Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

I have a top ten most stupid enduring sayings and this is one of them. One of the strongest arguments against the public ownership of guns is surely: if you have it, you could use it. Our words, those we choose and those we blurt out, are easily weaponised and their effect can be profound: they can enable or harm both our own selves (self-talk) and others.

I remember my mother telling me that a teacher had written in my school report that I asked impertinent questions (I was about ten). Once I found out what impertinent meant (my mother made sure I knew!), I took this to heart and became reluctant to put my hand up thereafter for years. This lasted well into adulthood: I did speak up but I also worried that I had said the wrong thing. A very long time later I found the offending report in the attic. It was quite a shock to discover my mother had needed to use her glasses: ‘He often asks pertinent questions’ it said.

Last week Mrs Sanderson wrote that the Parent Practice speaker had talked about the power of words in relation to a child’s confidence and cooperation. Prior to that Miss Mason gave us some guidance on developing empathy for others. Perhaps we could all learn to listen more than we speak, to think carefully before we say things and to only say things that are going to improve things for our boys: words of guidance instead of telling, questions about how better to achieve an outcome rather than remonstrations, pointing out something they did well rather than nagging. As one parent told me, when at a loss as to how to reinforce the ‘tidy bedroom’ rule without once again losing his temper, he took a breath and said; ‘Your ceiling looks lovely and tidy’. His son broke into a grin and this cleared the way for a much more productive conversation about taking responsibility later.

We all want a win-win do we not? One popular saying I do like: ‘It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it.’ That’s empathy in action. Teachers, parents and even partners: take note!

J. R. Peck