Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. This old nursery rhyme got it wrong. Words are powerful, and words can build you up or tear you down. In a world where we are constantly seeing headlines of bullying, cyber-bulling, social media, and texting, we have to start equipping our children at young ages with enough words and knowledge to handle it. Social media has made it easier to share personal opinions and chastise others for their opinions or the way the look or what they believe. Thankfully my boys (ages 5 and 2) are not nearly old enough to be on social media, but I know that time will be here before I am ready for it.
My husband and I have been parents for almost six years, and we have had some teachable moments and situations come up that I pray stick with our boys. This is an ongoing process of teaching and learning for all of us, and we certainly do not have all of the answers.
There are some lessons that we try to reiterate whenever possible, and are always finding new ways to teach and grow.
- Choose your words wisely. You cannot take them back, and what is said cannot be unsaid. You can say you are sorry afterward, but the words are still there. Hate is a banned word in our house. I have noticed that my boys are quick to get over shared punches or pushes, but the minute one says, “you are not my friend,” it takes longer for their feelings to heal.
- Speak up. If you see someone being mistreated at school, tell the teacher. Or, ask the person mistreating to stop if you feel comfortable doing that. Or, just go play with the child being mistreated and help remove them from the situation. It is important to speak up for those unable or unwilling to speak up for themselves. Likewise, if someone is mistreating you, do not be afraid to speak up and tell someone.
- Agree to disagree. My husband has very strong political opinions (that he often shares), and I have tried to explain that everyone has opinions to my oldest son by comparing it to Star Wars vs. Power Rangers. My son Logan loves Star Wars and has been a huge fan since way before the latest movie came out thanks to his Dad’s indoctrination at an early age. His friend Brennan loves Power Rangers and always wants to play that at school. I asked Logan if Brennan was still his friend even though they disagreed, he said “YES!” I want my boys to know that it is OK to disagree and it is OK to share your opinions, but we need to be willing to listen to others’ opinions and show them the same respect.
- We are made exactly how we are supposed to be. Some of us have blonde hair, others have red hair. Some of us have peach skin, others have brown skin. Some of us are tall, and others are short. When we talk about differences in others, I always remind my boys that God made us exactly the way He wanted us to look and that all colors of eyes, hair, and skin are beautiful.
- Families come in all shapes and sizes. My boys live with their Mommy and Daddy in the same house and we all look relatively alike (although, I’m not sure where my boys’ blonde hair came from!). My oldest son has noticed that some of the children in his school do not look as much like their parents as he does, which has opened up many conversations about adoption and parents who may not look as much alike as his parents do. Additionally, some of his friends and family have two houses because their parents do not live in the same house. I always remind my boys that families come in many forms, and we are all lucky to have families who we love and love us back.
- Not everyone shares our beliefs, and that is OK. Our family goes to a Christian church. We live in a diverse area, with families of all faiths. One day my oldest son asked why one of the women in our neighborhood was wearing a scarf on her head. I explained that there are many religions in the world, and she wears the hijab as part of her Muslim religious beliefs. I went on to explain that our Christian principles teach us to love our neighbors, which means we should respect their beliefs and always be kind, even if our views differ from theirs.
My oldest always is a self-proclaimed “question-asker” (and boy is he), and I think it is our job as parents to answer all of their questions honestly and in age-appropriate words and examples they can understand. After all, we want our children to get their information at home first as much as possible.
What are some teachable moments and situations you have had with your children? Let’s all learn from each other how to best prepare our children to become preteens, teenagers, and young adults.