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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sticks and Stones ~ Practical Parenting Series

What do you do when you see a child being mistreated in public? Do you do as I do and wonder where the line is between minding your own business and stepping in?

I was out for a lazy, evening stroll recently when I witnessed a woman yanking on and screaming at a little boy who appeared to be no more than four or five years old. My heart beat wildly in my chest as I could see the anger on her face and the fear in his eyes.
Should I intervene?
Mind my own business?Well, right or wrong, I did nothing. Instead, I walked on and watched in horror as the little boy was viciously, verbally reprimanded. He was weeping and trying desperately to escape the woman's harsh grasp. It seemed to me he wasn't trying to avoid discipline, he was very frightened.

Of course, I don't have any idea what invoked this woman to such cruelty but I can't help but wonder; does it matter? Does any one of us have any right, under any circumstances, to treat another human being, let alone a child, with such utter disrespect, hatefulness and vengeance?

I'd say absolutely not! At no time, in no place does any one, young or old deserve to be treated in such a way. Ever.

Now, a week later I sit at my keyboard replaying the scenario in my mind and the truth is it still haunts me a little. I may not have responded at the scene that night but I'm choosing to use my words today in hopes that it will make a difference for children like this little boy in the future.

When we think about the horrible abuses that take place in our world we can easily cite physical, emotional or sexual abuse as some of the worst case scenarios. And indeed it is so, but let us not dismiss the painful words that sting the heart and burrow deep into the minds of victims! Verbal abuse can absolutely be just as damaging to a person's well being.

Remember the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!"? How very untrue it is! Words are very, very powerful. In fact, words might be one of the most powerful tools a parent can wield in a child's early most formative years.

Dr. Michael Popkin, child development expert, says that our job as parents is to teach our children how to survive and thrive in the society in which they will live. In order to do that they must have the courage to overcome life's obstacles. He says in order to raise children to have courage we must spend time encouraging, not discouraging them.

This is very good news for parents and essentially anyone who interacts with children. Encouragement is free and accessible to anyone who might choose to use it! All that is needed are your well chosen words. When you encourage a child you are literally building courage in them. Conversely then, discouraging a child tears away the courage you want to instill. Think of it like a bank account. In order to increase your savings you deposit, not withdraw money. The same is true with courage. Encouragement is the deposit, discouragement is like a withdrawal.

Some forms of discouraging words are obvious; cursing, yelling and demeaning our children. Other forms of discouragement are more obscure. For example, we are actually disassembling any courage in children when we do things for them that they could do for themselves. We say things like, "Honey, your too little to do that" or "Don't you dare (________) what are you trying to do make my life harder?"

We also discourage kids when we expect the worse from them. How many of us have found ourselves saying, "Don't get in trouble!" or "Don't make a mess!"? What seems like a relatively harmless phrase is really a projected expectation of failure. Why don't we change our speech to include words of faith like "I know you'll try your best" or "Let's clean this up together"?

Finally, and most commonly, we discourage our children when we only notice the negative. When you find yourself saying things like, "Now look what you did!" or "What were you thinking?" we miss an opportunity to build our children up. Instead let's think before we are so quick to speak and look for opportunities to catch our children being good. Let's say things like, "That was a good try", "May I help you?" or "You'll get it someday!".

Our children are smaller than us. Their feelings are smaller and much more fragile as well. Let's not abuse our adult power and influence and be people of discouragement. Let's be a people, a community, that encourages one another. Let's use our words, our power-packed words to build each other up. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!


Stephanie Sikorski has had plenty of practice being encouraging to each of her five children but is also employed as a certified Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She can be reached for comment or consultation at ssikorski@mr238.org


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