Sticks and stones can break my bones
But words can never hurt me
Most of us have also heard the revised, and probably more accurate, version of this rhyme:
Sticks and stones can break my bonesPeople who are around children realize pretty quickly that little ones do not come with a filter. They will pretty much say whatever comes into their heads, which occasionally causes their parents to want to quickly dig a hole and crawl into it (think "Mommy, is that man pregnant? and "Why does that lady have a beard?"). But while these kinds of questions are embarrassing, they don't frustrate me like it does when my kids are just plain mean.
Awhile back I felt like the boys were really in the habit of saying unkind things to each other. I was doing the broken record routine, reprimanding over and over, "Stop saying that. Don't talk to each other that way." Then one afternoon I decided to try to address the problem in a more focused way, and while it wasn't a magic cure, it's been something I can refer back to and the boys usually respond well.
I got out two objects with opposite characteristics. The hard and scratchy object was a butter knife. The soft and fuzzy object was a cotton ball. One at a time, I asked the boys to describe the objects, and give examples of other things that had a similar feeling. Then I asked, "Which thing would you rather have me rub on your face?" Obviously they both chose the cotton ball, and when I asked why they responded that if I rubbed the knife on their face it would hurt and might leave a scratch, while the cotton ball would be nice and soft.
At this point I brought up the Bible verse I wanted to focus on.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
For my purposes I defined "building others up" as "encouraging others", since that was a little easier for the kids to understand. We discussed that words have an effect on people, and when unwholesome talk is coming out of your mouth; it's like rubbing a hard scratchy knife on the person you're talking to. But when our words are spoken to encourage others, it's more like rubbing the other person with a nice soft cotton ball. (Of course I realize this metaphor breaks down at some point, nor are we talking about telling someone "hard truths". My kids were 3 and 5 when we had this little talk so I was keeping it simple, folks)
Like I said, this conversation was not a magical cure for all the ills of childhood. But now, instead of responding to the unkind words I hear like a broken record, I can point the boys straight back to God's word. "When you call your brother a stinky rotten stupid poopy-head that is unwholesome talk. Your words are hard and scratchy. You need to think of some soft and kind words to say because the Bible says that we should encourage others".
And it doesn't hurt to make sure my own speech passes this test as well!
Until next time, MaryAnn