You know the saying.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
A great saying that is taught to our children over and over, from one generation to the next, and from household to another.
Yet, it is a lie.
Through the years, I have seen the true power that words have. As a father to over 50 children from foster care over a decade now, I have had children come to live in my home who have never had a kind word said to them. Sadly, for them, profanity and harsh words were all they knew, words that were directed at them and towards them on a daily basis.
The nine year old boy whose mother verbally abused him at every opportunity, calling him "a..hole" as her personal nick name for him. For the six months this boy lived with our family, he never had a kind word to another, he never smiled, never showed any indication of happiness.
The seventeen year old boy, homeless the past 18 months, who joined my family recently after being released from a county prison. When I asked him about his short time in prison, he commented that he liked being there, stating that "the prison guards were the first people who had treated him nice."
The four year old boy who came to my home, his every other word was one of profanity. This four year old boy even called my daughter the "n" word when he first met her. A four year old boy! How does a four year old boy know this word? Perhaps it was from his grandfather who spoke like that on a consistent basis around him.
Sadly, these stories are not unique. Time after time, children come to my home, never hearing a kind word said to them. Never complimented on school work, how they looked, or for anything else. Never encouraged to try their best. Never being told they were loved.
As Yehuda Berg once said, "Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble."
Words DO have power. Words Can heal, and they can hurt. Words can encourage, and they can destroy. The power we have when we speak is indeed significant, and can be life changing, mountain moving.
As a parent, I understand that what I say to my children is detrimental to their development. Each day, I try to find something positive to say to each child, and to thank each child for something they did throughout the day. Whether it is praising a child for unloading the dish washer, or how their hair looked, I understand that my children crave a kind word from me. As a former high school teacher, I tried to find some way to compliment each student on a regular basis, never speaking harshly or negatively, and showing kindness in my deeds and my words. In both worlds, as a parent and as a teacher, the words "please" and "thank you" were a large part of my vocabulary, and I tried to not only use them throughout each day, but model them as examples for their own way of speech.
Words of affirmation, of trust, and of compassion are building blocks in the life of a child. Words of patience, of kindness, and of love are essential to the well being, mental health, and emotional stability of each child.
Sticks and stones do indeed break bones, and these physical wounds can last while. Yet, harsh, hateful, and destructive words can cause scars that last a life time. How will you use your words around others? Will you use words to tear down a person, or will you use them to build a person up?
For more, read Dr. John's memoir Love and Mayhem: One Big Family's Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several foster care books, including the inspirational best seller Fostering Love: One Foster Parent's Journey, and writes for several publications, including Foster Focus magazine. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.