The Power of Words

imagesWords matter. We can use them to nurture our loved ones and friends or we can use them to demean and hurt.

As I navigated a sidewalk crowded with Nevada Day revelers, I saw a former student standing along the parade route with her family. In fourth grade, Anna had smiled shyly from behind shaggy bangs, learned adequately with a bit of extra help, and created intricate works of art she sometimes slipped onto my desk, whispering, “I made this for you.”

Now in 9th grade, she looked like the teenager she was: clothing her peers would approve, makeup awkwardly applied, and an air of embarrassment at being in the company of her family.

As I approached, her eyes lit with recognition. The smile she gave me was the same, though it seemed more guarded. Before I could speak, her mother intervened: “Mrs. Bohart, right? I remember you. You once taught this dumb, dodo daughter of mine. I tell you, she’s as stupid as ever.”

Anna disappeared into the crowd.

I like to think most of us choose not to hurt others with unkind words. But sometimes we unintentionally use words that have a negative impact or enforce stereotypes.

I used to deliver a keynote speech at educators’ conferences. During it, I talked about words and their impact: “I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. Please respond by raising your hands. First question: how many of you women have been called a tomboy?” Usually I heard amused chuckles as hands shot up around the room to everyone’s approval. Next I asked, “ And how many of you men have been called a sissy?” This query met an uncomfortable silence, an absence of raised hands, and then rueful laughter.

Our words send loaded messages, intentional or not.

Sometimes unkind words are used with cruel intent.

I once entered a middle school as the bell rang to end of the first day of school. I moved to the wall and watched the students leave. Surrounded by chattering groups, a large, ungainly boy, obviously wearing new school clothes, walked alone. A girl’s voice rose above the noise of the departing students, cutting and quick: “Hey, Moose Boy, where’d you get your new shirt? Thrift store?”

The boy’s face burned red; he stumbled as he pushed through the door.

All these years later, I still see that young man’s face and hope he went home to a loving family.

We need to prepare our children to both withstand verbal assaults and refuse to use them. But how do we do so? I’ve never raised children; I’ve taught them, and I know what I did at school to help them survive the rough spots. I hope you have some ideas to share with my readers and me about lessening the use, and impact of, hurtful words.

Have some ideas?
Please leave a comment



8 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. What a powerful message you shared today. As a young teacher, I kept a note on my desk that said, “Children are a mirror”. I needed to remind myself that what we give becomes what we receive. Sometimes that message gets lost in my day to day motions. Thank you for reminding me of just how powerful words are!

    Missing you,


    • Your comment reveals why you were such a loving, effective teacher, Sue. Your words, “…what we give becomes what we get,” would be a good guide for our relationships with loved ones as well. Thanks for your meaningful thoughts.


  2. Loved this post- I needed to read it today. I have a stress barometer- her name is Quinn. I know I am way too stressed when Quinn starts using sarcasm and being demanding– because that is how I am behaving. It’s funny how I don’t recognize the damaging effects of my words, until they are coming out of my child’s mouth. I wish I was better at remembering this.


    • From reading your blog, Becca, I think you are too hard on yourself. I’ll bet 95% of the time you handle your stress barometer just fine, and the other 5% will quickly fade for her. I hope sometime I get to meet your Quinn. I think I would like her.


  3. I really loved this post!!I was not perfect in raising my own children but one thing I NEVER did was call them names or berate them!! I figured they had enough to battle out in the world and that at home they needed someone that they knew would be in their corner at all times and costs!! I even went so far as to ban the word “Shutup” in my home because I felt like that was such a disrespectful word.
    When we named Tucker, I knew that he would have to be tough to withstand the MANY words that can be rhymed with his name. The dreaded day came when I got a call from his principal asking me if I could come to his school because there had been trouble. As I met with his principal, I found that the other kids had been calling him names. Tucker wasn’t a “slim built” kid; in fact, I always had to buy “Husky” clothing for him. I braced myself for the worse as the principal told me what the kids had called him. They called him…..TUCKEY FRIED CHICKEN!!!! I almost laughed out loud when she said this with all seriousness on her face!! I was expecting FAAARRR worse than TUCKEY FRIED CHICKEN!! Better yet – Tucker didn’t even think that the other kids had done anything wrong!! 🙂
    Words are the most powerful tool that we have!! We can either choose to use them to build up others or to tear them down. I try to use them to build!! Thanks for your post!! XOXO


    • Not only did I love “Aunt Beulah’s” recent post, but I especially loved the comments that were made. Becca, all women are harder on themselves than they need to be. I know as a mother, there are things I regret. I have to continue to look at the positive that I was able to do with not only my children, but the children around me. Karma is real, and the children who’s lives you get to influence will love you for the karma in you.

      Kathleen, your story made me giggle. You have ALWAYS been an inspiration to me and the positive way you are with your children. Like Sue said, “Children are a mirror”. Of the many children I know, Kathleen, your children mirror you. You should be very proud of that 🙂

      Thank you, “Aunt Beaulah” for another wonderful post! Again, one that has put me in a reflective mood. I love it!


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