Kids say mean things to each other. Some do it to cause harm, and some do it out of unawareness or immaturity.
Regardless of why things are said, it can be a challenge to effectively guide our children when they hear or say something mean. We feel like we should give a standard, cover-all-the-bases response (sticks and stones; they are just words!), but there is more to discuss and consider if we really want our children to understand the power of words.
Words are alive. They are the first step toward creating and connecting, and they are the guidelines of how we see and experience the world. What a child hears on a day-to-day basis will become what they believe. Not because the words always are true, but because they hear the words repeatedly.
So to tell a child that words don’t mean anything is not realistic or sincere. They do mean something. When mean words are said, they can hurt. When words are used lovingly, they can heal.
Our choice of words can define who we are and who we want to be in the world. Do we want to break people down with our words or do we want to lift them up? Do we fight with our words or do we seek peace?
At the same time, words don’t have to mean a thing. If someone calls you a name, you may feel the initial sting of it, but then you always are left with a choice.
When words are meant to silence or disable you, they are poison, and they shouldn’t be ingested.
When words carry negative intentions, you can choose to let them go, knowing that hate-filled words are a reflection of someone else’s pain, someone else’s inability to feel love, possibly because of the words they heard throughout their lifetime.
Instead, we can make a decision to believe helpful and empowering words, the words that make us feel good and allow us to be kind and useful human beings.
So we have to live in the paradox – words are powerful and words mean nothing. And instead of looking for a simple cut-and-dried response to give to our kids, we need to know that words and communication skills are an ongoing discussion.
Then our children can take responsibility for the words they choose to use, and the words they choose to believe.