The Power of Words

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”– Pearl Strachan

Recently I attended my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. The birthday girl’s brother, a super energetic boy about 5 years old was excited to help his mom. He carried a glass bowl full of handmade chocolates to the table. He was about to place the bowl on the table, when he missed it and the bowl fell and broke into pieces.

There was a strange silence in the room, when the mother yelled, “Statue….don’t move until mom clears the glass pieces.” Then she went ahead to pick the pieces and later hugged her son. The party was a huge hit and the boy’s mother continued to appreciate him for his helping nature.

I started thinking of the mother’s response. She could’ve yelled at the boy for breaking the bowl and creating a mess or could’ve told him how expensive the bowl was and maybe could’ve hit him. However, she chose a totally different response at that vulnerable moment. Her response shaped the evening. Instead of crying and yelling, the birthday party went smoothly.

This incident took me back to my childhood days. I was 8 years old, when my grandmother gave me 2kg of wheat to take to the flour mill. As I started walking towards the flour mill, I tripped, the bag tore and the wheat grains scattered on the muddy road.

“You can’t even hold a bag of wheat, what can you do in life? Good for nothing.” yelled Appa. I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said, yet those words stayed with me. His voice replayed, when I entered a school competition, “You’re good for nothing. You can’t achieve this.” When I tried to answer a question in class, self-doubt took over. Years passed and this voice became stronger. I felt incompetent.

Today as I reflect back, that one response shaped my school and college life. It influenced the decisions I took and the way I perceived the events of life. It also altered the meanings that I attached to challenges I faced. Gradually I was writing my destiny based on those few words that my dad uttered in that frustrated moment.

A child’s mind is like a fertile land and the words you sow are the seeds of future, so be thoughtful of what you’re sowing. Each word you speak can either pull them down or empower your child.

Words cast spell that' s why it's called spelling (2)

Here are a few ways to create an empowering response during vulnerable situations.

Focus on behaviour not on the identity:

“You’re so careless”, “You’re so lazy”, “You’re so shy” I’m sure you have heard these statements. These statements are just  a group of words, however they have a profound impact on your child’s personality. Maybe the child missed answering a question in Math paper and the parent says, “You’re so careless”. The child’s brain processes this information on his/her identity level. He/she now thinks that they are careless and slowly they may start using this as an excuse to cover their mistakes. It becomes their reality.

Instead of making such identity level statements a parent may say, “You could’ve been more careful in your first term Math paper, isn’t it? I’m sure if you pay more attention in the next term, you can avoid such silly mistakes.” Here, a parent is focusing on the careless behaviour in one instance and how with efforts the child can get over it.

Avoid generalizations:

“You always tell lies”, “You always get up late”, “You always eat slowly”– some more common statements that a parent uses in conversations. When a parent uses, ‘always’ he is trying to generalize a child’s behaviour, which again shapes the child’s perception of himself.

Instead of generalizing a parent can respond by focusing on the particular instances when the child lied or got up late. “I know you lied the other day. It’s okay. We all tell lies, however I would appreciate if you told me the truth from the next time.” A response like this will help build a responsible behaviour in future.

Attaching meanings to events:

“You’re not good in Math, that’s why you scored less.” this is what my mom said after looking at my Math paper. I scored less marks in the last term and she said it again. “See I told you, you’re not good in Math.” Few years later I found myself telling everyone that I wasn’t good in Math.

Scoring less marks was just an event, but my mom attached a meaning to it by saying, “You’re not good in Math”. Parents keep doing this unconsciously. “You’re a poor speller, as you scored just 4 out of 10 in dictation.”

The next time you can rephrase the same statement as, “You got 4/10 in dictation that means you’ve a fantastic chance to improve.” or “You scored less in Math, I wonder how I can help you to make the concepts clearer.”

These tips have helped me bond better with my daughter. Initially when I started observing the way I spoke to her, I found a lot of generalizations and identity level comments. It took me a while to rephrase my response, however as I paid attention to the words I chose, it became easy for me to switch. Gradually the shift in my response, shaped her behaviour and transformed our relationship. She became more co-operative and I became more accepting.

