Whoever once said, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” must not have had a 6 year old because “I hate you, Mommy,” hurts…regardless of whether or not he actually means it.
Some days my bright eyed little 6 year old is full of praise. “You’re the best mommy!” “Mommy, you make the most delicious meals.” “Mommy, I love you.” “Mommy, I want to live near you always, so we can always snuggle…I can even build my house right next door so we’re never far from each other.” Other days my little boy is not so kind. Sometimes I am shouted at. Sometimes the words pass by, muttered under his breath. I am verbally kicked. Sometimes repeatedly. “I hate you, Mommy.” “I’m running away.” “You’re the worst mommy.” Ouch. My heart sighs heavily.
When Daxson is the target, he just brushes it off. He advises me to do the same, “He’s just a kid. He doesn’t really mean it.” I realize that’s probably true. Most ugly things are said in the heat of the moment, whether we’re a kid or not. We get angry, we blow up, we say things we often later regret. But that’s no excuse, because we leave, in our wake, a hurting heart. Beneath that person we’ve just verbally pummeled, there’s a vulnerable soul, craving affection and acceptance. Our words, in all their mighty power, have the ability to completely break a person down.
Yesterday my feet had barely hit the floor before the first attack began. “I HATE you, Mommy. Really. I do. I HATE you. I am running away. Far, far away. Away from you.” Please don’t misunderstand. My child doesn’t just spout off verbal attacks for the fun of it. There’s always a trigger. Yesterday morning it was because he forgot a chore so he didn’t earn his sticker. But a lost sticker isn’t worth beating someone into the ground. It’s just not. Not when you’re 6. Not when you’re 26. Not when you’re 56. My whole day felt off kilter from that point on. I just couldn’t shake his words. I got grumpier and grumpier. How could I possibly let the words of a little six year old dictate my entire day? I felt like it was completely out of control. But I was hurting. Because words hurt.
Words are powerful. They are, most likely, the most powerful weapon we possess. They reach deep into our souls where they are remembered and reflected upon. Words can build us up, but they can just as quickly knock us down. Words bring us joy and gratitude. Words bring sadness and despair. They mark beginnings, they end wars. They create. They inspire. They can destroy.
I spent last night thinking about the power of words. I thought about the words that I use when I am frustrated. I thought about the outbursts I have sometimes when I am angry. I am not taking the blame, completely, for my son’s words, but I do realize that I am a shareholder in his reactions. I know that my children mimic me…for better, for worse. And while it’s easy to want to change my children, it’s harder to change myself. But it looks like perhaps Joseph and I both need to remember the power of words.
I know I could employ Daxson’s philosophy and just blow it off, but if I blow off his hurtful words today, what will he say tomorrow to try to get a better reaction? What will he begin saying to his friends, his brothers, the homeless man on the side of the road? It is my job to teach empathy. To teach kindness. To teach him that when we possess such a powerful tool, we are called to use it wisely and appropriately.
Today I sat down with my little six year old. And I told him how hurtful his words were. Maybe he didn’t realize that he possessed that kind of power. I told him how it’s so easy to just spout off when we’re angry, without really thinking about what we’re saying or who we might be hurting. I reemphasized how much his words had hurt me. He listened. He absorbed each of my carefully thought out words. He didn’t respond. But I could tell I had planted a seed.
This afternoon I saw the seed begin to grow. I saw him get angry and ready to explode. But he bit his tongue. Not one single hurtful word escaped his lips. And I thought that maybe, just maybe he’s learning to control the power of his words.