Recently, I conducted a webinar about the power of words. Some of the key points are helpful when responding and thinking about the words we use every day. A word by itself does not hold weight until a positive or negative event happens and then positive or negative feelings attach to it. We all have feelings as human beings.
Words spoken about us as children can lead to beliefs about ourselves that are not true. Usually, as a child with ongoing brain development still in process, we will internalize what others say about us. The first negative event that we experience will produce feelings. It may be feelings of fear, sadness, rejection, loss, guilt, anger, loneliness, abandonment, hurt, shock, or terror. At an early age, we will either keep thinking about the memory of the event or we will remember the words we heard and the feelings we experienced in our body. If those feelings remain, every time we experience something similar to that event we will have pain. Usually, the pain can be located somewhere in the body, such as in the stomach or our chest, because of our reaction to the negative words spoken to us. This initial chain of events will continue to grow into adolescence or adulthood if the feelings that were not addressed at an earlier age. Imagine one chain link that continues to grow as the list of negative events grows bigger and bigger over time. This is a result of these emotions tucked inside our bodies and minds for years if not decades.
Several studies talked about how parents, guardians, or how we talk with children can either produce fear and anxiety or safety. For example, if a parent tells a child, “You shouldn’t do that it isn’t safe” the child begins to believe that most things are not safe. It limits their imagination. Let us imagine we are at a park with a child. If we tell the child that going up the slide is not safe, they will continue to have fear-based thinking. Rather, the parent and/or guardian can tell the child, “Let’s go up the slide and go down the slide together as you continue to get stronger and land feet first.” It provides the child a reason why you are both going down the slide together and how the child will get stronger and will be able to land feet first. It says nothing about not doing something new or exciting. The power of words really does begin with what we are thinking and leads to what we believe and do. Metacognition is thinking about what we are thinking about all the time. It is important to take hold of our thoughts and say, Is this true? Is this kind? Is it appropriate?
Some helpful strategies to build healthy communication with children and teenagers include just sitting and listening to the child or teen. Sometimes with no words. Just your presence in the silence. Another tip might be to listen to the child or teen as they tell you how they feel. If we try to respond there is something in us that may be a pain point. I want to stop here for a second. As a parent, guardian, or human, it is painful to hear from another person how they felt based on something you said to them. However, it is important to listen in that moment and remain present. It may be true or maybe it is how they perceive it. In that moment, you have the opportunity to thank them for sharing and ask them what to say the next time to help them in that moment. This may take practice and because we are imperfect human beings, we will make mistakes. As always, once you know, you grow, and you do better.
Be kind, compassionate, and merciful to yourself and the rest will follow with others. Take one healthy communication tip and choose to use it this week. Write down any observations. I would love to hear your reflections.