I say it to my boys countless times a week. You know, that age-old parental reminder of, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
It’s a message we’ve passed down for generations in an attempt to make our children feel better when someone calls them a name or makes fun of them. As long as someone isn’t punching you in the stomach and stealing your lunch, you’re Teflon and nothing hurtful sticks right?
Another favorite is, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”
What Shakespeare-wannabe mom or dad came up with that winner?
The problem with telling my kids these sayings is in the real world, they’re not true. Words do hurt, and can often stay with us far longer than someone tripping us in the halls or giving us a wedgie.
I’m sure most adults can remember some awful nickname someone gave them in elementary school. And while average kids may come home with hurt feelings every once and a while, those with learning disabilities and special needs feel those words much deeper. The beautiful straight-A student who got called dumb at recess knows she’s not and will brush it off by the end of the week. But the child with dyslexia or processing delays will take it to heart, already aware he’s behind in class. It will begin to erode his confidence, diminishing his self-worth. The same can be said for the child with tics who legitimately can’t stop making an odd sound or feverishly blinking his eyes. His emotions are already working on overdrive, well aware that everyone is staring, and he has no control.
I’ve been the mom who has the child get off the bus, tears in his eyes from hurtful words that will stick. I’ve also been the mom where that same child who struggles, has pointed or laughed at the differences of another. While these moments grate at my heart, they are teachable opportunities. We as parents must demonstrate to our children that everyone has differences. Every single one of us. We also need to exchange the word “different” for “unique” and start focusing on how everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
“If we all looked the same, acted the same, how boring would this planet be?” I tell my boys.
“Be a leader in the campaign for kindness, the universe has a purpose for each and every one of us here.”
By Christie Cuthbert
An award-winning columnist, Christie Cuthbert has been a writer for 15 years and is busy raising four boys, including a set of triplets. She is currently working on her first book, "Mom I Farted in Church" A Type A Mama's Crazy Journey Learning to Laugh. Follow her journey on Instagram @christiecuthbert