“Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones, but Words Will Never Hurt Me!”

Were you ever bullied by anyone? Like many children, I was bullied at school. My mother used to remind me of that little rhyme, above, but it didn’t help me much. Actually, the words spoken to me by my classmates really DID hurt me.

Keep reading because below are my 12 actionable tips to break the power of those words!

When it’s the parents who do the bullying, it’s even more of a problem. It’s awful to consider, but it does happen. Plenty of kids are coerced into doing things they don’t want to do because they are fearful of their parents. Often, it’s because parents don’t know how to handle things very well, and resort to bullying to get action. Sadly, they don’t understand how much their words matter. Words are never neatly contained, like a message in a bottle.

But I’ve realised that even parents who don’t use bullying tactics can still unintentionally cause long-term negative impact. Have a think about your childhood for a moment. What sort of things did your parents say to you? The other way to explore this idea is to wonder, what words automatically come out when you make a mistake, or you do something unexpectedly silly? It’s likely the words you use to beat yourself up with, are the same as those someone used to say to you.

The words that come out of my mouth when I’m kicking myself are: “Jenny, you stupid girl!”

Your Words Matter

We all have nasty words, sometimes called “parent tapes”, playing in our heads. These are messages we got from our parents, or teachers, or kids at school. The words caused us a level of trauma deep down, and usually they surface when we’re under stress. Without thinking, we play them back to ourselves at odd moments. Do you ever catch yourself muttering things under your breath like this?

“You are so silly!”

“Typical. Always messing things up.”

 “You can do better than that.”

Those little messages are your parent tapes, as they rewind and play, over and over. They tell you the bad stuff. And often, the statement is completely untrue.

Why Words Matter

I have a clear memory of when my father told me those very words that I stick myself with: “You stupid girl!” It’s important to say at this point that Dad loved me. He loved each of his four daughters – a lot. And yet this happened . . . I was eight or nine-years-old at the time. Unfortunately, I was the last one in the car that day, and we were late going somewhere. My Dad was a get-there-on-time sort of person. (As opposed to my Mum who was a get-there-as-close-to-the-time-as-you-can type.) I knew this, and was already aware I was playing with fire when I ran across the front lawn, and zipped into my place in the car.

Then, Dad hissed it at me . . .

“You stupid girl!”

Seconds after Dad’s little outburst, my mother saw me in tears. She asked me what he had said, and tried to fix it by telling Dad off. Then she quickly reassured me it was not true. But it was too late. The words were out, and I spent years feeling the weight of them.

Not surprisingly, it was a get-there-as-close-to-the-time-as-you-can sort of day.

That was my personal experience in just a normal, loving family. But it’s even more sad when parents constantly repeat sentences like, “You’ll never amount to anything”; “Stop it! You’re such a pain!”; “Just shut up!” These types of words can become self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s to be expected that children exposed to such words probably will not amount to anything; or will be painful/in pain; or will be super-quiet. It’s exactly what their parents told them to be.

What I did about it

As a new mother, I was very aware I would tell myself how stupid I was when I mucked up. But I was also aware it was because of what Dad said to me as an eight-year-old. Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that the opposite must also be true. I decided to tell my children how well they were doing, to give them positive feedback, and to remind them how good they were at certain things. I knew they would end up in a much better place.

So this is why I decided not to say negative things to my children. (In fact, I remember deciding at one stage to never use the word “No”. But I quickly changed my mind on that!) I was aware, in an almost scientific way, of cause and effect – or, if I do this, then that will happen.

So, I consciously worked at praising them, and giving them honest, loving responses. To the best of my knowledge, I never called them names or put them down. I still don’t. Put simply, I resolved to tell my children good things about who there were and what they did. I knew this would give them a better opinion of themselves and their own abilities, and improve their self-esteem.

Of course, it’s never as easy as that. Things go wrong. Kids rebel. Stuff happens to people, Dads don’t get to places on time, and life can go belly-up. But the long-term effect of saying positive words makes all the difference to get children over the line, growing up into loving, confident and capable adults, who achieve their best.

