Many years ago I was doing home-based therapy with families in need. One day I arrived at a client’s home while she was watching a woman’s eight-month old daughter. When I arrived, I heard my client playing with the baby and saying in a sing-song voice, “Aaah, aren’t you such an ugly baby? Yes you are. Yes, you’re such an ugly little baby, aren’t you?” When I asked my client why she was talking to the baby like that she laughed and said it didn’t matter since the baby didn’t understand what she was saying anyway.
In my work with couples over the years I hear similar excuses from parents about how they talk about their children of all ages, how they fight in front of their children and how they speak to their children. Parents say, “Oh, they don’t pay attention. If we fight, they don’t hear us. If we make a comment about them, they don’t listen anyway.” Parents often are convinced that their children don’t listen to what they say and don’t tune in to what they do on any significant level.
I’m here to tell you …children listen. Not only do they listen, but what you, as a parent, say to your children often gets ingrained into their very being. Your story soon becomes their story. I have seen this happen on so many levels with so many parents that even I have been amazed at the impact…and I KNOW our words impact our children.
I’ve seen this with my own children, my friends’ children and my clients’ children. No parent or child is immune to this influence. As a parent, there have been times when I truly wished my children had not been listening…or that I had been more careful about what I said. Unfortunately, we don’t get replays, nor do we get to erase and play over moments. The best we can do is notice our impact, assume it is larger than we think it is and tune in to how our words and actions are impacting our children.
When we talk politics, our children often will talk the same politics. If we say our children struggle in school, soon we will hear our children say this same thing. If we say our children are great writers/poets/artists/future engineers, etc. they often will believe they are, too. If we tell our children they are good for nothing, lazy or irresponsible, they will likely play that part. Our job as parents is to build our children up, help them feel good about who they are, provide a safe environment for them and to nurture them on their path to adulthood. Obviously this is an incredibly difficult job, however in a world filled with people quick to put them down, it is vital that we hold for our children a safe haven in this world.
It’s vital that we tune in to ourselves as parents. It’s our job to pay attention to how we speak to our children, in front of our children and about our children. It’s important that we know that our words and actions impact them…because they absolutely do. When parents talk about how to play with others, how to settle conflict, how to treat people, what colleges to go to, which jobs to strive for, etc.…children are taking it in.
As a parent, be sure that the message you’re giving is the one you mean for your child to hear. They are listening, they are watching and they are internalizing what they live everyday. Be mindful and know that your job is one of THE most important jobs in the world. As the great singer Whitney Houston once sang:
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier…”
Challenge: Be mindful of what you say to and around children. Your words and actions have the power to change lives. Wield that power consciously–for your sake, the children’s sake and our world’s sake.