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A father once tried to teach his son the effect of mean and hurtful words. He had a new wooden fence in his back yard. He gave his son a hammer and some nails. He told him, every time you say something mean; I want you to hammer this nail in the wood. Whenever you say something kind, pull the nail out. The boy was very angry for awhile, and said a lot of mean things, so he hammered away. The wooden fence was filled with nails. After some time, the boy realized that everything he was saying was kind, and he pulled out every single nail. He proudly ran to his dad to show him, how pleased he was with himself. “Look dad, there are no more nails in the fence!!” His father looked disturbed. Confused, the son asked “Why are you upset, there are no nails in the wooden fence,” And the father responded “But the fence is filled with holes from all the mean things you said, and although you removed the nails, the holes will remain there permanently, and the fence can not be repaired.” He told his son to imagine if that wooden fence was someone’s heart, and each time you say something cruel, you could permanently leave a hole in someone’s heart!
Do not leave holes in your children’s heart. Read on!
  1. You’re a bad boy (girl)! 
    If children are constantly called bad, naughty, little devils, or any words that describe unacceptable behavior, they will tend to believe that this is who they are, and will more likely than not, live up to this. Separate the behavior from the child. He or she could be a good child and do something bad. Let him know that he is a good child but what he did was not nice.
  2. You’re so stupid or dumb!
    You have essentially killed your child’s self-esteem, in one sentence repeated in angst. Maybe your child is not learning the new math as quickly as the other students, but that does not make him dumb or stupid. Children learn in different ways and at different rates. Do not become frustrated, provide the child with the extra support they need. They need your positive encouragement even more when they are not performing well. Labeling them as stupid, may cause the child to not even try anymore.
  3. Why can’t you be more like “so and so”? 
    Answer: Because she is not “so and so”.  Each child is born with their own unique character and abilities. Comparing children to siblings or other children may make them feel as though you love the other child more than them. Children want to be accepted for who they are. Maybe one child is superb in academics, while the other is very good in sports. Try to recognize their individual talents, and appreciate their own abilities, and not force them to live in the shadow of another. Not all children will grow up to become doctors, but that doesn’t make them of any less importance.
  4. I hate it when you… 
    Anything you utter after this may be tuned out, as the child may have focused on only two words “hate you”. You are instilling guilt in the child for not meeting your expectations. If the child did not do something to your liking, its best to exemplify the way you would like to have it done. Try to use constructive criticism to encourage the child. Do not put him down, as this may be counterproductive.
  5. Get away from me!! 
    Sometimes the everyday stress in life gets to the best of us. We may not have had a good day, and just need some time to ourselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Do not redirect your stress to your child.  Maybe they also had a restless day and simply need some affection. Never push away a child in need of affection. Sometimes a simple hug or kiss, and a short explanation of why you need just a few moments alone, is enough for them to go one about their business. Give them something to do while you take the much needed time to yourself, such as a puzzle to complete, or turning the television to their favorite show. But never ever, simply push them away.
Lahoma Williams is an independent Columnist who specializes in Childhood Education and Development. For questions, please email her at
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