Teachable moments

Kari Swanson

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Remember that?

Did we really believe that words do not hurt?

Words are pretty powerful, they can heal and they can hurt.

What do you use your words for, healing or hurting?

In today’s world, words are most often typed but still can hurt as bad as if spoken. I often wonder if the people that type in ugliness and hit send would actually speak those ugly words face to face to another human being. We have become a world of opinions, criticisms, and judgments. People throw the word “bully” around to usually describe youth picking on youth but guess what? THERE ARE ADULT BULLIES! Adults are just as guilty as a youth in using words to hurt other adults. I’m not sure why people enjoy knowing they have hurt someone or have made someone feel bad about themselves, especially to the point of not wanting to live anymore.

Words are powerful. If you have the choice to lift someone up or pull someone down, what would you choose?

We all get upset, we all get hurt by others and we all have insecurities.

I’m a big one on choices. You have a choice in how you are going to handle upset, hurt and insecurity.

Engaging in gossip and spreading lies about someone is another way to use words to hurt others.

Adults need to model to youth how to handle disappointments, upset, and other hard emotions.

There are adults who choose to speak openly in front of their children regarding their views of other people and about adult situations. If a parent is negatively expressing themselves about a coach or teacher, for example, in front of their child, what are they teaching in terms of respecting this person or how the child needs to behave for this coach or teacher? If we, as adults, are making excuses for our children’s behaviors by blaming the school or other people’s behaviors, we are doing a disservice to our children and ultimately not sending them out into the world equipped to handle things responsibly with accountability.

I have seen many children in my years of mental health that are struggling with others saying mean things about them and they, ultimately, begin questioning themselves in terms of their worth.

Words are powerful enough that when said, no matter how false those words are, they can allow someone to begin to question themselves.

As parents, we try so hard to build our children up to believe they have worth and to believe in themselves, only to send them out to have others attempt to tear them down.

Do I blame the kids attempting to tear kids down? Yes, partially. They obviously have their own insecurities they are trying to hide behind by being the bullies, however, when their parents are approached about their child’s wrongdoing some of these parents become defensive and immediately respond “not my kid” or “your kid must’ve provoked it.” These are, what I like to describe as, teachable moments. Moments as parents that we should use to teach our kids different ways to approach situations and people and more importantly a time to investigate with your child what may or may not be happening that is causing them to behave in a certain, negative manner. However, as parents, we need to look inside ourselves first to explore if we are sending messages that it is okay to treat people negatively.

How do we talk to others? What do we say or do when upset with someone? Do we take responsibility for our actions? Do we make excuses for our bad behaviors?

We are being watched by our children and our children’s friends and, ultimately, we are teaching them how to handle certain situations.

We need to be aware of how our children handle situations and how they treat others.

It does not mean it is a negative reflection of our parenting skills. It means we need to take time to help our child navigate through the murky waters of growing up and handling uncomfortable situations or uncomfortable internal feelings they are experiencing. Take these moments and make them teachable.

Words do hurt.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.