October was recently dubbed Anti-Bullying Awareness Month (or something like that) and the topic has been in the news quite a lot lately. Everywhere you go you see someone with something to say about the current situation facing kids in schools today. Our kids are pre-school age and so we thankfully have not had to face any of these things. Sure our little ones have friends who take away their toys and struggle with sharing, but those things are just the early part of the process of learning how to treat one another.
But the current events regarding bullies and their victims got me thinking about the power of words on people of all ages. Our words can be used as a healing salve or they can be daggers to the heart and spirit of man. And I am constantly reminded when talking with my little ones how careful I need to be in choosing my words.
One of the almost unconscious things we started with our young ones from a very young age was to start encouraging the character traits we would like to see in them, the things that will make them acceptable members of society. And we have done this primarily with name-calling.
No. Not that name-calling. The kind of names we would like to be called. The names that connote quality character attributes, speak of the good parts of a person.
Our girls demonstrated interest in what mom and dad were doing early on. So around 12 months we started calling them helpers. We invited them to join in on the activities they could safely participate in and asked for their help. We found them very eager helpers. They were engaged in activities with us and joyfully did their part. We did not require much of them – we aren’t slave-drivers – but as their abilities to help increased the opportunities to be helpers increased. We found ample opportunities for even our youngest ones to help and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done.
Since our children are girls we call them ladies (if we had a boy, we would call him a gentleman). Introducing our 18 month-old to the concept of a lady was not as difficult as you might imagine. One day I just asked her if she was “Mama’s little lady.” And she said, “Yes!” From then on she delighted to call herself a lady (with a small detour for a short time to calling herself a banshee – where do they get this stuff?). Moreover we had a touchstone for introducing attributes to her; attributes like patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc.
Yes this one is mostly for play purposes, but our little one LOVES to be a hunter. And what is more, she loves to be a good hunter. We play lots of games with her where she needs to locate particular items or toys and she loves the challenge. Calling her a hunter as she searches for things engages her in the activity we are doing. I can see she wants to live up to her reputation as a big-game hunter!
To be honest I really struggle with the line between puffing up our children and instilling confidence in them. One of the areas I really struggle with deciding what is appropriate is giving compliments. But I love when we are doing an activity or playing and they come up with a great idea or do something successfully for the first time, celebrating by calling them clever! Talking about great ideas and smart solutions with them is what I hope makes them confident when they get to the classroom later.
It is interesting the concepts we seem to almost be programmed to get without much explanation. Friendship is one of them. From such an early age, our little ones can understand who their friends are and can make friends as easily as walking up to someone at the park and playing. But, as we know, later in life, the concept of friends can be a difficult one to navigate. We try to take all the opportunities we can to talk about what it means to be a good friend to others. We talk about sharing, being patient, and praying for those we love.
Our latest name we are working on is promise-keeper. And though I have some reservations about how this is going considering our eldest’s age and her broken-heartedness over the times she breaks her promises; she wants so badly to be a promise-keeper like Jesus. We have gone over a few times what being a promise-keeper involves (“doing what you say you are going to do”) and that Jesus is a promise-keeper. She is fully aware of what her promises are and when she breaks them, she says, “I broke my promise, I am not like Jesus anymore.” So I see the early seeds of an understanding of our brokenness that encourages me to keep asking her if she is a promise-keeper. So far this is less a name we call her than a name she may be able to earn one day.
Have you thought about the names you call your kids? What do you call your kids and how do they react to it? I would love to hear from you!