped his hat to children, giving them greater courtesy than adults he passed. 

“These adults I know,” he said, “but who knows what the children may become?”

I hope that my young friend will remember affirming words that he’s heard and that they override negative influences.   

In The Five Love Languages of Children, (Moody) Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell say that attitude, behavior and development can be traced to how “loved” children feel. They identify five ways to express love to children, holding the premise that everyone has one primary “love language.”  “Words of Affirmation” is a key "language." 

Ortland says, “Every child needs heaps … of affirmation. They need words!” Our words repeatedly put information into the “storage
box” of our children’s minds.

A well-known proverb says that “As a person thinks in his
heart, so is he.”

As we encourage kids to become independent thinkers, our words shape the way kids see themselves and the way they think, in their hearts. Words mold the self-image within them, allowing them to grow to their fullest potential.

Words can burn or words can mold.

Sticks and stones can ...

... Be used as a weapon, or as a tool, as in building a fire. A fire can destroy, or give warmth and peace.

As children are drawn to the embers of affirming words, their hearts are warmed and they are forever changed.

Dominique August 23, 2011 at 11:22 AM
Wow so true! Makes me want to think before anything comes out of my mouth or even find out what verbal indentations I have already left in my children's hearts and minds. Challenging
Donna J. Noble August 25, 2011 at 06:10 PM
I'm right there with you, Dominique. How I played over in my mind some things that I've said. I remember yelling at my three year old when he broke a dish that had been my grandmother's. He STILL remembers that and brings it up sometimes. (He's fifteen, and he laughs about it now, but I know there's hurt beneath it, and I wish I could take it back.) No matter how much that bowl was worth, with its pretty flowers and gold etching, both monetarily and sentimentally, my three year old's heart was worth INFINITELY MORE!!

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