There are certain things you should never say but you do. There is a children’s rhyme that tries to excuse uttering words that hurt others by suggesting that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. That is as wrong as it is wrong headed.
Words can hurt. And, yes, even if we make all the best apologies in the world, there will be residual damage, and perhaps grave damage to self esteem and body image. The child or teen may forgive but aspects of the damage will remain no matter how hard we try to bend it back into shape. Especially if we don’t change.
What then is the answer to never saying things but you do? In the wake of some mistakes myself, these are a few things I’ve had to look at myself. I hope you will find them at least partially helpful.
Empathy is about identifying with the feelings or situation of another person. Once I was administered a personality test for a major company and I was shocked to score so highly in this area, and others have said I am empathetic, but I always feel so dissociated from the feelings of others, not on purpose but by personality. Empathy is something I’ve had to work hard at, and have a long way to go to be where my wife and child need me to be, but being sensitive to the need for empathy will guide actions towards others. Empathy is practicing the golden rule: Do unto others as you would like done unto you.
Love The Child, Hate The Behavior
My wife has taught me a great deal about this and helped me in moments of weakness. Many of us have grown up with name calling, even if it was by ignorance, or the personal weakness of a parent. Nevertheless, my wife lives by the axiom to correct the action, not the person. This is to mean that we don’t call the child negative terms, but only the action. Here, it is important to make a distinction between actions and the person, and not call the child an embarrassment, like I once did, saying YOU are an embarrassment. That should never be said.
Be Patient With Yourself Too
Yes, it is important to remember that just as it will take years to mold good habits in our children, it takes an equal and proportionate amount of time to change our learned habits. Perhaps even longer. The key is to recognize the need for changes and putting a plan into action. Don’t get dispirited when you fall back into bad habits, only resolve to try even harder. Your example in personal resolve will hearten your children and teach them you practice what you preach. They will appreciate that immeasurably; hypocrisy is parenting poison.