As much as we think our children aren’t paying attention or blatantly disregard what we say, our words still affect them tremendously, both positively and negatively. When our words have a negative impact on our kids (whether or not we intended them to), the challenging part becomes undoing the damage we have done. In my case, I’m not talking about anything all that serious; I’m talking about some simple things we may say to keep our children safe and happy. For example, we tell our kids not to touch electrical outlets because they are dangerous. Yes, we want them to steer clear of these, but our intention is not to instill a lifelong fear of all things electrical.
I, it would seem, have accidentally created anxieties in my son that do not need to exist. I can certainly understand the typical toddler fears of the dark, monsters, being alone, etc. However, my son will no longer play with a battery-operated toy for fear that it will run out of batteries. There will be plenty of other things he’ll have to talk to his therapist about one day – this one doesn’t seem necessary.
So, here’s what happened. We have a train table and a few trains up in my son’s room. One day, hubby and I surprised him with a battery-operated Thomas train. He was thrilled. He would turn Thomas on, play with him for a while, and then move on to something else. Thomas was left to go around and around and around the track. I simply reminded him to turn Thomas off so that he wouldn’t run out of batteries and he would be ready to go next time. The following day, the same thing happened, but this time, Thomas was placed on the floor and went from my son’s room, down the hall, and into my bedroom. My son watched in delight, and then again, moved on to the next toy. Thomas put up a good fight pushing against the wall, but was unable to continue his journey. Once again, I reminded my son that if he was done playing with Thomas, he should turn it off and return it to the train table so that it won’t get lost or, you guessed it, run out of batteries.
A few weeks later, my son was given a gift of a battery-operated James train – something that he really, I mean really wanted. James has been carried from room to room, has traveled with us on car rides to Grandma’s house, and has been pushed around the track. Battery-operated James has never been turned on. I have tried to make it exciting, suggesting we have races between James and Thomas around the track, but every time my finger goes near the power button, my son freaks out! He gets so nervous that if we turn James on he will run out of batteries that he won’t turn James on at all! I have tried to explain to him that it isn’t a big deal if a toy runs out of batteries, as we have several extras in our closet, and that if we DO run out, we can always go to the store for more. I have tried to explain that we only have to turn our toys off when we are done playing with them. But, alas, James remains a manually operated toy.
I have since noticed that my son also gets nervous about food melting, a result of a previous ice cream incident. Additionally, he is concerned about getting messy, a result of a non-fingerpainting project that turned into a fingerpainting project and required a much bigger cleanup than anticipated. I have tried to reassure him that not every food is going to melt and that it’s ok to get messy (I even encourage it). Unfortunately though, it seems the damage has already been done. The anxieties have already been created. Mommy has already messed up and broken the baby.
I am not sure how to go about undoing the damage I have (without realizing it at the time) done. Until I figure it out, these words from Sondheim’s Into the Woods will continue to haunt me:
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
My son listened… a little too well.