I‘m embarrassed to admit it, and its truth pains me, but I’m almost certain the people to whom I’ve spoken most hatefully are my own children and husband.  I’ve wondered if I’m the only one who does this.

Why do the people I love most receive the worst treatment I have to offer?  Thankfully, mean or impatient words are the exception, but with my upcoming extended separation from my children, I’m acutely aware of my propensity to speak in a less than loving manner; ironic, because I have such thin skin myself.

Two recent occurrences with my teen boys drove this point home–

• After my oldest son cleaned his room, I opened his closet door; it was no surprise his version of clean didn’t match mine.  Irritated, I began organizing and cleaning out the war zone, only to be discovered by him mid-way through.  He braced for mama wrath, instead caught off guard by my calm (not typical) response.  Before all was said and done, we were finishing the work together–happily.  I hadn’t even asked him to join me.

• My husband gave our youngest a jar of pennies he’s been saving for years, along with a stack of coin wrappers.  Sitting at the kitchen table while I was making my way through a mile-long To-Do List, my son struggled to wrap the pennies without them collapsing; it was the first time he’s rolled coins.  My initial response was frustration–why was he having difficulty with such a simple task?!  “I knew how to roll coins since I was in grade school!” I thought, but thankfully stopped before those words made their way across my lips.  Instead, I stopped what I was doing, sat beside him and showed him the best way to roll coins. I watched his frustration melt into understanding.

When children reach their teens, it’s easy to think they’re unaffected by harsh words. Don’t be deceived—your words and tone can wound them deeply.  Consider the following:

1. Think and breathe before you speak.

Remember the old “Count to ten” adage?  Not a bad idea when you’re frustrated with your teens.  They’re expecting your fury; they know when they’ve pushed too far.  Surprise them with kindness, an even tone and grace when they least expect it.

2. Don’t assume they can read your mind.

Like the case of my son rolling coins, I was frustrated he didn’t know how to do it by osmosis; because I knew, he should know.  Consider their perspective and whether you’re projecting your experience onto them.

3. Tell them what they need to hear.

I am not suggesting insincere flattery or compliments where they aren’t warranted.  But it’s likely your teenagers have been hurt by the cruel words of classmates, peers, or even teachers or coaches, so take every opportunity to counter those negatives with positives.  Every teen needs to hear these things often from their parents:

  • I love you.
  • I’m proud of you (be specific when possible).
  • I’m sorry (when you’re clearly in the wrong).
  • I forgive you (when they’re clearly in the wrong).
  • You’re beautiful/handsome (they’re bombarded by TV, magazines, billboards and film with messages of false beauty; affirm their features, character, and personality traits, which speak to their inner beauty and are the things you like best about them).

Sometimes word void is more painful than word damage.

Have you ever been hurt or haunted by cruel words of others?  In parenting, have you ever found yourself saying things you swore you never would?  Think about one important message you want to impress upon your teen, and if you’re willing, share in comments.