I have been talking to my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter a lot lately about how words can hurt people. She will blurt out things like “you’re not my friend anymore” to her little brother. While I know she doesn’t mean it (and her brother is too young to understand), I want her to know the power of her words. Personally, I would rather sign a form saying that she got some answers wrong on a test before one saying that she wasn’t a nice friend or that she said something mean. My husband and I are trying very hard to raise respectful kids who will turn in to respectful adults. If she needs to do some additional homework questions, that’s one thing. But if she is hurting other’s feelings…well, that’s a whole different ballgame.
A friend of mine told me about a lesson that is simple and poignant. I cut a piece of paper into a heart shape. Inside the heart it says “Before we speak, think and be smart. It’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart.” I asked my daughter some age-appropriate questions to start this dialogue. How would you feel if I told you I don’t want to be your friend? How would you feel if I told you I didn’t like what you are wearing? How would you feel if I said you couldn’t sit by me? Each time she answered that it would make her feel sad or mad, I wrinkled the piece of paper. I then asked her the opposite questions ― to which she said she felt so happy and excited, and I opened the paper back up.
When the heart was open, it didn’t look like it did before the mean things were said. This lesson spoke to her. In her sweet little voice, she said “I don’t want to hurt my friends, Mommy.” I explained that although she is a kid, that she is has the power to make someone happy, sad, excited and mad. It is so important that she understands this responsibility now. These are the types of lessons that are not in textbooks. She needs to know her power.
As adults, we often forget to apply the lessons we teach our kids to our own lives. It’s so easy for us to wrinkle hearts on a daily basis. We can be so insensitive, judgmental and hurtful. Hello, our kids are seeing this!! An even better lesson than cutting out a paper heart and wrinkling it up is to actually BE THE EXAMPLE! Whatever our kids see and hear from us, they imitate.
The imitations will either be thoughtful and encouraging or insensitive and judgmental. It’s up to us to set the tone. We cannot control how others treat us, but we can control the way we treat others.
The heart hangs on our kitchen wall as an everyday reminder to be kind and aware of the words we say. Not just for our kids, but for everyone who sees it.
What can you do today that doesn’t wrinkle someone’s heart?