Love Words to Live By

“If you are a parent, recognize that it is the most important calling and rewarding challenge you have. What you do every day, what you say and how you act, will do more to shape the future of America than any other factor." ~~ Marian Wright Edelman, Founder, Children’s Defense Fund

Who needs to live by these love words?

We all do! Use empathy to put yourself in a child’s shoes and try to remember what it felt like to be 4 or 7 or 11, for example, to motivate you to use these “love words to live by” and actions that go along with them, particularly when you are tempted to shame, blame, put down, ignore or threaten out of anger or frustration. Think how healthy the world would be if everyone used these caring, loving and protective words and actions when interacting with children and adults. We all have instances in which we have encountered people who do the opposite—people who discourage, put down, shame and blame, for example. If you want your child and those around you to live by these loving words, begin by using them yourself in every interaction…with the children and adults in your lives

What happens when you live by these love words?

Your mental, physical and emotional health improves! Use care in choosing the words you use every day, and the tone of voice and body language that you use when you talk with your child and others—whether you are setting limits (“When you put away your toys, you can go outside to play.”) or sharing your feelings (“I am sorry that you are cold. I don’t like to be cold, either!”)  As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”


EMPATHIZE...don’t be indifferent
You’re in a rush at the grocery store with your child in tow. She’s whining and fussing that she wants to go, and you’re irritated because you have to get food for that night’s dinner. It’s time to shift gears and think about what’s going on in your little one’s world. Ask yourself: How would I feel to be in her shoes right now, being dragged by the hand in this crowded place? Using empathy means that you will respond in a much more positive and nurturing way, free of anger, by saying, “ I understand that you want to go home. So do I! Let’s find the carrots and broccoli, and we’ll be done. I’m so glad you are with me! It’s more fun to do this together!”
INSPIRE...don’t discourage
“I can’t do anything right,” your son says after the fifth attempt at tying his shoe. You may be tempted to simply tell him that you will do it yourself, in order to save yourself some trouble. But you realize that doing it for him tells him that he cannot do it by himself and will discourage him from learning how to do so. Instead of taking over, inspire your son to keep trying by praising his effort and perseverance, along with a little help over the rough spots. He’ll be so proud of himself when he accomplishes the task...and you will, too!
COMPLIMENT...don’t put down
“How do I look?” your daughter asks, as she shows off another outlandish clothing combination suited neither for the situation or for the weather. Your first reaction is to tell her all the things wrong with her clothing choices, but you don’t want to put her down after she’s made such a creative attempt to dress herself. Compliment those parts of her outfit that are suitable and make suggestions for those that aren’t. Praise her effort above all, for it is the effort that will always pay off in the long term.
VALIDATE...don’t contradict
Your child says that you never listen to his side of the story when he and his sister are fighting. His accusation causes you to want to defend yourself and tell him that he is wrong because you DO listen! Then you realize that he needs some validation from you. So instead of contradicting him, tell him that you are sorry he feels that you aren’t there for him. Then listen carefully to HIS version of the event. We all feel better when we know someone we love cares enough to listen even if they wrongly accuse us of not doing so.


ENCOURAGE...don’t intimidate
You’ve asked your children to pick up the toys that seem to be knee deep in the room, but they look overwhelmed. You want to threaten dire consequences if they don’t get the job done in one quick hurry in order to motivate them to do what you asked. You hate messes! But then you look at the mess from their perspective. It actually looks intimidating to you, too! You can encourage them by reducing the size of the task to one toy at a time. Say, “Let’s start with the dolls. Please put that doll where she belongs. Now let’s get the trucks put away.” Taking it piece by piece gets the job done and allows you to teach problem-solving, as you connect in a positive way with your children.
TEACH...don’t control
Your daughter always seems to be out of step with the weather when getting ready to leave the house in the morning to go to school. It is so easy to simply tell her that she needs a coat or that it’s such a nice morning she can wear shorts and a T-shirt. But that puts you in control of her decision-making and doesn’t teach her how to make decisions. Instead of controlling her choices, show her how she can read the temperature in the morning and decide what would be appropriate to wear. The teaching model will be with her even when you are not, a loving way to prepare her for the big world of her future.
LISTEN...don’t ignore
You’ve picked your son up from after-school care and he is full of stories from his day. He begins to chatter on and on about the events that excited him, but you believe you need to continue that conversation you were having on your phone when he got in the car. What about your son and his excitement? How long will it take for him to decide that you don’t count any more and are only a part of the car? He really needs for you to listen and to attend to what he has to say. Engage him in conversation by asking questions about his stories and encourage him to elaborate. Listening with all your heart is loving way to connect during the car ride...and beyond.


SUPPORT...don’t shame
“I’m sorry, Mommy!” your son cries as he looks at the puddle of juice in front of his overturned glass. He had been throwing a toy up in the air when he knocked the glass over. You’re so annoyed about having to stop what you are doing to clean up the mess that your first reaction is to tell him that he should be more careful, saying, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for making a mess?” But then you realize how badly you would feel if someone said these words that shamed you for having a simple accident. What to do? Limit your reaction to telling your son how to begin the cleanup process, which he is required to do as a result of the accident. At the same time, give him emotional support by telling him that everybody makes mistakes and that you know he will be more careful in the future.
PROTECT...don’t threaten
You want to protect your child from all the evils of at the world, so you restrict her screen access, watch her when she’s playing outside, interview parents when setting up a play date, and make sure she has the right food to eat. But do you protect her from the hurt that words can bring? Do you watch your own words so that they are loving, as well as providing her with the supportive, protective adult she needs? Or do you threaten dire consequences when she makes mistakes or behaves in a way you don’t like? When tempted to threaten, think about being protective and supportive as a way to limit the negative, hurtful language that isn’t good for either of you. Say, “Let’s fasten your seatbelt first, before the car moves,” instead of “If you don’t get your seatbelt fastened, you cannot go to soccer practice.”
APOLOGIZE...don’t blame
When your son behaves in a way you don’t like, you may catch yourself yelling at him. He immediately gives you that upset look, which makes you feel worse than you did about his original behavior. Don’t blame him for your yelling at him by saying, “If you would have behaved yourself, I wouldn’t have had to yell.” Instead, put yourself in his shoes so you can understand how it must feel to be yelled at by a big ferocious adult. Try to understand his behavior from his point of view. You know he didn’t set out to behave badly. He either doesn’t know his behavior is unacceptable, or doesn’t know how else to behave under the circumstances. This is a time to apologize for your emotional outburst and promise to limit your reactions in the future to calm, loving ways to help him learn appropriate behavior.