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Words will never hurt me?!

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.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Melissa Stottmann

    I think about this every single day 🙁 My daughter is always telling me that I say “Mad words” and it’s purely out of frustration. It’s hard being a parent and being “on” 24/7. You are right… I need to BREATH and stop before talking sometimes. <3 Thanks!

  2. Whozat

    Our three-year-old has started telling my partner and I “Caaalm dooown!” when our conversation gets heated, even if we’re not arguing, but just talking excitedly about something.

    The other day, we were arguing, and she said, “Calm down! Why you said mad words at Mommy?”


  3. Kamille @ Redeeming the Table

    yes–so lovely and rings true to my words & heart too often. My words need so much more gentleness & love.

  4. Catherine

    This is definitely one of the most mindful problems, but hardest lessons to overcome. I’m guilty too, but we keep working to improve our ‘tone’ to gain proper respect for each other and understanding.

  5. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    “truer words were never spoken.” My husband often tells me that he can’t read my mind which, believe it or not, I forget sometimes. And you’re right, it’s easy to lash out at those closest to us during because we feel that since they are closest to us, then should we shouldn’t have to try as hard as we do with others. This is a good reminder that that way of thinking is wrong and will do nothing but lead to hurt feelings.

  6. Rachel

    I have been focusing a lot on my words to my husband and daughters (4 and 1) lately. I tend to get frustrated easily, but I’ve been trying to stop and think before I open my mouth (and it doesn’t always work). I ask myself, “Do I really need to be upset/nagging/mad over THIS?” And it helps me evaluate the situation and the context. My words have been softer, my stress level is lower, and I feel like I am a much better example for my family.

    • Mama2-3ms

      This post is so sorely needed in my life right now! It reminds me that what I give (and say), my children parrot right back. Thanks for the stop and ask reminder–it works like the 3 sieves (Is this kind? Necessary? True?). I need to practice it more until it becomes habit!

      • Chris

        I’ll have to start living by that! Kind, Necessary, True? If not, why am I saying it. Maybe eventually the question, why think it?

  7. kim@notconsumed

    Thank you for this post. This is such a huge issue that is often seen as ridiculously unimportant. The words I speak to others are lasting. They can speak blessing or destruction.

  8. Audrey @ Mom Drop Box

    I have little kids, and I think these suggestions are great for any age. And for communicating with your spouse.

    One thing I would add to #3 is to tell teens that they’re smart & capable of handling the problems that life will inevitably bring their way.

  9. Southern Gal

    Oh, yes I have said things I regretted. You could have been listening in my home before writing this. And I homeschool so #2 is a real struggle for me most times. I have gleaned much from here. Oh, to have the Lord help me DO it. Thanks Robin.

  10. Helen

    What a beautiful post!

    I would be surprised if there is one person on earth who has not been hurt by the unkindness of others.

  11. Nicole

    This could not have ring more true for me than this morning after a little disagreement with my husband. You words are so true. I think there is a comfort factor there – your loved ones see you at your best and at your worst and know you better than anyone and are therefore sometimes subject to the bad. I need to keep your post bookmarked and refer back to it when I need a reminder!

  12. Nicole

    Just a couple mornings ago this was my hot topic for my morning prayer time! I even told God I hope I have not ruined my kids for life the way I often get too impatient and expect too much out of them. Since that prayer time I’ve felt that God’s message to me is to offer my children grace just as He has offered it freely to me! But I struggle with this, and feel like I’m the only Mom like this. So, thanks for the timely post!

  13. Sandy

    This brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes I forget that my five year old is only five. He’s a bright boy so I think he must be able to most things I ask of him but he can’t and I get frustrated.

  14. Lisa

    What a perfectly timed post! My husband and I are starting the long road to helping our daughter with her Ractive Attachment Disorder.

    Words are key. Thanks for helping us on our journey!


  15. Kika@embracingimperfection

    Yes, I still make mistakes in this area but am much quicker to catch myself. In my earlier years of parenting I despaired of ever being able to change my quick tongue; I thought I was a lost cause, I guess. But as long as we recognize that what we are doing is wrong and pick ourselves up quickly when we fall, apologizing to those we hurt, and continue moving forward, we will improve greatly over time. Baby steps count.

    It helped me having a little girl who is so sensitive and verbal; she’d tell me straight out things like, “when you look angry like that it makes me feel like you don’t love me.” That was good for me to hear as it was the last message I’d want to convey.

