Today I find myself musing about the deep power that our words have on the lives of others.
How do we approach other people, and how to we speak to those closest to us? Do we shy away, do we connect, or do we use our words to break down, to hurt, to discourage? I am always aware of how I use my words when it comes to my son, but not always how I speak to everyone else around me.
With my son, I intentionally try to be positive, to use encouraging words, to build him up, to encourage him, to guide him. Positive discipline is a subject term I came across just recently, while trying to learn new ways of coping with a toddler and his occasional defiance. At first, it sounded too simple, almost insulting and condescending to me. Positive discipline is about encouraging, not about denying your child something. Don't say 'no', say 'try this instead'. I slammed the book down in irritation. Doesn't this lady understand how frustrating a toddler can be? How you just want them sometimes to DO what you want them to do?! I don't want to redirect and be positive, I want to yell, 'Stop doing that? listen to your mother!' But after I had a few weeks to let the information seep into my psyche, I can tell you that I believe that positive discipline works, and that it is worth doing. And I can also tell you that it takes gallons of patients and likely years of practice.
Redirecting your child to a new toy, instead of asking him NOT to do what he's doing, or to stop what he's doing - it takes a lot more effort, but it seems to achieve the desired effect: child who quits playing with something he's not allowed to play with, mom who is not screaming and pulling her hair out trying to reason with someone who isn't making the connection.
Anyway, back to word power, here's what happened today. I brought my son Bodhi to the park around 8:30 this morning. We were the only ones there, so he had full run of the whole area. In typical fashion he set his mind to one particular section - this plastic climbing wall. For one hour, he climbed up the wall, and then back down - beaming at his success. But the BEST PART was when he climbed to the top... He turned around and looked at me, standing as a spotter below, and screamed, "YES!". First time, I laughed out loud. "Yes! Good for you, Bodhi, you did it!" I said in return. After the third or fourth time though, I recognized the power of these words. "YES", he said, again and again. An affirmation. Yes, I can. Yes, I did. Yes, I will.
Many toddlers begin to say "No", as a way of using their power, and defining their wills. I am sure my son will say No many times in his life, but I am so happy that he has first learned the word Yes. Hopefully it is because I tell him Yes to the things he wishes more than I tell him, No, he can't. Our words have power, and that power ripples through all areas of our life.
Yes is empowering, it is optimism, it is encouragement to explore, to create, to act. It is connection and support. No is separating, it is discouraging, it is inhibiting. It can tear down and disappoint.
In my opinion, one of the blessings to being a parent is the ability to partake in molding a young person, being able to support and nurture a new mind, a new soul, and give them the basis for a wonderful life. In this way, quite possibly the most important thing we can do as parents is to nurture and develop our children's self-esteem. Helping them to be independent, intelligent, kind, successful, wholesome, whatever else we hope for, it all seems to flow from this basic skill of having a good solid foundation of self-worth.
I try every day to build my son's esteem, but not always to positively affect others, or even my own. I have decided that in seeing everyone else with the same compassion and mothering instinct as I see my own child, I can begin to relate to other people as I hope others relate to my son. With kindness, and support. With words of positivity. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that I hope comes back to me. It is sometimes the hardest to react with loving kindness toward the ones we are closest to, because they get the heaps of our own stresses and anxieties poured out to them. It is a force of will to choose to stay positive, and to try to uplift, even when we ourselves do not feel uplifted. It is difficult to give and to support when we feel depleted, but this giving and doing for others, this outflow of our love and kindness is the fastest way to feel love and support in return. Raising the happiness quotient of all people is a desire that I find I have to recommit to each and every day. But most importantly, I can affect those closest to me by being more patient, reacting with kindness, and saying the yes word more than I say no.