Sticks and stones

29 May

You know the old rhyme- ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. Twenty five years after first hearing the old adage, I find I disagree.

This morning, we took the kids to the foreshore to ride their bikes. This particular bike track happens to be at the optimistically named Mount Carrington, (obviously Mound Carrington doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.) The path meanders by the harbour, so when Lolly and Shark needed a rest from riding, we sat on the big boulders that separate the path from the water. Boys will be boys, and our boys immediately scrambled down the rocks to start a competition to see who could throw a stick the furthest into the water.

Seeing possible danger at every stick throw, I warned them, as mothers are wont to do. ‘Be careful when you throw sticks!’

Lolly was by my side, collecting some sticks. Without even looking up, she said ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’

As I sat there on the rocks, icy wind howling around my ears and strands of hair in my eyes, I was taken back to the playground of my primary school. After being called ‘Snothead’ and some other choice names, I was upset and crying. I set off to tell the teacher of the other children’s meanness. She was probably sick of all the dobbing and was counting the minutes till she could get back to the staff-room for a coffee. Either way, this lady had very little sympathy for taunts. She told me the old rhyme, and reiterated that the warned me of the dangers of projectiles and told me that insults wouldn’t damage me.

But as an adult and a now parent, I think she was wrong. I know the old adage was oft repeated to tell kids to ignore stupid words from taunting children. But there is power in the spoken word, and both names and words can, and do hurt.

If we say something enough times we start to believe it. And so do our kids. We become a self-fulfilling prophecy. ‘Oh, I just couldn’t do it’.  ‘I’m not really very good at that’  ‘It’ll always be like this’ ‘I’m such a terrible mother’ ‘You are so naughty!’ ‘She’s going through the terrible two’s’

As a writer, words are rather important to me. My husband and I have always been intentional about the way we speak to our kids. From the beginning of our children’s lives, we banned the phrase ‘I hate…’ because hate is a word with a lot of weight, one that shouldn’t be bandied about. Our children are not allowed to call someone stupid or dumb, because no-one is either stupid or dumb.

I cringe when I hear parents swearing at their kids in the street or the supermarket. Sideline comments at the sportsground can wound, too. No child deserves to be called fat, lazy, stupid, ugly, or useless. Those words wound a person where no-one else can see the damage, and sometimes those words are never forgotten

We tell our children every day that we love them, and that they are precious to us. Our nicknames for them are Gorgeous, Spunky Monkey, Beauty, Precious, Sweetheart and Handsome. Our aim is to encourage and build them up with the words we speak. They will rise to our expectations for them, so we want them to know we think they can do great things.

The world will try to insinuate that my daughter isn’t thin enough, or pretty enough and that her value lies in only one thing. My sons may feel pressure that they are not handsome enough, not man enough, not clever enough, not strong enough. The media is using words and images to make us all feel inadequate in some way, while at the same time showing us where to buy just the right antidote to ‘fix’ us.

Words have the power to build up, or the ability to tear down. The power of life and death is in the tongue, according to the Good Book. I want the words that impact my children to be positive life-affirming ones that they can carry around lightly for the rest of their lives.

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2 Responses to “Sticks and stones”

  1. lawandshoes May 30, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    The wounds left by words last a long, long time. Bullying by belittling is so commonplace though that kids have to learn ways to deal with it. @NomiePT is my guru in relation to everything related to this. In fact, I am thinking of getting her onboard as an email consultant.

  2. SistaInArms May 31, 2010 at 1:13 am #

    Flesh wounds are visible and heal, a wound to the heart through ill spoken words is unseen and can be carried around for years, breaking its flimsy stitches to re emerge when its least expected. The power of the tongue is so underestimated, thats why we should guard our hearts because what is in there inevitably rolls off our tongue. Lxx

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