The power of our words on our children

words & tantrums

My daughter Yara is four and a half now and recently I’ve really been struggling with finding a way to manage her sudden outbursts of tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wants. My nerves have grown thin and I’ve been resorting to threats and shouting, which leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth and a heavy heart.  When I saw her shouting at a friend during a play date this week when she couldn’t get what she wanted, I knew that I needed to find a better way of handing all of this.  Expecting her to do as I tell her and not as I show her is not the type of guide that I want to be.

So I turned to my bookshelf and picked up my copy of Between Parent and Child and leafed through it for some inspiration which has helped put things back into perspective, reminded me of my responsibility and the power of my role on her precious self confidence.  I’ll share a few of the nuggets that I’ve taken from it.


Abusive adjectives harm our children

Abusive adjectives, like poisonous arrows, are not to be used against children.  When a person says “this is an ugly chair” nothing happens to the chair.  It is neither insulted nor embarrassed.  However, when children are called ugly or stupid or clumsy, something does happen to them.  There are reactions in their bodies and in their souls.  Resentment, anger, and hate develop and with that comes an undesirable behaviour and troublesome symptoms may surface.

When a child is repeatedly told something they come to believe it.  So when I tell her that what she has done is silly, I’m basically teaching her to believe that she is silly.  Obviously that’s the last thing that I’m trying to do!

So if I’m not criticising her behaviour then, what am I supposed to do to let her know that it’s not ok?

Providing your child with guidance rather than criticism

Criticism is judgmental and it’s the last thing that’s going to motivate a child to do anything.  In criticism, parents attack children’s personality attributes and their character.  In guidance, on the other hand, we state the problem and a possible solution.  We say nothing to the child about himself or herself.

I cringe to admit it, but criticism has often come as a knee jerk and automatic response from me. When I turn my focus inside, I realise that it’s words that I often use for myself too.

When things go wrong, respond rather than react

Storms between parents and children develop in a regular and predictable sequence.  When looking at it from this perspective it can actually be mildly amusing.  Knowing that the pattern always repeats itself gives me a bit of a heads up to predict what is about to happen and then make a decision to respond in a different way.  Acknowledging how she may be feeling or why she may be upset and communicating this with her already starts to dissolve the situation.  Once she knows that I’ve understood her perspective, she then more willing and open to the possibility of exploring something different.

It’s amazing the power that a little bit of recognition and understanding has to open up doorways to better communication and understanding.

Acknowledging the bigger picture

Taking a moment to step away from it all and acknowledge what is going on in her world as well as our lives as a whole I find also helps to put things back into perspective.  She wants to live a happy peaceful life just as much as I do.  I am the bigger person in all of this and it is up to me to take a moment to pause and carefully choose the words that I use to guide her along her path.

I will end with this sentence, which is a powerful reminder of the role we take as guides.

Words have the power to build and energize or to frighten and devastate.

Has this post triggered any thoughts or feeling in you about your own experiences with parenting? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.  How have you handed tantrums and can you offer us something that has worked for you?





  1. says

    Hi, Marisa and thanks for making me stop and think of how I deal with my children’s outbursts. At the moment it is my oldest that is testing me and time and time again I end up saying things I know I shouldn’t have said, I don’t respond but react instead. I also feel that if there is a lot of stress it makes it worse, so it’s so important to let yourself stop and take a look at how you handle these situations. I too need to pick up a book to get some directions! Thanks!

    • Marisa Shearer says

      I’m so pleased that you got something from this Elina! Raising children is one of the hardest jobs in the world. When things get stressful it definitely makes it harder for everyone. One of the things that I’ve done this past week is look at where I can make time for myself to do the things that I love so that my tanks are topped up to enable me to be a more understanding and patient mother. Already things have changed in the house. Thank you for sharing what you got from the post 🙂

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