It is pretty darn easy for my 14 yr old son to get under the skin of my 11 yr. old. He knows exactly what to say to send his brother into orbit and cause a ruckus. I think pretty much every family can say the same thing, right? Your kids figure out pretty quickly, even before they can talk, what will get under the skin of their siblings. I honestly think there is some secret joy that siblings get when they do this. I am pretty confident that I did this with my brother when I was younger, but I can’t remember any of it, although I am sure he remembers.
I think the same thing is also true of the things that parents say to their kids. There are certain things that we can say to our kids that will cause a reaction, even if we don’t realize it.
The other day I was in the store getting ready to check out with my items. I saw a mother with her child in front of me ‘discussing’ the finer particulars of why the child couldn’t have one of the candy items conveniently placed at the checkout counter. I won’t dwell on the fact that those people who design the checkout counter aisle are evil and obviously don’t have kids of their own, but instead will focus on the words that I heard.
The child, who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, was quite upset that mom wasn’t going to buy the Snickers and was doing what we in the south call ‘pitchin a fit’. The mother, clearly at her wits end after numerous tries of convincing junior as to why he couldn’t have the Snickers, snapped at her son and said, “You must be stupid. I told you no, now shut up.” I would have liked to tell that little kid that he wasn’t stupid. Now don’t misunderstand, I would have wore his butt out for acting like a horse’s tail, but calling a kid stupid can have lasting effects for years to come.
I was reminded at that moment how heavy words can be.
I have been where that mother was. I have wanted to strangle my kids for things they have done, and I am sure just about any parent can relate. I have been so angry that I couldn’t see straight, and I have said things that I regretted and had to apologize to my children for. I think that we as parents have a larger responsibility to see beyond our anger to what our words will do to our children. The same harsh word is different coming from a sibling than it is coming from a parent. I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to discipline our children, but we can do that without calling them stupid.