Remember that old song some of you sang in Sunday school as a child? "Oh, be careful little mouth what you say, oh be careful little mouth what you say, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mouth what you say."
There are a few other verses saying, "Be careful little ears what you hear, be careful little eyes what you see..."
As parents, we need to focus on that first verse to "be careful little mouth what you say," because sometimes we can make off-handed comments or "jokes" that can be very hurtful to our kids. What am I talking about? Here is an example:
The other night, my family and I were playing a great game called Apples to Apples. Basically, you get a set of seven red cards that say various things such as "looking for a job," "taking a bath," "fast food," "car horns" and "feminists." The red cards can say just about anything on them.
Each player takes a turn playing the "judge" by selecting a green card and reading it to the group. The green cards are pretty much adjective cards that say things such as repulsive, juicy, nasty, shallow, brilliant, technological - you get the idea.
The players all select a red card from their hand that best describes the green card. For instance, I threw down the Mike Tyson card when someone read a green card that said temperamental. Whoever has the best description (the red card) of the green card according to the "judge" wins the green card and whoever wins the most green cards wins the game. It may sound confusing, but it's really fun.
Anyway, at the end of the game, each player ends up with a set of green cards that tend to describe him or her. One of my sons won the game with a set of cards that described him as manly, natural, addictive and pure. He stood and smiled proudly as he read his cards out loud, and I teased him about being "manly" and "addictive" and what a combination that was for the little girls in his class who could become "addicted to his manliness." I know that sounds silly, but it was cute, and I could tell it made him feel good about himself. I think every little boy wants to be told that he is "manly," don't you?
In the midst of our joking about the cards, my husband threw out a "joke" of his own, only it wasn't very funny at all. Upon hearing our son's descriptive cards calling him manly, he said, "It must be opposite day!" Ouch! My son looked away and down as I shot my husband "the glare." You know the one I'm talking about that says "I'm about to ring your neck for that one!"
My husband immediately responded, "What? I was only joking. He knows that! I'm sorry!"
Thankfully, my son seemed to blow it off and that evening he moved on without a problem, but I wondered if he'd lain in bed mulling it over later that night.
I don't mean to make my husband out to be the "bad guy." He's the farthest from it as a father because he is extremely attentive to our children, always playing games with them and wrestling, tickling and flipping them around on the floor when he comes home from work. I know they are the joy of his life, and I know that he truly didn't mean what he said the other night. Actually, I was pretty surprised because usually I'm the one putting my foot in my mouth.
You might think that his little comment wasn't so bad, but what did he imply to our son? He implied that he thought he wasn't manly or any of the other good things that were listed. These are the kinds of words that apologies just can't erase; these words create feelings that may linger in your child's heart for years to come.
Have you ever made comments like that one to your children? I know I have before, and so I really have to watch myself and "guard my tongue" as the Bible tells me to in Proverbs 21:23 ("He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity").
Also in James 3:5 we are taught, "the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts," basically telling us how small but powerful the tongue is.
I know our kids are not going to be perfect, but we should never intentionally make light of their shortcomings. More than likely the kids are fully aware and already sensitive about whatever those shortcomings are, just as any adult would be. This means that, for instance, if your child has a behavior problem, don't call them a "brat!" It's OK to say that he or she is acting like a brat, but for goodness sake don't limit them by "branding" them in such a way!
If you label your kids then they will likely live up (or down) to those low expectations. Instead, build them up and expect them to be wonderful and special, and little by little, they will become who you tell them they are.
Let me add one last thing. Never imply that your child needs medication in order to behave properly! I don't care if it is true; don't limit your child by saying this to him or her. Every child will have his or her own abilities and limitations that they will figure out on their own eventually. Your job is to help them build and accentuate their strengths and abilities and to let them know just how wonderful you think they are.
If you are interested in learning more about how to build self esteem in your child, then I highly recommend the book "Hide or Seek" by my favorite author, Dr. James Dobson, from Focus on the Family Ministries.
Ruthie Davidson is a mother of four children, ages 5 to 10. She lives in South Daytona and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.