“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.” – Rachel Wolchin
Adults, especially parents, have a huge impact on what kind of person a child will become. At a young age, a child will mimic a parent’s words and actions – in other words, their behavior.
Words have an extremely powerful influence on children. Early in children’s lives, they are guided mostly by behavior and emotions. However, as their cognitive and verbal skills rapidly develop, words begin to play a larger and larger role in their lives.
As adults, we can choose to have a positive influence on any child simply by using the right words. And a child may indeed need your positive words, whether they realize it or not.
It may be helpful to specify what “child” or “children” we’re speaking of. In this article, we focus on the psychological aspect during childhood development.
Child development is defined as “the biological, psychological and emotional changes that occur in human beings between birth and the end of adolescence.” In the later years, a person develops an increasing sense of autonomy.
Words and the Child Brain
Let’s take a look at a study conducted by Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, administered a self-assessment to a group of young adults, ages 18 to 25. The assessment asked each young adult to rate their childhood exposure to peer and parental verbal abuse – and were then given a brain scan.
Here are the results of the study:
– Individuals who reported experiencing verbal abuse from peers during middle school years had an underdeveloped corpus callosum, a part of the brain responsible for sending signals (communications) between the brain’s left and right hemispheres.
– This group also had higher levels of anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, hostility, and drug abuse than others in the study.
– Verbal abuse from peers during middle school years had the largest impact. This makes sense, as middle school age (11-14) are associated with rapid brain development.
Other studies have indicated that verbal abuse not only impedes psychological health, it also stunts brain development. This can lead to severe psychological problems, unfulfilled potential, poverty – and a number of other tragic outcomes.
The point: the words kids hear, especially words directed towards them, can significantly impact their lives.
Now the question is what to do about it.
We can begin by paying more attention to our thoughts and emotions, as they often create the words we speak. In a child’s presence, we may need to take a sensitive discussion elsewhere, or wait until a different time.
Finally, we can say things that promote a child’s well-being – an important behavior that segues into the topic of this article.
Here are five kind phrases that can change a child’s life:
1. “Kindness is the greatest gift you can give.”
In a world filled with its fair share of cynical and uncompassionate people, we need people who freely bestow kindness onto others. If you try, you can probably think of a time when someone else’s kind words made all the difference in your day; maybe even your life.
A personal story:
For this author, it was his high school psychology teacher, who would later become his mentor.
After three years of mediocre academic performance in high school, I focused the best I could to get good grades. After scoring a 98 percent on my teacher’s exam, he wrote: “Why didn’t you do this the last three years? You could be in the top 10 of your class! Great job!”
I still remember those words when I doubt myself.
2. “Appreciate the little things.”
Through young childhood, it’s unlikely that this will mean much – but say it anyways. In fact, say it until they day the child leaves home or your presence.
“Appreciate the little things.”
We, despite our best efforts, tend to accept too many things for granted. While the world is stricken with plenty of problems, it also possesses an astonishing amount of beauty. Many of us are fortunate in ways we don’t often contemplate.
Teach your child to appreciate the trees, animals, flowers, and sun in nature. Teach them about food, water and shelter – and how fortunate they are to have those things.
3. “Treat everyone with acceptance and respect.”
Today, our lack of mutual acceptance and respect for people – and their differences – has led to tragedy after tragedy, including bloodshed and loss of life.
If we adults repeat these words and exhibit such behaviors, the end result will be a child who highly values acceptance and respect. They’ll be peacemakers and leaders; advocates for the dignities of all people.
4. “Listen before speaking.”
The skill of active listening – fully concentrating, understanding, responding to, and remembering what is said – is a difficult one to acquire and master.
However, we can plant the seed of active listening and conversing by reminding the child to listen before talking. For instance, if you’re giving the child instructions and they interrupt (it happens often), remind them of this phrase.
With enough guidance, repeating this phrase with kindness and gentleness will teach children the importance of respectful communication.
5. “Think good thoughts and do good things.”
This is a simple phrase with a powerful lesson.
The earlier and more frequently we adults emphasize the importance of positive thinking and good deeds, the likelier the child is to embrace and exhibit these traits.
We need positivity in this world. Let’s pass it on to our kids.
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