Girl twirling in sunlight

With a song in her heart, my mom’s sweet little voice sang out.  Relishing in the joy that music brings to the soul of a young child, her heart filled and was satisfied.

Then the words came. Words that changed the course of that song. Words that still mock her 70 years later.

“You can’t sing. You can’t carry a tune.” If it was mentioned once, it may have been dismissed, but mother and siblings reminded her often, “You can’t carry a tune.”

So the tune in her heart ceased to exist. My mom never sang again.

Words hold power. Words carve personalities. Words cripple or build up.

My mom shared her story years ago with me,  but I called her this morning and asked her to clarify when she finally felt the freedom to sing again.

This Godly, Proverbs 31 woman, who knows her worth is in Christ, shared vulnerably, “Never really. I’ll sing quietly if lots of people are around or else I just pretend to sing.”

Tears stream as I write this because all of us can share an experience where the gripping effect of words sit at the forefront of our memory.

We know that words hurt, and we’ve heard it before,  but have you ever thought that “compliments” may have a negative effect as well? (Wait for it…)

As a young mom, I jotted down the statistic that 85% of a child’s self esteem is primarily developed by the time they are six. Many of those children grow up to be men and women who feel as if they “don’t measure up. Not good enough.”

Recently, I pulled out those notes from that study, but unfortunately, I don’t have the source. What I remember most is how profound of an impact that had on me. With four tiny children at home and days that included simultaneously wiping snot, catching vomit and praying for a shower before 4:00, I was stunned by the critical importance of those long, long, long days.

(Now I want to make clear that if you are reading this and your children are over six, this does NOT mean we are too late. I’d be in big trouble if it was because at times, my words have heart them too. It goes hand in hand with our post yesterday, that our new chapter starts today.)

You know what that little statistic did?

It gave me a new vision and purpose, and completely altered how mothered.

I hear you questioning, “But what would that look like in my day to day? I’m trying to keep my head above water and pop the pizza out of the oven without it burning, how can I help mold their self esteem in these early years?”

Start with this baby step. ( I will go into more detail tomorrow).

Look for ways to praise, recognize and correct good character.

We all want approval. That’s a given, but one of our parental roles in building our child’s self esteem is to point out those attitudes or actions that are demonstrating and exemplifying positive and encouraging character qualities.

Use words that focus on your child’s character qualities, NOT on performance based abilities or talents.

Do NOT get into the habit of praising performance!!

When that is the end game, it plants seeds of unworth that we will always struggle to relinquish.

For instance,  parents are over the top obsessed with childhood sports and winning. (Yes, that’s an entirely new blog post because I am complete sports mom with three sons that played varsity sports and a Division 1 football player.)

Often a win or loss are out of your child’s control, so instead of putting an emphasis on the performance such as “I’m so proud of you for that great win,” or shaming them for a loss, rephrase it with “I am so proud at how you persevered and didn’t give up. When it was 3rd and 8, you showed such strong determination.”

Now, I will let you know a little secret. I am not of the new mindset that all childhood sports should only have winners, so don’t hear me wrong.  Critical life lessons come from losses, but our children MUST know that regardless whether they win or lose, the heart and character behind the effort is what is key.

Refrain from throwing out snippets like, “Good job.” Instead, define what you mean by that. We have had many soccer and football wins that came in the middle of extreme heat.  Instead of just saying “Great job on that win,” I might have specified it with “Great job. I am so proud of you for showing such strong endurance in the midst of such heat. I don’t think I could have kept my head in the game with how hot it was. Proud of you for staying so attentive.”

I’m always thanking my kids for helping with the chores, but often, I’ll include WHY I am thankful.  If I were to focus only on performance or achievement, I would say, “Thanks. You did a great job vacuuming,” but with focusing on the character quality behind it, I will shift my verbiage to, “Thank you so much for your thoroughness and orderliness in finishing the job, even when you didn’t want to.”

Just this morning, my daughter spent about 20 minutes scrubbing out a pan that had burned stuff on the bottom. I told her, “Thank you for tackling that. I am so proud of your perseverance.

Her response, “Thanks, but this is so lame.” (yep, reality)

I know, I know,  it’s such a small shift, but one that can radically change how you use your words.

I will never (my husband tells me “never say never, but…”,) I will almost never complement our children on their looks alone. Often people say to them, “Wow, you are all beautiful,” and that just makes my heart sink. Of course, I always want them to know that I think they are beautiful and I share that with my girls because I know how easy it is for us to feel so insecure in our appearance, but focusing solely on outside beauty alone is fleeting. They have nothing to do with their looks and it’s the softening of their heart that I care about. It’s the generosity of spirit that I desire to see developed. One car accident and their looks could be altered for life, but who they are as a person, who Christ has called them to be, will not change.

So, if I sense my daughter needs assurance on her beauty or her outfit I might encourage her with, “That dress is lovely on you and I love how you took time in choosing those accessories, but you know that no matter what you look like on the outside, God sees you as beautiful and chosen and accepted, right?”

Yes, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking it sounds corny, but by inputting the true essence of self esteem, of reminding them of choosing to live out character qualities that matter for life, you are changing how they view themselves.

Now, I don’t always get it right. I’ve used my words to hurt as well. I might have to share my “dream crusher” story, but come on back tomorrow as I share some more examples that might startle you.

Yes, startle you.

Even I was shocked by some of these statistics and scenarios that I witnessed personally.

Have you witnessed the power of words in your parenting?

Don’t miss out on my free printables to share with your children. Reminders We ALL Need to Hear!

(If you’ve missed the first two posts in my 31 days series, begin here.) Feel free to follow along on Facebook where I dialogue daily and instagram (jenschmidt_beautyandbedlam) for sneek peek into life

31 Days with a Mentor Mom @beautyandbedlam 31 Days with a Mentor Mom (whos keeping it real)