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Stopping words that hurt

Categories: Push my Button


My 15-year-old son Nathaniel is having trouble with a person in his life who has been saying unkind things. We’ve talked about it several times. “It’s not what he says, it’s how he says it,” Nathaniel says. True enough, the words by themselves, taken out of context or written nakedly on a page, often don’t show much. But they hurt just the same. It’s how you say it.

I was thinking about this and what Nathaniel can do about it when I read this post this morning at Love That Max. Max has special needs. Max’s mom, Ellen, decided to take it upon herself to call out anyone on Twitter saying the R-word. You know … retarded. Retard. Tard.

I can relate to this strongly. My other son Eric has Down syndrome. Seeing the word “retarded” splashed across an official-looking page with Eric’s name on it was a huge blow. Retard. My son is retarded. I wrote about the R-word and Eric once. It’s true. He is retarded. He’s slower than most of the rest of us. Is slow all that bad?

But the word, the word still hurts. There are other meanings, other implications. I loved Ellen’s one-woman journey, her crusade to help people think about the words they use and the power they carry. I’m not an activist about the R-word, but I am glad that Ellen is. Read her post. We all should. I love how she is inspiring compassion. It’s okay that her message isn’t reaching everyone. She’s doing what she can, and it makes a difference. Max’s mom rocks.

I don’t know what to tell Nathaniel about how to stop the flow of unkind words in his life other than what I have already told him:

  • Make yourself big, not small.
  • Remember that the words aren’t true.
  • Tell the person that their words hurt and are unacceptable.
  • Keep repeating your message, as long as it takes.

What advice do you give your kids about words that hurt?

[If you would like to help spread the word to end the R-word, click here.]

[Photo: the trial]

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3 comments so far...

  • My kids are a lot younger. But right now, what I do is point out that the rude person was having a bad day, and that was the root of the bad attitude toward others. I do also talk to them about ignorance, when that seems applicable. I tell them that no matter what, it is never OK for them to talk to others in that way.

    On the subject of bullying in general, I have taught my kids that if someone is picking on them, they are to say firmly and clearly (so a nearby adult can hear): “you are not allowed to ___ me.” And then walk away if the person doesn’t shape up.

    SKL  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 11:25 pm

  • Hello… daughter had this experience with the word FAT…( she is fat and she knows and accepts it..she is 21 and a great girl)…
    So, when someone says the word FAT…there are many many meanings related to it….for example…unhealthy, ugly, slow, sweating, dump, not able to controll urself…and so on..
    Why does this word hurt so much…and THIN does not?
    Brings us to the fact that there is still a lot of judging, instead of taking things like they are!
    Lots of love.

    Petra  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 4:54 am

  • Talyaa, I think the word hurts you more than your son. As your son said, “It’s not what he says, it’s how he says it.”

    I would never lie to my child and say words aren’t true, because then the child will grow up not trusting anyone. Like the sticks and stones mantra, we can learn to remove words from attackers’ arsenal and realize that it’s the intention behind the words that really hurt, not the words themselves.

    There is nothing wrong with having a less than average IQ. What your son can build instead is incredibly high EQ. This is worth so much more and is so much stronger than that kids’ insecurity – where his attack started from. I think your son will be able to sense that. That disrespecting kid WILL get what he deserves. And your son will be a force of nature if allowed to feel secure with who he is.

    Kim  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 1:10 pm