Harsh Words - Verbal
I ran into a stranger as he passed by. "Oh excuse me please" was my reply. He said, "Please excuse
me too; I wasn't watching for you." We were very polite, this stranger and I. We went on our way and we said good-bye.
But at home a different story is told, how we treat our loved ones, young and old.
Later that day, cooking the evening meal, my son stood beside me very still. When I turned, I nearly knocked him down.
"Move out of the way," I said with a frown. He walked away, his little heart broken. I didn't realize how harshly I'd spoken.
While I lay awake in bed, God's still small voice came to me and said, "While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy
you use, but the children you love, you seem to abuse. Go look on the kitchen floor, you'll find some flowers there by the
door." "Those are the flowers he brought for you. He picked them himself; pink yellow and blue.He stood very quietly not to
spoil the surprise, and you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes."
By this time, I felt very small, and now my tears began to fall. I quietly went and knelt by his bed; "Wake up, little
one, wake up," I said. "Are these the flowers you picked for me?"
He smiled, "I found 'em out by the tree." "I picked 'em because they're pretty like you. I knew you'd like 'em, especially
I said, "Son, I'm very sorry for the way I acted today; I shouldn't have yelled at you that way.
" He said, "Oh, Mom, that's okay. I love you anyway. I said, "Son, I love you too, and I do like the flowers, especially
We all live in a hurried, stress-filled world. But, please, stop and think about what
you are saying................especially to your most precious gift from God, your children.
Please don't speak harshly with them.
By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Hidden Messages
It’s a curious affliction: the tendency to talk about one’s children in the most brutally honest and hurtful
ways without realizing that the cherished subjects of the offensive comments are listening to every word. Right now, you may
be saying to yourself, “This never happens to me.” Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I think there’s a good chance
you’ll see yourself in at least one of the following examples.
Unloading a cart full of Cheerios, macaroni-and-cheese and hot dogs at the grocery store’s checkout counter, a harried
mother chats animatedly to the cashier. “… Only one more week ‘til summer vacation, then the kids will be
home all day. I can already hear the bickering and whining! I don’t know how I’ll manage to live through the next
few months! Want to buy two kids, cheap?” The cashier laughs and shakes her head, “Oh, no thanks, I have my own!
I know what you mean! I’m already waiting for next September!” In their supposedly innocent light-hearted banter,
neither one notices the shopper’s two children standing right beside her, listening quietly to every hurtful word. Neither
one notices a pair of small eyes cast downward just so, or a nervous little cough.
Consider Amir’s situation as he walks in the door after another grueling day of work. His joyful, eager children
run for Daddy, but Mom spies him coming in just before they have their chance to pounce. And the daily gripe session begins.
“I am SO glad you’re home. I need five minutes of peace and quiet. These kids drove me crazy all day! Abdi and
Sheida have been like wild animals. They were fighting in the living room and knocked over the potted fern. Aria has been
acting like a two-year-old—having temper tantrums over every little thing. The wash machine is broken again and I have
four stacks of kids’ dirty clothes piled up in the laundry room . . .” Quietly and unnoticed, three dispirited
children fade into the background of the family room and turn on the TV.
Then there’s Megan, chatting on the phone with her best friend. As usual, the conversation turns to the daily issues
with their children. Megan dramatically relates how very annoyed she was with Kyle at baseball this morning. “I was
so embarrassed!” she groans. “Kyle struck out and he stomped his foot like a baby and threw his helmet on the
ground. You’d think he was five years old instead of 15!” She chuckled. “ I think adolescent hormones are
taking over.” Meanwhile, said adolescent is just a few feet away, pretending to work on his homework—but actually
suffering the embarrassment of listening to his mother talk about his very real pain as if it were some big joke.
I know many parents who slip into the type of unfortunate conversation of a mother and father who approached me after a
recent parenting lecture. They were anxious to talk with me, bemoaning their three-year-old’s latest behavior problems.
“Molly’s been a good girl until recently. It’s like we’ve entered the terrible twos a bit late. She’s
just no fun anymore. She’s constantly yelling ‘No!’ to us and won’t listen to a word we say. We’ve
tried to be patient, but she’s pushed us to the end of our rope!” I glance down to see a little three-year-old
(Molly, perhaps?) clinging tightly to her father’s leg. But she’s only three, she doesn’t understand what
they’re saying, this couldn’t possibly hurt her.
Or so we think.
The Hidden Message
“I can talk about you all I want, and since you’re just a child you’re not listening to what I say anyway.
You’re not worthy of the same respect I’d give another adult. Besides, this is how I REALLY feel about you, and
I don’t care about your feelings—you’re just a kid so your feelings aren’t important.”
Think About It
If you don’t believe that your children hear your casual remarks, try this: As you chat with a friend or your spouse,
casually slip a question in the middle of your conversation. Something along the lines of, “Do you think we should round
up the kids and take them out for ice cream?” Be ready to hop in the car when you hear the chorus of, “Yes!”
from the four corners of the house.
Children do not always react outwardly to what they hear. However, if you could see into their hearts, you would find a
record of every careless word, every thoughtless action, every adult laugh, that here, in the most tender and vulnerable of
places, was not found so funny. Here would you find also significant—and often, inappropriate—meaning attached
to these products of childhood observation. Children struggle through the growing-up process, and along the way they question
who they are and what their meaning is to this world and to their parents. A parent’s potent words, and the multitude
of other comments, gestures and actions, help a child paint a picture of who he really is, and how important he is in this
world. How tragic for that child if, despite how we really feel, that painting is not the masterpiece we envision!
Changes You Can Make
Given the extreme importance of your words, it simply makes good sense to choose them carefully. From now on, if your child
is within hearing distance assume that he may be listening—and don’t say anything about him that you wouldn’t
say to him.
If you see a bit of yourself in the previous examples, you’re no different than most parents. But that doesn’t
mean that this behavior needn’t cease. Such a simple change could have a very positive impact on your children’s
lives. As you talk about your children—and let’s face it, they’re among our favorite topics—pay attention
to how those words sound from your child’s point of view. If you think that what you’re saying, or about to say,
can be construed as hurtful or embarrassing, stop. Talk about something else.
If you’re not sure what you’re saying has a negative impact or not, ask yourself how you would feel if you
overheard someone talking about you in those exact words. Or perhaps you can ask yourself, “If I were talking about
my boss/spouse/best friend to another person, with the object of my comments listening, would I ever say such a thing?”
If your answer is a mortified laugh, then stop mid-sentence and rephrase your comments in a more positive way, if you find
them absolutely crucial to the conversation.
Better yet, find something shining and wonderful to say about your child, and be sure your child hears it. That type of
“casual comment” can yield life-enhancing benefits to your children. It may help them compose a more wonderful
vision of themselves. An image that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Hidden Messages : What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children
by Elizabeth Pantley
McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2000