Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Power of a Word

It was just another trip to the doctor--I was trying to keep my lively brood under control while our pediatrician checked Grace for an ear infection. Then Dr. Valentine typed a prescription while Grace and I tried to find a peaceable solution to my need to have her clothed before going outside in freezing temperatures. Apparently the doctor noticed something of my efforts, because when he finished he stood and said with a smile, "You and your husband are always so nice to your kids!"

"We try," I laughed.

"I can tell," he said.

The visit was over, and I herded everyone toward the car. But for hours afterwards I noticed that his words stuck with me. Not only was I more conscious of my efforts to be nice, but I think I tried harder, too. I thought of this quote from Charlotte's Web, which I had recently read to the kids.

"Charlotte had written the word RADIANT, and Wilbur really looked radiant as he stood in the golden sunlight. Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When Charlotte's web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte's web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow." 

I couldn't help thinking of my kids. If one little compliment would affect me for hours, how do the words I say affect them? Do the words I choose build them up, encourage them, make them feel like they can conquer the world? Or do I nag, pester, and discourage?

For Valentine's Day this year Cameron and I wrote specific, heartfelt notes for each child gushing about their strengths and how much we love them. After dinner we took a few minutes with each child to read the letters and affirm our love. And wow, you should have seen the smiles and delightful behavior we saw. (OK, they still didn't want to go to bed on time. But we're discussing children, not robots.)
The bottom line is that there is power in our words. The words we share with spouses, children, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and loved ones make a difference. We can build people up and make them feel like a million bucks with a little compliment. Or we can tear down and discourage with impatience and criticism.

So the question is, what words will we choose today?

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