We had a family meeting last week.
My serious thinking on this subject started a few weeks ago. We were enjoying a family day watching the Blue Jays. After the game, I took the kids into this long hallway to line up to run the bases.
While waiting in line, I watched a mom tear down her daughter one word at a time. For 45 minutes. The little girl visibly shrank every time this mom spoke to her, until finally she was slumped up against the wall.
This should have been a great moment. A special memory for her. I had a hard time focusing on having fun with my kids because my heart was breaking for this little girl.
Nothing this mom said was overly terrible. No swear words and not even any yelling. But every word was hissed. If you’ve had a mom or been a mom, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t judge this lady. Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe this was a huge step up from the way she was parented. But there was a visible effect on her child.
A few weeks later I watched a dad with his little boy. He leaned over and gently admonished him, but with compassion, a half hug and pat on the head. That boy immediately behaved, leaned into his dad and started rubbing his arm. These two events stood out in my mind.
One would think that the little boy would be the one who shrank, but it was the girl. It occurred to me that it wasn’t the words, it was the tone of voice. I started looking at my own parenting. Have I hissed before? Absolutely. But I hate that I have. I think its pretty much impossible to earn the love and respect of a child and protect their spirit when using the wrong tone of voice.
I focused on my parenting, but I’m trying to look at other parts of my life as well. It seems as though its easier to crush the spirit of a child, but I also had one more heartbreaking encounter. I actually saw a woman in her 50s yell and degrade her 80 year old mother in a grocery store. She shrank too.
Crushing a spirit is an ugly thing.
So last week we had a family meeting. I told the kids we were going to talk about tone of voice. I often tell them, “kind words!” but hadn’t really thought about teaching them to speak with a kind tone.
I said Jonathan’s name about ten times different ways and asked the kids to tell me what I meant. I wanted to show them that its more than just the words we use. They were able to correctly guess what I meant every time. Just from one word. I figured it would work and even I was impressed. Anger, love, frustration, you’re-in-trouble, they could tell it all.
So there’s a new rule in our house. You always have to watch your tone of voice. Me too! The only thing I told them is they’re not allowed to tell someone else to fix their tone of voice. The only person you can truly fix is yourself. Might as well learn two lessons at once. I could just see this turning into everyone hissing at each other to watch their tone of voice! Obviously that’s not helping anything. So we’re making a concerted effort to watch not just the words we speak, but also the way we speak them. Its slow going, but absolutely worth the effort.