We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We probably have said it as children, but is it true? For me, it is not true at all.
In fact, this is not true for many people. Words have power. The Bible even acknowledges that words have power and we need to choose our words carefully. Let’s look at some of these verses:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV).
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV).
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18, ESV).
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, ESV).
“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV).
As we can see, words have the power to build people up or tear them down. And sometimes words hurt more than being hit, though that is never an excuse to spank/hit a child.
I was verbally abused by my dad and my high school personal assistant. Even though I was able to rise above it with the help of the Lord and my husband, I still struggle with not feeling good enough or not believing in myself. I beat myself up a lot in my head. I take things very personally. I hate making mistakes because I best myself so much.
In this technological-advanced age, there is a horrible trend of shaming children online. So not only are parents saying that their children are “bad,” “brats,” “disrespectful,” and “crybabies” to their faces, they’re posting it for the whole world to see. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and embarrassment these children feel or will feel when they see the world looking at their mistakes and applauding their parents for “putting them in their place.”
It’s hard enough being shamed and put down privately. The messages that we put into children’s heads become their inner voices. They start to believe that they are “bad,” “sinful,” and “ungrateful.” Putting children down only tears them down. And it begins in infancy. Infants hear our tone and read our body language to understand us. And most infants begin to understand words before they ever start talking.
Therefore, telling an infant to “shut up,” calling him/her a “brat,” and saying things like “you’re gross” will make them internalize these messages. And of course, treating infants like we don’t want to be with them also sends the message that they are “burdens.”
Sometimes shaming is used to threaten the child before physical punishment is administered. Some parents who may not use physical punishment with their children, but believe that children deserve some type of punishment, use shaming to control their children’s behavior. Many Christians tend to tell children that they have “sinned” against God. This does nothing but lead to worldly sorrow.
Shaming and punishment leads to worldly sorrow as the child focuses on stopping his/her own pain. The child may appear to have self control after receiving regular punishment and shaming, but it’s actually self-preservation to avoid pain. Discipline, however, teaches godly sorrow and true self-control because discipline teaches empathy for others. There may be pain as a byproduct of discipline due to the discovery of hurting another and God, but pain is NEVER inflicted on the child by an adult. This allows for true self-control as the child learns from natural consequences and gains empathy. Godly sorrow makes the child truly want to repent and make things right. And it’s important to remember that self-control develops very, very slowly in children.
Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t correct our children. We should do so in a way that doesn’t shame them. Pointing out how their behavior affected another person and empathizing with him/her will allow the child to calm down and eventually see that he/she hurt his/her friend which will lead the child to true sorrow.
For example, if 4-year-old Billy hits Sarah, we make sure Sarah is ok and then talk to Billy about his behavior and why he hit.
Adult: “Billy, you hit Sarah. I know you were angry but it’s never okay to hit people.”
Billy: “But she wouldn’t let me have a turn with the ball.”
Adult: “Yes, I can see why you got angry. But you cannot hit.”
Billy: “But I really wanted to play with the ball. She wouldn’t let me.”
Adult: “It’s hard to control our impulses when we’re angry. Did you try to use your words?”
Billy: “I asked her over and over for a turn and she said ‘no’ all the time.”
Adult: “Ok, but when she kept telling you no, you hit her. What happened when you hit her?
Billy: “She started crying.”
Adult: “Yes, she cried because hitting hurts. And now nobody is playing with the ball because you’re both upset. What can we do to fix this?”
Billy: “I shouldn’t have hit her. I will go say sorry.”
Billy goes to Sarah and apologizes all on his own. They talk and begin playing together.
There was no need for shaming or punishment. Billy just needed help getting his brain to calm down enough to realize that he hurt his friend. The adult remained calm and empathetic to Billy. The natural consequence for Billy’s behavior was that Sarah was hurt and cried when he hit her. Of course, some children will take longer to calm down and realize they hurt someone. This is all based on the development of the child and how that child is treated.
The more we tear down children, the harder it is for them to learn empathy. If you’re always in self-preservation mode, you can’t see past your own pain. And sometimes people that have been so torn down may actually take the opposite approach by becoming bullies. Children and adults who feel badly about themselves can sometimes gain “power” by hurting others. Not all people beat themselves up. Rather, they take their pain out on others.
We can discipline children without shaming them and putting them down. Let’s build them up so that they can build others up. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words DO HURT ME.