Dear Nadine, I’ve been teaching my grandkids about the healing power of words. Suggestions? –Word Watching Grandma in Wayzata
Last Sunday, I met with friends and shared about the evening my knee collapsed and how I learned my knees were crippled with arthritis. I watched concern come over their faces as they shared words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of love. I felt better inside.
On Monday, I attended the Gigi’s Playhouse fundraiser “Stand up for Down Syndrome” where I listened to Nell Coonen-Korte, a special Olympian, describe her experiences at school. Nell was repeatedly denigrated with the word “retard,” not just by cruel classmates who refused to work with her, but even by specific teachers who cut her with their verbal disregard. Nell also told how, when a teacher apologized to Nell for his hurtful words, it was balm to her wounded soul.
On Friday, my neighbor disparaged my husband. When I reproached him, he hurled a storm of four-letter expletives at me like grenades. They exploded around me, their shrapnel cutting at my legs and arms. I spent that evening fuming, until I finally channeled my angry thoughts into calming, healing words of prayer.
“Watch your words” is not just a lesson for our children; it’s a lesson for all of us — for life! Words spoken well can remediate, empower, uplift, inspire and heal. However, negative words can depress, defeat and denigrate. Cruel words can create pain that sinks deep into a person’s psyche causing unseen injuries that last a lifetime.
That’s why it’s important that we model positive language to our kids and why we should applaud our children when they use wise words and correct them when they don’t.
What does that look like? First, end negative gossip and cutting criticism at home by continuously reminding every family member of that old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
Kids will gossip about and criticize other kids, if you allow it. Over time, what starts out as venting becomes habitual negativity. Eventually, gossip and criticism spoken at home will become gossip and criticism spoken at school. This builds walls and divisions between kids, increasing misunderstanding and — ultimately — leading to cruelty and victimization.
Gossip and criticism, like every hurtful habit, can be changed with positive effort. Ask your kids to replace detrimental comments about others with kind words. As your children begin to see the good in others, they’ll start feeling better about themselves, too (after all, criticism of others always arises from a place of low self-esteem). And eventually the good energy they pass out will come back to them in spades, creating an aura of peace, calm and connectedness in their inner world.
Next, ensure that the whole family switches out negative words and statements (“I hate,” “I’m depressed,” “I can’t do it”) and instead illuminate their lives with uplifting words, including “please,” “thank you” and “I can” that make everyone’s day. Why? Words are so powerful that they can affect our mindset and our behavior. The more your children hear positive words and speak positive words, the more positive they’ll feel and the more good they will do — at home, at school and at large.
How true is this? Christopher Bergland, a world class endurance athlete, wrote in Psychology Today, “As an athlete…I know the draining power of negative self-talk from personal experience. Anytime I heard the whispers of negativity enter my inner-dialogue during an ultra-endurance event, I could feel those words literally suck my energy like a psychic vampire. If I started saying to myself, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to make it. I’m falling apart,’ a rapid downward spiral would begin. My volition switch was being turned off at a neural level, making me physically weaker. To combat this, I would start chanting positive affirmations such as ‘Yes, that’s right. Keep going, Chris. You have the power. You can do this!’ again and again like a mantra. It always worked to shift my mindset and give me the strength to cross the finish line.”
Next, encourage all family members to practice apologizing. Everyone makes mistakes, including us parents. As Nell’s story teaches, a heartfelt apology is a healing elixir that can change the ending to a painful story and make it better. As parents, we have to be comfortable apologizing to our children when we have done them wrong and refrain from feeling defensive or holding onto the need to be right.
Teaching the skill of apologizing means that our children will have magic at their fingertips that they can take into every area of their lives! That’s because, as Beverly Engel notes, the words in an apology are “crucial to our mental and even physical health.” In fact, research published in Psychology Today showed that receiving an apology helps decrease blood pressure, slows heart rate and steadies breathing. Literally, practicing an apology is good for us, body and soul.
Finally, finish each day as a family with words of gratitude. Use the bedtime routine as a time to promote appreciation and acknowledge all the wonderful things that have happened in every day. William Blake said, “Gratitude is heaven itself,” and certainly words of gratitude expressed often do more than raise our spirits, they change our lives. Gratitude researchers Robert A. Emmons of the University of California-Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, found that research participants who expressed gratitude grew more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Interestingly, they also exercised more and acknowledged fewer doctors’ visits than participants who were charged with focusing on the emotion of aggravation.
Words employed well can have a mystical, magical, transformative effect on our lives and the lives of others. So, teach your children to ditch those down words and use uplifting, inspiring, encouraging language instead — and create the best of verbal energy wherever they go!