The theme for Attachment Parenting (AP) Month is “Word Power: Communicating for Connection,” and it’s all about shifting the tone and words we speak to build up others, rather than tear them down.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is so untrue, even research shows that the pain receptors in the brain that light up for physical pain are the same that light up for the emotional pain caused by hurtful words.
It’s so easy to forget how powerful words are, and it’s so easy to forget how important it is to regularly say phrases of love to our children. Starting this October during AP Month, try these 5 ways to communicate love to your children through words:
1. Say “I Love You”
You don’t have to go too many generations back to when children rarely heard the words “I love you” from their parents. Nowadays, sometimes it seems these words are thrown around a little too carelessly — perhaps it’s easy to say “I love you” when the home is happy, but it’s not spoken so much when the kids are acting out.
I make it point to tell my kids “I love you” every morning before they walk down to the road to get on the school bus, and then every night at bedtime. But I also remember to tell them I love them even when I’m angry or when they’re angry. It’s important that they know they can be angry with me, that it’s okay.
One thing about telling them that I love them even when I’m angry — my actions have to back my words. I want them to grow up learning that anger is a healthy emotion as long as the behavior is managed well. If I’m angry, I make sure my behavior is in check and that we’re working out the issue in a way that communicates love as much as reinforces boundaries.
2. Be Pleasant and Polite
Every time I want a child to do something — pick up their room, help with laundry, water the plants, whatever — I always say “please.” I don’t phrase the request in a question unless there is an option for them to say “no,” at which point I need to honor that because I did, after all, ask them. If I want them to do something where there is no option to not to do it, I phrase it as a statement. But it is only polite to add a “please” to the beginning or end of the request, and to keep your tone pleasant.
And then once they do the task, I always say “thank you.” I also reply with “you’re welcome” after their thank-yous to me. We also say “excuse me” at the appropriate times. Manners are almost a lost art, it seems, but they can take you a long way in a society that can struggle with rudeness sometimes.
Please and thank-you also goes a long ways in the home. Making it a habit to include these words in your everyday conversations helps you to stay in the habit of not taking your children’s and partner’s actions for granted, either.
3. Respect Space
I allow my children to have their own space and belongings, within reason of course. They are required to keep their bedrooms cleaned, desks and dresser tops clear, and clothes picked up. And there are certain items, like snake skins or feathers, that are kept out in the garage. But once all this is accounted for, I respect their space.
I ask to touch something, and if I feel the need to touch an item of theirs when they’re not around, I am careful to put it back how it was. This is not to hide the fact that I touched it — actually I let them know that I, for example, put something in their backpack — it’s out of respect for their space.
This teaches them not only to respect people’s space and belongings, but also that their space and belongings deserve respect. They each more than return the favor, being respectful of my belongings and space, asking permission as needed, and treating items carefully and considerately.
4. Handle Anger Carefully
Anger is a very natural emotion, but it is also very powerful and can easily create unwanted consequences if not managed well. I take care to communicate my anger with my children calmly and to help them, as needed, to find ways to resolve the issue. And while they’re not always so calm when communicating their anger with me or one another — understandable considering they’re children — I make it a point to stay calm and speak wisely to help them center themselves again in order to be able to speak their anger in a healthy way.
Children who are raised with a parent who can handle their anger well and communicate their anger in a healthy way grow up into older children who can better handle their anger and resolve conflict. The trick is that the parent has to first learn this, and past generations had less knowledge of the importance of emotional intelligence, so parents sometimes have to learn this alongside their children. But practice makes perfect, so to speak, so the more you practice healthy conflict resolution, the easier it becomes.
5. Praise Genuinely
My children will surprise sometimes by cleaning the bathroom for me. Or, they may do an exceptional job at getting done with their chores quickly. Or, my oldest daughter may sound really good during her latest clarinet practice. All kids deserve well-earned praise. But it’s important to praise genuinely, and deservedly. Be precise with your praise, and don’t make it a big ado. We don’t want your child to feel they have to earn your love. A simple “Good job” or “I really like how you sliced the cucumbers” can go a long ways.
Also, it’s important not to communicate the idea that your child is “good” because she does something, but rather that she did an exceptionally good job at that something. So instead of “You’re such a good boy for taking out the trash,” try “I really like that you took the initiative to change the trashcan in the bathroom.” It turns the focus away from whether a behavior makes a child feel worthy or not, to what about that behavior was deserving of recognition and what to strive toward again.
Likewise, if your child seems to regress, don’t point it out in a way that compares that child to what she did prior or what her siblings are doing or what you suspect her same-aged peers of doing. Don’t praise, but do take it as a time to talk to your child to see what’s going on in their lives and to resolve the conflict healthily.