What Words Can’t Say

Jan 15, 2014

I love words.  A well-turned phrase gives me goose bumps.  Words play a significant role in my life.  But sometimes in the life of a family, words are nearly worthless.

When your daughter runs downhill too fast (despite your repeated warnings) and breaks out her front teeth in a spectacular face plant, she doesn’t need to hear you say that this was what you’d feared all along.

When your son has to retake a class because he failed to complete the assignments you’d badgered him about, nothing you say can make the lesson clearer than this most painful consequence.

In these cases, words fail to provide the remedy our kids need.  But our loving presence has the power to make a real difference. 

A child who’s busted out her teeth needs us to rub her arm as she cries on her way to the dentist.  A child who must retake a class is encouraged when you look forward to his success rather than backward at his failure. 

Conscientious parents feel duty-bound to turn every disappointment into a lesson, and of course, they’re right.  Kids learn the most from their challenges.  But where we mess up is in thinking it’s our job to explain the whole thing. 

When we become very involved in discussing what’s gone wrong, a subtle shift occurs.  As we drone on, we begin to own the situation, stealing it away from the child who could really benefit by owning it himself.

He may resent our intrusion on this important process and turn his back on our helpful advice.  Sometimes we wind up talking ourselves right out of our kids’ consideration as we cause them to close their ears and their minds to us.

Instead of too many words that may or may not be welcomed, how can we comfort our child?  A wink, a smile, or a favorite meal assure him life can still be good, even when he’s missed the mark.

We bring comfort with our loving presence, stepping back—just a little—while he works through things himself.  And if we stay close enough, our child will hear our unspoken words.