Words Matter – And My Children Know It

ย Words Matter - And My Children Know It

When my oldest son was 18 months old and barely making sounds, never mind words, I knew he needed a little extra help in the speech department. After he was evaluated, I was told that he had the speech of a 6-month-old, and the comprehension of a 3-year-old. Needless to say, this explained a lot of behavioral issues and frustration that I’d been seeing in him.

He got his speech therapy, it made a drastic difference almost immediately, and that’s a whole story for another day. As a mother, I found the process life-changing. His speech therapist was literally giving my son words, words that he then could use any time he needed them. It sounds so basic, but it wasn’t. Those words gave him options, choices, a control that he hadn’t had.

I started paying closer attention to the words I used with my children, trying to make sure that what I said was helpful, meaningful, and very specific. (Revolutionary idea, I know, but hey – I was just figuring it all out. haha) I avoided saying things like “That’s nice.” What’s nice? Nice is a vague word anyway. “That was kind of you to help the baby find his toy. Thank you.” “It was thoughtful of you to pick that up without being asked.” It took a little while for it to become a habit in me, but eventually the results were too good to miss. So I kept going.

Certain concepts began playing a major role in my mothering. My children are people, deserving of respect and compassion, just like any other person. Nobody wants to be barked at to hurry up, move faster, get dressed, do this, do that. Choices are enjoyable, and in a sense, empowering. I found that it took less time and emotional energy to get down on their level, and ask “What do you need? I am listening.” than to have us both suffer through a 20-minute tantrum. It eliminated, very quickly, so much stress and tension that can occur while working with little ones.

I want to be seen, to be heard, to be listened to, to be understood. So does my child.

I kept learning, little by little, and making adjustments along the way. One day, I was reprimanding Mikey for some misbehavior, and he wailed, “You don’t like me right now!” Instant adjustment needed, obviously! I started saying “I love you, and I always love you. I do not like your behavior right now, so we will work together and try again.” (PS. I don’t think me being their mother gives me an automatic pass to be cranky, snippy or mean. So when I am – which happens more than I’d like haha – I make sure to always apologize, the same as I expect from them.)

Ellie lucked out, really, because I started all of these mothering techniques right after she was born. Let’s just say that the “terrible twos” have been pretty much non-existent, and considering how feisty and independent my daughter is, it’s proof of how well this works. Concrete example: Ellie hates holding hands. She prefers to walk alone, whether on road, stairs, or anywhere else. Most of the time, I let her. Every now and then, it would be clearly unsafe, so I don’t. But I don’t grab her hand and drag her along. I get down in front of her and let her know, “This area is not safe to walk in all by yourself. I will hold your hand until it’s safe, and then I will let go. Then you can walk alone again.”

ย Here’s where it gets tricky. ๐Ÿ˜› They are my mirrors, these little people, the mirrors to my words, my tone, my kindness – and lack thereof. One day Mikey was calling to someone in the middle of a game, and when she didn’t answer he told her, quite abruptly, “I do not have time for this. Come here!”

Well. I mean… I’m pretty sure I know where he got that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I said it fairly often, without really thinking about it. But hearing it come out in his little voice made me realize how rude it is, how harsh. We both learned something that afternoon, when we took a minute to come up with kinder ways to get the point across. Now we prefer to say, “I am waiting for you. Are you almost here?” Funny thing – it works just as well as the other. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Mikey is now almost 5, Ellie is 2.5, and every day that goes by, I feel more and more confident in this initially radical change in my parenting. Moral of the story: if it’s not working – for you, your child, or both – STOP AND TRY SOMETHING ELSE! Parenting will always be difficult, but it certainly doesn’t have to be miserable! Ha!

At the end of the day, I’m still exhausted, but I don’t often feel as guilty. It is emotionally wearing to calmly work through each seemingly small thing with them, but it is worth it, every time.

Best of all, I am seeing my children learn to become strong but kind and thoughtful, in a world that seems to grow more thoughtless and cruel every day.

