Yesterday, we talked about helping our kids to understand the power of words. Today, we're looking at the other side of the coin. What do we do when someone else's words hurt our kids?
The screen door slams. A child stands in the entryway, shoulders slumped, defeat showing in every line of her posture. Tears roll down her face.
Your mommy heart leaps. You check for blood or broken bones, but you can tell by looking at her that her injuries are internal, wounds of the heart. Someone has pulled out the sword of their tongue and sliced deeply into your child's soul.
You gather your child in your arms as your mommy heart breaks and ask "What happened?"
What spills out of your child's mouth is a tale of another child taking words and hurling them like darts at the most vulnerable places in your child's psyche. Those darts have hit home and spread their poison throughout your child's heart. It doesn't matter if the words are true. It doesn't matter if the words were deliberate. What matters is that the words have torn through your precious child's heart, leaving wounds that will take a while to heal.
What's a mom to do?
No matter how much we want to heal the hurt that the words of others have caused, we can't undo the damage. Words, once spoken, cannot be taken back. Our children will remember the hurtful barbs of others long after they're grown. You know they will because you can remember a poorly spoken word from your childhood -- one that still has the power to tear at your soul.
So, if we can't undo all of the damage, what can we do? We can help our children to heal. We can help them to know that responding with equally damaging words isn't the best option. We can show our children the truth to counteract the lies. We can remind our children they are loved.
Healing the wounds starts with helping our children to understand what motivates cruel words. Most often, children lash out at other children because their own hearts are wounded. Luke 6:45 tells us "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." Whatever comes out of someone's mouth is simply a reflection of what is in his heart. If mean words come out of someone's mouth, it simply means that in some way that person's heart has been hurt enough for them to want to lash out at others.
When we help our kids see the motivation behind someone else's actions, it doesn't make the words that were spoken hurt any less, but it does help our kids gain perspective. It makes the hurtful words more about the person who spoke them than it does about the person they were spoken to. When our kids understand that hurt people often hurt others, then they can view the person who hurt them with compassion and forgiveness. It takes away some of the sting of what was said when our kids understand that they were not the reason for the words, just the target.
The second part of healing the wounds is helping your kids to come up with a plan for the next time someone hurls hurtful words their way. We want our kids to know that they don't have to let someone else abuse them with their words, but we also don't want them to simply hurl hurtful things back. Sit down with your child and talk about what they should do if the situation ever arises again. Talk about how they can walk away or they can come up with a good response -- one that isn't hurtful and pleases God. Come up with a standard response that allows them to hold their heads up and walk away. One of our personal favorites around here is the word "So?" as in "so what?" It's not rude and it's not hurtful, but it denies the person saying mean things the gratification of a reaction. It doesn't make the words hurt any less, but it does help make your child less of a target. Kids often say things to get a reaction. When they don't get one, they'll move on to something else.
Help your kids distinguish the truth from the lies in what others say. Our favorite question to ask our kids is "Is what the other person said true?" If it's not, we simply chalk it up to someone else having a bad day and wanting to take it out on another person. If it is true, we talk about how our child's behavior may have hurt the other person. If apologies are warranted, we encourage our child to make them. Often, mean words are simply lies. When we help our kids recognize them as lies, we take some of the sting out of the words.
When your children come home wounded from someone else's harsh words, teach them to take their broken hearts to God. Help them to pray for the person who hurt them. God will take away the anger and bind up your child's broken heart. He can change the heart of the person who hurt them. He is the ultimate healer.
One of the most important parts of healing the wounds of thoughtless words is to make home a safe haven. Don't tolerate mean and angry words in your home. Make speaking to one another with respect one of the ground rules of your home. Don't allow siblings to be harsh with one another and speak gently yourself. Getting through a rough day with a wounded heart is a whole lot easier if you know you won't be subjected to the same thing at home. Make home a place where your children know they are loved. Make it a place where they can bring their broken, wounded souls to be healed.
Nothing that we say or do can take away the initial sting of hurtful words. Once they are out of someone's mouth, the damage is done. But we can let our kids know they are loved. We can help them see that hurtful words come from hurting people. And we can show them how to take their wounds to God and let Him heal them.