I was ten years old when Helen, a middle-aged woman, came up to me after church one Sunday and said, “If you want to know what you are going to look like some day, just look at your grandmother because you’re the spitting image of her.”
Now I really loved my Granny. I still do even though she’s no longer living. And Helen was right—I do look like her and am very much like her in several other ways, as well, and I’m proud and thankful for it. But when she said that, I looked over to where Granny was standing and thought, “Yikes! I don’t ever want to look like that!” (‘That’ being graying hair, a few age spots, and skin that had more lines and wrinkles than I ever thought I would care to have)
I’m also sure the look on my face told Helen I didn’t think her comment was the least bit complimentary. But then again, I doubt it, because she didn’t think she’d said anything wrong. And she hadn’t…not really. It wasn’t what she had said, but rather how she had said it.
As parents we need to be careful that we don’t ‘pull a Helen’ by making observations and comments that are meant to be beneficial or complimentary…but aren’t. For example:
When your son comes out all dressed up to attend your niece’s wedding, don’t say, “Wow, you look great! It’s too bad you don’t look that nice every day.”
Or if you are fortunate enough to have a teenage daughter who isn’t obsessed with wearing tons of makeup and trying to dress like whoever girls are imitating at the time, don’t ‘compliment’ her by saying, “I’m so glad you aren’t worried about how you look.”
Another example of this would be saying something like, “I didn’t expect you to be able to do it, but at least you tried.”
Do you see how easily it would be for a child or teenager hearing those words to interpret these comments negatively…even though that’s not your intention? I sure hope so. That’s why it is so very important for you to choose your words carefully and make sure they convey the message you want to send.
If Helen were to say those words to me today I would hug her and thank her for paying me such a great compliment. But that’s because I’m no longer ten and I now have the wisdom and capability to ‘read between the lines’ in order to understand the real meaning of what is being said. Someday your kids will be able to do the same, but between now and then it is up to you to speak to them in such a way that they will even want to listen to you when they finally get there.
Copyright 2016 Darla Noble. No part of this can be used or copied without permission from the author.