Let’s Talk Parenting: Words are Powerful
By Dolores Watkins & Tenille Doram
“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister, Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some colored ink and painted Sally’s portrait. When Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up, she exclaimed, “Why it’s Sally!” And she bent down and kissed her young son.
In 1772, when he was thirty-four, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Her encouragement was what he needed.
It’s easy to notice the wrong in a child but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What if Benjamin’s mother had responded differently? What if she had been critical of young Benjamin for the mess he had made with his paints? What if she had scolded him and taken away his art supplies? Years later it might have been said, “His mother’s punishment crushed his artistic gift.” Perhaps his gift would have emerged either way. The point is that his mother’s kind and encouraging words affirmed and gave momentum to his talent. How parents speak to their children gives them confidence to know who they are and to live their values and abilities. Criticism and nagging can destroy a child’s identity. Words are powerful.
When our children make messes, mistakes, or errors in judgment, it can be frustrating and inconvenient, but we can offer guidance and consequences in a positive way. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
- Rather than focusing on your child’s bad behaviour, watch for what they’re doing right and praise them for it. Not only does this encourage good behaviour to continue, it may help reduce the chances they will act out as a way to get your attention.
- Set clear expectations for what you would like your child to do, rather than simply telling them what not to do. For example, telling them “not to make a mess” or to “be good” is unclear. Instead, try “please put all of your toys in the box when you’re done playing with them.” It’s also important to set realistic expectations based on what you know your child is capable of. When you ask them to do things you know they can reasonably do, you set them up for success.
- Consequences are an important part of children’s development as they learn that when they do ‘x,’ ‘y’ happens. When your child is scribbling on the walls or dumping their apple sauce on the furniture, using calm consequences to explain what will happen if they don’t stop (ie. “you’ll have a time out,” “play time will be over,” etc.) is more effective than yelling. If they don’t listen, follow through with the consequence calmly and without showing anger or frustration.
Words are powerful and the truth is, when we’re yelling and getting upset, it doesn’t make us feel very good about ourselves either. Know that it’s easy to forget what a great job you’re doing as a parent every day and give yourself the credit. When your child is being difficult or their behaviour is causing you stress, know that you can pause and take a step back in order to respond in a calmer, more collected way. Make the decision to affirm, encourage and speak kindly as often as possible, including to yourself!
(Benjamin West excerpt selected from “Moments of Peace for Moms” by Our Daily Bread Publishing 2019; Additional web resources from https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-discipline-your-child-smart-and-healthy-way)