A friend of mine recently posted this article, 64 Positive Things to Say to Your Child. The article is pretty good. It may not be earth-shattering or even “new news”, but as a flawed and imperfect parent, the reminder is helpful. Yet, what brought me to pause was the tagline beneath her post:
“Because our words become their inner voice…”
That resonated deeply for me. The author gave a few examples of a playful and accepting inner voice that her parents helped her cultivate. Sometimes I fear that my messages to my kids are a little less playful, and perhaps a bit less accepting as well. I often wonder if I’m responding to them with as much grace and acceptance as I wish (answer = no). I know that my inner critic is powerful, active, and often unforgiving, and the article reminded me of how our parents, including mine, help to shape that. We repeat what we’re used to hearing over and again. Like many, I was raised in a pretty strict and rigid home, and my expectations of myself, my choices, my behavior, and my capacity to leap tall buildings in a single bound, can be a bit unrealistic. When I fall short, I can be very hard on myself.
We all know the cycle, though, right? Being hard on myself adds shame to disappointment. I get angry with myself. I become more impatient and make more mistakes, shame and self-loathing increases. Rinse. Repeat. Anyone with me here?
When my son melts down because he got paint on his favorite sweatshirt, after not using one of his 20 shirts that already has paint stain, my response resembled the look of “Duh?!” and the words “Honey, if you love your things, you need to take care of them,” I wonder if I’m teaching him or shaming him.
When he is at my hip while I’m trying to work (perhaps on this blog, for example) and asking 20 questions so I cannot concentrate, and I sharply say “I need you to find something to do that doesn’t include me. Right now,” I worry how he’ll internalize that.
Perhaps another example is when my daughters pulls another whining and screaming routine, and the best I can do is, “I’ll listen when you can ask me without the drama.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the examples I’ve offered, and I acknowledge they are a little milder than what I am humbly capable of. I am, however, saying that perhaps in 20 years, when they make a mistake, I’d like to be sure there’s a little more humor and acceptance to round of their inner critics’ edges.
“Because our words become their inner voice” is a beautiful, gentle, and powerful reminder that we can help shape how they internalize their own humanity for decades to come. Our responses to our children are each pebbles cast into their spirited lake of experience. Each may be but a ripple. Yet as they grow and move towards shore, what do we want the ripple’s voice to be saying?