“Ave unemcondo!” (you have such skinny legs). Those were words I regularly heard as a child. Not only was I body shamed by the people that love me, but it also continued at school and everywhere else. As much as those were just words, they cut deep and I carried those scars right into my twenties.
If you’ve ever been called USdudla (Fattie), Umnyamana (Darkie) or Skinny Marinkie I know you can relate. There is so much power in the words we use, what we say to our kids could shape their personalities. I’ve learned that parenting undoubtedly requires an extraordinary level of consciousness and maturity. It is clear that words can either build or destroy our children’s self-esteem. We can’t afford to be reckless with our words. Today I would like to discuss the power of words and our kids.
Think carefully about how you address your children
A few years back I read that the words we use to describe our kids may lead them to genuinely believe it is part of their nature. In other words, if Asante is misbehaving I don’t tell her she’s being naughty, but I try addressing the actual behavior instead. Otherwise if she is continuously told that she is naughty, she will start believing that’s part of her nature. I think it’s important for me to highlight that I haven’t always done things this way, it’s taken me a while to intentionally make the shift. I still have slip ups, but I try my best.
The main thing here is to focus on the issue at hand instead of dishing out labels. I’m not saying we should allow our kids to get away with unacceptable behavior, we just need to be more conscious about how we meaningfully address issues. Here’s the thing, whether we like it or not our kids will get labelled by other people. But we have full control over how we speak to them and consequently develop their self-esteem. Asante is one of those kids that would traditionally be considered to be stubborn, but I now choose to refer to her as a strong willed-child. Same thing, but the one is less negative than the other.
Watch the words you use
So last week a little four-year old girl that attends swimming lessons with Asante complemented my lipstick. Seriously, I was blown away. Her mom eventually told me her daughter loves to compliment people and I was quick to say she probably learnt it from her. Powerful right? Not only do we need to watch how we speak to our kids, but we also need to thoughtfully observe how we speak to others because our little people are always listening.
Positive thinking and affirmations
So last year Asante started using the word “stupid” at home. I was extremely disappointed because I knew for sure that she hadn’t learnt that from us. Once I dug deeper, I instantly discovered that another little boy in her class was continuously using the word at school. I addressed the issue with her teacher, but I knew intuitively that I had to take control of the situation. It was more of a wakeup call for me. I knew that wasn’t going to be the last time another child hurls insults at her, it’s inevitable.
That’s when I introduced daily affirmations. Almost every morning, she now looks at herself in the mirror and recites her affirmations. “I am beautiful, I am strong and I am smart!”. As much as we need to encourage and love our children, it’s critical for children to create this within themselves. So when she is told she is stupid, the affirmation will come to mind to remind her of her belief. Instead, she will think “I am smart!”.
It’s clear that not only do we need to watch the words that we use when it comes to to our children, we also need to help them to be resilient and self-assured individuals. Make a commitment today to always act out of love by using your words to build your child’s self-esteem.
Photography: Elsie B Photography