“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a saying that is simply not true. Name calling, stereotyping, prejudice, put downs…it all hurts. Unkind words create wounds that may not be seen visually, but the words contain negative vibrations resonating within us, deep and lasting. I still remember specific times I was bullied in my childhood, and I’m supposedly all grown-up! I also remember being a bully towards my sister, teasing her in order to regain power that I didn’t have in school with my peers. In terms of by-stander silence, I’ve experienced times I’ve come to someone’s defense, and other times I’ve been a by-stander, too hesitant to get involved. I often think about the issues of bullying, being bullied and by-stander silence in relationship to my life and the lives of all children.
While I know that what I am about to say will evoke all kinds of guilt as parents, (and we don’t need MORE guilt!!), I have to remind us of the fact that we are the role models, the mirror of words and actions that children notice and imitate. Our children even have radar about our unspoken thoughts! We are the role models in terms of manners, respect, caring, consideration, tone of voice, nonverbal communication, gestures, cooperation, inclusion, empathy, listening skills, compassion and our choices in words, actions, thoughts and feelings. It’s a heavy load, but it’s all wonderful because we are all in this together, constantly learning and growing and becoming the highest version of ourselves!
As parents, role modeling begins as soon as we give birth to that beautiful baby, and we need to maintain consciousness about our communication choices. In addition, sometimes we take for granted that children just “know” what words are negative and what words are positive. We need to teach an inner sense of this aspect by building a foundation of awareness and knowledge about the differences in the words themselves. A meaningful activity is to ask children to come up with positive and negative words-brainstorm, make lists, discuss and share ideas and feelings. What words made you feel good inside? What words hurt your feelings? What did you feel? Working with children on having a vocabulary of feeling words and being able to label their feelings is an important extension to teaching these life lessons as well. Teach a child that sometimes they will feel the hurt not only emotionally but also within the body–as if they were “kicked in the solar plexus, “felt 10 feet tall” or “their heart broke into pieces.” The hurt of words can be felt emotionally and physically.
Children can be made aware of specific words and phrases that feel good, hurt, uplift, support, negate, torment, and are “put ups or put downs.” Teaching children to FEEL the emotional power of their words is crucial to character-building parenting. If we teach children how to differentiate between what words feel good and what words can hurt themselves or another, we will have helped to create bully-free environments within an empathic, intelligent generation.
I’d love to hear your ideas and reactions, because each one of us can help build a more loving society, and it all begins by knowing that peace begins with you and me, one person at a time.