A couple weeks ago, the kids were coloring at the kitchen table while I was with the baby in our living room. Ellie started shrieking, something about a marker she wanted, and I heard:

“Ellie, I love you always but I do not like your behavior right now. Maybe you would like to have a quiet minute by yourself. Or do you need a cuddle? I will help you. Tell me what you need.”
“Okay, Mikey. T’ank you. Ellie okay now.”

You guys. It was everything. It was everything all wrapped up and handed to me like a giant mothering present with a bow on top.

This path I have chosen, this motherhood life, it challenges me as I have never been challenged before – and it rewards me beyond my every expectation. Some days I’m trudging, some days I’m flying, some days I’m barely holding on. My children constantly inspire to be the best version of myself. I am teaching them how to live, but they are showing me, every day, what it means to be truly alive.

[I was about to hit publish when I remembered the whole, strangers read this blog thing, so if some of what I’m saying seems a little full of mama pride – take it for what it’s worth. The struggle is real, but so are the rewards. I want to remember both. <3]

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  1. I love reading your blog. I too and trying to be more mindfully present and emotionally understanding in my parenting. It fills me with inspiration to read of your success. No matter how hard the journey may be it is always worth my time to slow down and think (and sometimes rethink lol) of ways to work it out without losing my cool. I mean seriously, if i can not model self control how can I expect my kids to?
    My son Logan (3 tomorrow) was crying (very loudly) about not being able to put some Legos together and my daughter Lily (5) told him, “Don’t be sad. You can use your words. I’m always here to help you.” It is so rewarding to see my hard work paying off.

    1. Tiana, I LOVE that! That’s when you really get to see that all the effort you put in is so worth it. I find it very uplifting to hear from other moms that practice this kind of thoughtful parenting! Thanks so much for sharing! Xo

  2. Thank you so much for this! Beautiful. I needed to be reminded of this. My 1 year old is about to become my little mirror.
    Your advice on parenting is always so clear, wise, and practical. Please keep it coming! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This is so beautiful, Anna. I can’t imagine the emotional wear of being a mom, but you’re so right that it’s going to tire you out no matter what. You can either be bad tired/cranky/guilty or good tired/joyful. Don’t apologize for sharing your momma pride — you’ve hit on something so important here and you’re seeing amazing fruit by making this change. You should be proud! I used to be teacher, and while that’s clearly not even close to being a mom, spending upwards of 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 10 months with my kids (1st graders) definitely led them to pick up some of my nastier and more sarcastic patterns. I remember having a similar moment when one them gave a condescendingly “REALLY?!” to another student. I knew I had to change my tone and my words to show my tiny humans more respect, and it worked wonders. Not easy, but worth it. Also, sorry for the longest comment EVER. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sorry for the delayed reply, but absolutely… as a teacher I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about here! You learn to be so aware of the effect of words/behavior, especially when they’re very little.

  4. Thank you for this post! With my almost-3-year-old, I feel like I’m sometimes at a loss of what to say/how to say it to make communication better between us and eliminate meltdowns and minimize frustrations. I so appreciate this post. Thank you, wise blogger mommy!!
    And the conversation you overheard from your kids…sweet sweet SWEET!!

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! It’s definitely a daily thing for me, slow and gentle does not come naturally to me, but it’s gradually becoming a habit, with encouraging results. Thanks for your comment. Xoxo

  5. ๐Ÿ˜€ This is fantastic!!!
    A friends of ours would tell her daughter to be thoughtful and not to be a “hinderance”. Later, the Mom walked by her daughters room and saw her dollies telling each other, “Now, don’t you be a hinderance!”
    Even little ones can have large vocabularies! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Words are so very important. I’m learning that myself.
    Thank you for your post! ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Hahaha That’s awesome!! ๐Ÿ˜› Thanks for sharing. Kids pick up on eeeeverything, we might as well make most of it good while we can! ๐Ÿ˜€

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