The power of words: talking to keep our tweens strong

While sticks and stones may break our bones, words can also cause emotional damage. But words can also uplift us, empower us, and shape how we see ourselves, and those around us. Psychologist Dr Sasha Lynn looks at the importance of talking to our children about the power of words.

Our children start life in a whirlwind of words. They tend to take in everything that we say to them, listen closely to the things they hear on TV, pick up words and phrases from the books they read, and eventually may start using those words to describe themselves and others.

Often our children can paddle their way through the sea of words, hitting a few rough patches through adolescence and into adulthood, but swimming forward regardless. For some though, the current can become too strong, and some of the things they hear can leave them drowning in self-doubt, self-consciousness, and self-sabotage. 
To learn more about the 'Within the Keep' project by photographer Rachel Devine, and for a full list of positive words, click here.

To youngsters growing up, the power of words shouldn’t be underestimated. While we as adults try to tell kids “they’re just words”, we’re selling them short. They’re not just words at that age, they can be many things: actions, descriptions, emotions and intent, all rolled into one string of letters. They can shape how we grow and see the world. 
 
When hurtful, nasty, cruel language is thrown around, that can have a real impact, and can potentially shape the trajectory of a child’s life. For girls in particular (but boys can experience this too) words can start to break down their self-esteem, their view of themselves, and make them question their own beauty and worth.

"...words can start to break down their self-esteem, their view of themselves, and make them question their own beauty and worth."

This topic is close to my heart. With two young daughters, I find myself reinforcing with them the power of words on a daily basis, and what words can do to us, and to others. When our girls enter school, they will enter a new chapter of life, where the words of others gradually become heard more than the language we use with them at home.

It’s normal, and a natural progression of life, as kids turn away from their parents and tune into their peers. However, when those words are cutting, we need to be able to teach our girls to look past them, and look at the common bonds we all share, and the beauty we all have inside.

I want my girls to know that they don’t need to be at the mercy of words, that they can use their own language to strengthen themselves, and others. 

For every word that can tear our kids down, there are just as many that can build them up. Language can be empowering, hopeful, caring and strong. It can inspire and motivate, and shape our lives for the better.

So then how do we get our girls to turn toward those empowering messages, instead of the hurtful ones?

Young family of 5 laying on the carpet - Bupa Blue Room
The number one thing for parents to do is to keep up positive and open communication. Even when it seems like the kids aren’t listening. At the tween-age, our kids can be in a limbo, torn between parents and friends. With a healthy dose of attitude thrown in for good measure.

While it might seem like they’re not listening, parents need to remind themselves that they’re ‘planting the seeds’. Children may not get it straight away, but by keeping up regular and open communication, and by leaving the option open for them to come and chat any time, the seed can be planted. 

It can start with just taking an extra 10 minutes out of your day to spend it together as a family, working as a team to start changing the conversation.

Being as honest as you can be, modelling methods you use to manage difficult moments or times of self-doubt, openly discussing ways to reframe things, and helping them understand that words can be ‘flipped’ to work for us, are all vital to show our tween girls. 

Help them to see that they are in control of their reactions and responses to words, and teach them that their own empowering voice should be the loudest. 

"For every hurtful word, they need to counter it with a balanced, powerful and confident response."

For every hurtful word, they need to counter it with a balanced, powerful and confident response. Because we can make words work for us, and we can change our own path.

At the end of the day our girls need to see that we are all in the same boat; we can all be vulnerable and unsure at times, and we can let words dictate many things. 
 
When we keep strong, balanced dialogue up, and we show our daughters that we understand where they’re coming from, they can learn that they have the power within themselves to make the change they want to see. 
 
If we can all work together, we can make the words work for us. 

'Within the Keep' is a movement championed by photographer and mother of three Rachel Devine, to teach tween girls about the power of their language. To learn more about the project and find out how your family can get involved, click here.

Rachel's project won the 2016 Bupa Blog Awards Visual Category.
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