What you can do about Words – 12 Actionable Tips

  1. Do you have parent tapes that go off in your head?

    It’s good to remove the power of these words in your life. Spend some time writing what you remember in your journal. What happened? Who said the words to you? Where were you at the time? Write it all out and get it out of your system. Decide to forgive that person – whether they are still part of your life, or not. It’s by forgiving, and letting go of resentment towards people, that you get freedom from them, and their words. Sometimes it is difficult to forgive. Pray and ask God to help you. Be persistent. For some people, forgiveness is a daily choice.
    You may find you write about this day after day for weeks before you feel like you are free.

  2. While you are doing this, decide to be kind to yourself. Choose to stop saying those words, either in your head or out loud. If you catch yourself saying them, quickly come back with at least three positive statements. Here are some examples: “You can do this”, “Just as well I worked that out”, or “Good on me!”
  3. Were you bullied by your parents when you were growing up? In that case, the chances are you bully your children. The process to rid yourself of this habit is similar to 1) above. Use your journal to forgive those who bullied you. Also, forgive yourself for bullying your children. Make choices not to do it anymore. Consciously research ideas, and think of other strategies to gain your child’s cooperation. Again, be persistent. This is important work. Your child’s long-term future and mental stability are at stake
  4. While your parents may not have done the right thing by you, it’s still important to honour them. This doesn’t mean you agree with them, or with what they did, or said. But it does mean giving them the time of day, having a relationship with them, listening to them, and acknowledging good things about them. If you can’t think of many good things, again, get your journal out and write. It’s amazing what your subconscious releases when you write.
    Why do I suggest you honour your parents? Because of this from the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Long life is your reward if you do this!
  5. The words you use have a huge impact on your children. Work on building up their confidence and self-esteem, not tearing it down. If they do bad stuff, draw their attention to exactly what they did, instead of personal attack. In these moments, a friend of mine says to her children, “That’s not like you!” which are very good words, to reinforce positive behaviour.
  6. It’s more than just words . . . Tone of voice is important. So much is conveyed in the way we speak. Why not try it out when you have a moment on your own? Say “I love you,” using these tones of voice: sarcasm, anger, disappointment, passion, tiredly, with friendliness. I always reminded my kids to be aware of the way they spoke. Even the most happy and compliant words can mean the opposite if you use the wrong tone.
  7. Your words also matter when you talk to your spouse/partner. Speaking with love and kindness is so important. It’s the same with words of forgiveness. Someone famously wrote, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” and it’s a good place to come back to. After a fight, make friends again, as quickly as you can.
  8. Have you ever manipulated situations with your words? Manipulation is something we women are so good at. However, it’s a terrible thing to have power over, and control someone else with your words. Instead, use kind words. As this well-known proverb says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
  9. Think of good things. By choosing to think positively, you will turn your life around, and the lives of those you live with. It was written in the Bible long ago: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
  10. Speak words of gratitude, and say thank you. In your journal write down everything you are thankful for. Even when you are at your lowest, taking time to be thankful will give you a new lease on life. Check out this TED talk about saying thank you. In this deceptively simple three-minute talk, Dr. Laura Trice muses on the power of the magic words “thank you” – to deepen a friendship, to repair a bond, to make sure another person knows what they mean to you. Try it.
  11. Your words can bring joy to your soul. Have you ever prayed and asked God for help with personal issues like helping you take control over your words? It follows that because he made you, he has a vested interest in helping you be your best. He just waits to be asked, and he’s with you all the time! Jesus, God’s son, said this, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
    Pray for self-control with your words. He’ll give you that moment of awareness, when you will have a chance to stop, and regulate what you are about to say. Try it and see. Even if you fail a few times, at least you will be aware of what you have done. Learn from your mistakes, and try to improve. I bet you’ve never really thought about prayer bringing you joy – but that’s the promise.
  12. Your words can bring joy to others. Get some nice notepaper, and write out some words of affirmation for each of your family members. Even if they are not old enough to read them yet, they will be one day. This can take the form of a short note with one or two sentences. Or it could be an entire letter, given at a birthday or anniversary. Those notes will become treasured items.

Words Really Do Matter

Taking control of what you say, to yourself and to others, is a huge step in taking responsibility for your own actions. There is so much power in your words. You can be a life-changer – for good!

Are you willing comment below about what words have had most impact on you?