Why I am teaching my children that words matter

Names and labels aren't allowed in our home
By Katy AndersonPublished on 01/11/2019 at 11:10 AM EDT

The first time I ever went to a therapist he gave me some valuable advice. After I confided that I had managed to get some articles published, he immediately advised me to “never read the comments.” I found myself smiling and nodding my head in agreement. I knew all too well what he was trying to protect me from. Some of the comments I had already read had stuck with me; replaying like an obnoxious ear worm when I was at my most vulnerable.

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with depression. Part of dealing with depression is coping with the negative thoughts that come along with it. On a good day, I can see the bigger picture and can be strong enough to cast them aside. On a bad day, they converge and multiply until I am rendered too weak to fight them off. Negative words from others act as ammunition; convincing me that the way I think of myself is the way others perceive me as well.

Words have power. They can lift and strengthen, empower and connect. Words can also tear through us like a sharp blade, or shock us numb. When I was a child, I remember hearing “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Even at a young age, I found this to be false. Name calling and labeling is hurtful to children (and adults) and can stick with us for far longer than we ever thought possible. I want my three sons to know that the words we choose matter.

My oldest son is always asking me if he was “held back.” He has been teased by several of his peers because he went to kindergarten twice. It was a difficult decision, and one that I fretted over for months. His birthday falls on the deadline for registration, meaning he would be one of the oldest or youngest in his class. After consulting with his teacher, my husband and I made the decision to give him that extra year. Although he was doing fine academically, we wanted him to have that much more time to succeed.

Words have power. They can lift and strengthen, empower and connect. Words can also tear through us like a sharp blade, or shock us numb.

I had some concern about how the other students would react, but I honestly thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal. That was until my son came home from school in tears. When I asked what happened, he said a girl had been taunting him and even tripped him while he was running. Seeing red, I tried to calmly assess what had led up to this. He told me she was teasing him for being “held back.” I have explained to him repeatedly that he wasn’t held back because of any inadequacy on his part. Some students repeat a grade when they may need the extra help and there is nothing wrong with that but he just happened to have a birthday that made registration difficult. Kids can be cruel, however, and my son feels stuck with this label.

I know that I can’t control what happens at school, but I will not allow my three boys to call each other names. One thing I will not tolerate in my home is name calling. I believe in the power of words. Words can hurt, and it doesn’t mean you are weak or insecure if they affect you; it means you are human. It is also important to me that my children do not label themselves. I am already seeing some of this behavior with them and it crushes me because I know that it is likely an inherited trait. I am working on building them up as best I can. The labels we give ourselves can be as hurtful as the ones that others place upon us.

The words that we choose matter because, for better or worse, it is how we express ourselves. Even if those words are typed, instead of spoken in person, they have the power to lift or put down. I am teaching my children that words matter because I never want them to be the reason someone else has a bad day; I want them to be a force for good–and turn someone’s day around for the better.

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