Especially to children. Words matter, especially to children. That quote keeps ringing through my head after hearing it during a recent interview between two very high profile women. Sticking my foot in my mouth is a given for me, in almost any circumstance, but especially when I’m nervous, uncomfortable or stressed. I almost always follow a meet up with friends or family with an apology to someone for a phrase that I fumbled, or a comment that was misleading or a flat out inappropriate remark.
How often am I thankful that my kids don’t realize that I misspoke? Daily. But my time is up. My oldest daughter is 4 and to her, words matter. Big time.
There are certainly two sides to the experiences our children have with our words. For example, the other night, my oldest was relentlessly antagonizing her sisters. The little sisters finally resorted to tears and my reaction was to say, “Just forget her.” But that’s not what I meant – at all. Those three words, that flippant remark, led to a very long night of tears from my oldest who was beyond upset that I could tell anyone to “forget her” – and rightly so. I absolutely misspoke, and those words really mattered. I could have said any number of phrases that would have been better – forget about what she’s saying, ignore the words she’s using, sticks and stones will break your bones, yada, yada, yada… Instead of taking two seconds to pause and choose my words carefully, I lashed out and it had a lasting effect (for that night anyway).
On the other hand, using words positively matters, too. My oldest was very specific about how she wanted her ice cream recently. Though I swore I ordered it correctly, the ice cream place still gave us the wrong order (and by wrong, I mean that strawberry was on top of vanilla instead of vanilla being on top of strawberry). Instead of wasting it, I apologized, said I tried and suggested that she eat it anyway. A loud tantrum ensued, followed by her not touching that ice cream and me not saying another word for the entire ride home. When we got home, this is what she said, “Mommy, I know that you tried to get it right. I’m sorry that I got upset. We can try again next time. “ So she does listen, sometimes, and I do get my words right, sometimes. I was so proud of her for choosing to say those words on her own. (The next time we went to get ice cream, she still asked if she could order herself. Seriously.)
So those all-knowing women in the interview were spot on – words do matter, especially to children. But to adults as well. When my children were newborns, it was easy to say the wrong thing – to anyone – and let it slide or send an apology after the fact, but they aren’t little anymore. Our oldest is learning what’s appropriate to say, and not to say, and she’s learning by listening. Our youngest are learning how to put words and phrases together, also by listening. So for all three, I’ll work on choosing my words carefully because what I say to them, and to others, sincerely matters, whether I think so or not.