Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me, Huh?

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.

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The Brain Overload During Meltdowns Is REAL!

I was recently reminded that the total brain overload and loss of control in children during meltdowns is very real! Why? Because it happened to me!

I’m 34 and was recently at a public place with my husband and some other family members. At this place, I was treated disrespectfully.

Now, due to my severe cerebral palsy, people often treat me as a child or a person with a mental disability. Usually I take it in stride. I never make a scene in public. But, unfortunately, this time was different.

Instead of just brushing this person off and moving on, I lost it and yelled and said things that I regretted as soon as my brain came back under my control. My husband and family were trying to calm me down but my brain was stuck in “fight or flight” mode.

Looking back, it was weird but I had truly lost control of my impulse, self-control like young children do. My brain just got stuck. Usually I can talk myself down and use self-control. Not then.

After a few minutes as my brain came back to me and God gently convicted me, I realized I’d REALLY blown it. I wanted to disappear or run out. All I could do was look out the window and cry. I couldn’t stop crying.

Thankfully, my husband got me out of there, but not before I willingly and on my own accord, apologized to the person I had yelled at. The person graciously accepted my sincere apology. Of course, I prayed and asked God for forgiveness as well.

Once we left, I also apologized to my family. I felt awful that I acted so horribly. I still beat myself up over the incident even though weeks have passed since the incident occurred.

If you have been reading my blog recently, you are aware that my husband and I are grieving the loss of his mom, to whom I was quite close. It has been a rough few months for us. Looking back on this incident, it is obvious that grief played a major role in my very embarrassing public meltdown.

After all, I had never done this before in my life!  No, grief is not an excuse for my inappropriate response, but it is a good reason.

My point in telling this embarrassing story that I wish I could forget is that I think many adults think that children can control themselves in a full blown meltdown. They believe that children are just trying to manipulate us into giving them their way.

I can assure you from my incident that children absolutely can not control themselves during meltdowns. The brain gets overloaded with stress hormones and they truly lose control. Getting angry, yelling, spanking/hitting, shaming, or otherwise punishing them will only keep their brains in this heightened stress state longer. Had my husband and family scolded me or punished me, it would have only escalated things. Instead, they spoke calmly and offered comfort which allowed my brain to get unstuck in order for me to calm down and make things right. My tears became tears of godly sorrow for messing up.

When our children are in the throes of a meltdown, the best thing we can do is speak quietly and calmly to them and offer comfort until their brains come back under their control. The “fight or flight” response is very real and extremely powerful. The sooner we help them get out of that mode, the sooner we can teach them healthy calming and coping techniques to prevent that from happening most of the time as they grow.

We can also teach them that there are times throughout life where the stress and pain is too much for them to bear and they may get stuck and make a complete and utter fool of themselves, but God and we will be there to support, forgive, and help them through it.

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Are Children Truly Selfish?

Many people, especially Christians, think that young children’s incapability to always share or to not be able to put themselves in other’s shoes or to need what they need is selfishness. They think this is children’s “flesh” and “sinful nature” taking over. It is not sin or selfishness at all.

It’s a developmental stage that young children go through. Only much older children and adults are truly able to be selfish. We have impulse control. We should have empathy. Children don’t. They’re learning.

Infants and toddlers are very aware of their parents’ emotions from birth and are affected by them, but this does not mean that infants and toddlers can empathize with the parents.
Young children from birth until somewhere around the age of four or five years are what Jean Piaget calls egocentric. Again, this is not due to their “sinful nature” and it does not mean that young children are evil. God designed children exactly how they are. There’s a reason He made young children egocentric, probably for survival in this harsh, sinful world.

As we teach children empathy by modeling it to them as well as pointing out how their behaviors–both positive and negative–affect others, children begin to learn how to be empathetic.  We need to teach them how to be gentle and respectful to others by being gentle and respectful to them.

Punishing them will always hinder their learning of selflessness.

Unfortunately, parents who use fear and punishment to make their children obey them are actually teaching their children to be selfish as the child is not thinking about doing something for another person but rather protecting him/herself from punishment. We should not be teaching our children to only do things to avoid punishment, as the Bible says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

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I’ve dealt with many pro-spankers, and the way some of them dismiss the painful experiences a great deal of people have had with being hit by their parents is selfish.  The way pro-spankers automatically assume that their children will “survive” just because they feel they did is selfish.

In essence, spanking/hitting makes many selfish because it leads to worldly sorrow and a sense of self preservation instead of godly sorrow.

So, what is godly sorrow and worldly sorrow?

In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, it states:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

What the Apostle Paul is saying here is that godly sorrow makes us think beyond ourselves to how our actions have hurt or affected other people and our relationship with God. We look past whatever consequences our actions caused us and want to do everything in our power to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person we have hurt. This is why Paul says that godly sorrow brings life as we seek to be forgiven.

On the other hand, worldly sorrow brings death according to what Paul says in this verse. Due to fear of punishment as well as guilt, people of all ages will focus on the consequences that are happening to them because of their actions rather than how they’ve hurt God and the other person. This is worldly sorrow. Being afraid of punishment and rejection causes worldly sorrow. Also, feeling so guilty and bad about oneself that one feels that he/she deserves whatever punishment he/she has coming to him/her leads to worldly sorrow.

We need to do our best to use discipline instead of punishment so that our children don’t become selfish people who believe that it is perfectly acceptable to inflict pain on others.

No, young children are not selfish, but we sure can be!

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