I hope these tips help you too. The next time you notice an urge to yell at your child and say things that you really don’t mean, remind yourself –

‘Words cast spell, that’s why it’s called spelling’

What do you think about the ‘Power of Words’? How effectively do you use them? I’m eager to read your views.

Love and gratitude,

Gayu

PS:

Starting today I will be blogging every day for the next 32 days on topics that are close to my heart, like relationships, personal development, books reviews, parenting and mental health. If you want me to write specifically about any topic, you can do so my posting a comment on my blog or you can drop an email to gs.aptekar84@gmail.com.

 

11 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. Absolutely right!

    And I would use what you wrote, to tell adults as well as grown up children this – Just because someone older (or in a senior position to you) said that you are poor at xyz, does not mean you do not have the power to improve on it. Throw their words out, and refill your mind with these words – “I can work on this and do better”

    As a young adult I was almost always subtly told – you will never keep house well / you cannot be organized… (and many variations). I still am not the best of housekeepers. But *many* people tell me I am a very organized person! When I first heard this, I was baffled. Me? Organized? I always knew I was NOT an organized person

    Then a friend told me – “You are very organized in your thoughts”. Aah. She was right. Now – organized thoughts sadly do not become an organized cupboard 🙂 🙂

    But – to cut longer stories short – I go on like this:

    1) I permanently work at being a better housekeeper and am happy with what I am on any given day. I have improved over the years, and where I have reached is fine with me.

    2) I admire lovely houses that many women and men maintain. I respect that God / Nature has endowed them with that ability – they do maintain things with ease.

    3) God has given me different abilities that others may/may not possess. If there was no such variety, what would the world be? Absolutely boring 🙂

    4) I do my best not to let others’ opinions (more specifically judgements) about me, affect my efforts. Some days it can be frustrating. But on most – I can tell myself “If that is their opinion, it is also their problem” 🙂

    1. Awesome Vasu! I’m so proud of you 🙂 I know how organised you’re when it comes to giving talks and conducting seminars. You take so much effort and I admire that a lot. I personally love point 3, yes life will be so boring if we all had the same capabilities….hehehe.. 🙂
      Thank you for reading this post and sending across your wishes 🙂
      Hugs and love,
      Gayu

  2. This is so thoughtful and uplifting, Gayatri!

    I love the way you execute your stories.

    Even I am planning a blog marathon (for the first time) from 15th this month. 🙂 Looking forward to your posts.

    1. Wow!!! So awesome 🙂 I’ve tried Bloggoing Marathon in the past and I could complete it, however this time I’ve put some effort on planning and I hope I’m able to complete with 🙂
      Best wishes to you too!
      love and hugs,
      Gayu

  3. Very thoughtful post, Gayatri. I agree that watching what we say is important around our kids and better for our own peace of mind too. Most often we react on instinct instead of responding. That, in my opinion, makes all the difference.

    Will watch the blog for the coming month. Good luck for the daily blogging 🙂

    1. Thank you Shailaja, this coming from you means a lot 🙂 I admire the way you pen the parenting posts. I’ve planned something special for this month and I hope I’m able to do it, especially for myself 🙂
      love and hugs,
      Gayu

  4. Well written, Gayatri. Words indeed are powerful. I try to enforce love rather than rules. I loved the incident of the mom of the birthday girl you narrated. Nowadays parents are becoming more aware I believe. Good for this generation. In our generation ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ was the diktat.
    By the way, I am doing a Blog Marathon as well. 🙂

    1. Yes this generation parents are working on becoming better individuals. I was so inspired by this mom, she literally changed the mood of that evening. You’re doing a blog marathon as well…wow!!! I will drop in 🙂
      Best wishes!
      Hugs and love,
      Gayu

    1. It’s that one moment where we tend to react quickly. I initially started telling to myself “PAUSE GAYU” and then I discovered after few attempts the change began. I stopped reacting and started responding. Thank you for visiting me here.
      Love and gratitude,
      Gayu

  5. Words have an immense power and wield an influence on us throughout our life. We must know how to motivate people as you have put it so well Gayatri. I’ve have grown up by being influenced by adjectives where I was hardly a confident person and led to believe what people say about me must be true. Children can be easily be twisted by words and we must be able to motivate them to do better.

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