  16. Emily @ Random Recycling

    I always find posts like this helpful as I raise a 3 and a 1 year old. As one finds her voice she is becoming more independent from me. It’s wonderful, but scary at the same time. The other little one is frustrated without the words to share his emotions. I think I feel more connected to him because I have to determine his needs without words. Probably similar to a teenager 🙂

  17. Beth ~ Just a Mom Like You

    As and adult daughter looking back on my childhood, I remember just how much words can hurt. As a mommy, I wish I could remember how much much they hurt more often. I try like crazy to remember this every day, for my daughter’s sake, her children’s sake, and their children’s sake. Someone has to break the cycle.

  18. Mary Elizabeth

    Thank you for this post! Last year I discovered the world of NVC, or nonviolent communication, and it has totally changed how I interact with my kids. I don’t always remember to use the OFNR (observation, feeling, needs, request) process with my little boy and girl… but when I do, everything is so, so much better. There are lots of NVC resources out there for parents. See, for example,
    and John Kinyon’s work at

  19. Becca S

    What a beautiful post… DH and I have discussed this topic often. His mother basically did the opposite of all the things listed under “tell them what they need to hear” when raising her boys and DH still struggles with being able to accept compliments or praise because of it. Her words and actions have left long lasting wounds on his heart. 🙁

  20. Heather Allard

    Oh, Robin…I so needed to read this today. I am going to try these tips with my 11 year old daughter. Thank you!

  21. arianna

    Ugh. This post cuts straight to my heart. Just got done sending a [less-than-loving] email to my husband grumbling and complaining about areas I feel are failures…. and I just lost my temper and started throwing my almost-3-yr-old’s toys off the sofa while cruelly accusing her of driving me crazy. FAIL.

  22. Nats

    I think as parents we often forget in the heat of the moment that saying a couple of negative words can have a long lasting impact on your children potentially for the rest of their lives. A case being in the UK when a father said to one of his twin daughters that she had put on a little wait as she was maturing. Unfortunately from this one remark both have suffered with anorexia nervosa.

  23. Sleeping Mama

    This happened to me just this past Monday! My husband asked nicely if I could accompany him and LO down to the garage because LO tends to cry when Mama isn’t walking down with him. I was irritated and rolled my eyes at him because I would then be cutting into my alone time. Then I caught myself and realized that while it’s okay for me to get irritated and to want to have alone time, my feelings didn’t warrant rude eye-rolling and snappy attitude. And to take it even further, what’s five minutes if it means LO not crying his eyes out? I apologized to my husband saying that I didn’t have to be so rude about it.

    They say that children tend to save their worst tantrums for their parents because they know that they will still be loved unconditionally. Perhaps we adults do the same; we reserve our worst for the ones closest to us not because we dislike them the most but instead because we love them the most and in turn, know that they will love us the same. I can see though that if this pattern were to continue frequently and without remorse, then that can very much ruin relationships.

  24. Erin Hall {i can craft that}

    I have been having this problem lately as my daughter hits her terrible 2’s – 6 months early. All I hear from her all day long is NO.
    Evelyn put on your shoes. >> NO
    Can we go change your bum? >> NO
    Give grandma kisses bye ye >> Noooo (because she doesn’t want grandma to go)

    ON and on all I get is attitude. I find its really affecting me and I in turn and am losing my patience with her and yelling at her. I feel like a terrible person for yelling at a baby. I need to just keep in mind that she is a baby and this is part of the growing process.

    • Jennifer

      Hi Erin!

      Isn’t that so incredibly frustrating? What helps me is to offer choices whenever possible, but so that the task that needs to get done still gets done. For example: “It’s time to put on our shoes. Would you like to wear the red ones or the green ones?” or “Grandma has to go. Do you want to give her big wet kisses or a big tight hug?” or, since my daughter wears cloth diapers, “It’s time for a diaper change, what color would you like to wear?” Best of luck in your endeavors, it certainly can be trying!

      I definitely needed this post too and am bookmarking it to look back on often. Thanks!

  25. Carla @ All of Me Now

    I can sooooooo relate. I believe it’s because, just like small children who throw tantrums, we share our worst selves with the ones we trust and love most…because it’s safe and we believe they’ll always love us. I’m super, super guilty of doing this. I apologize constantly and I think that’s an important lesson. My parents never apologized to me. They weren’t excessively mean or monsters of any sort but I do remember unkind words and never did they apologize. Great lesson here =)

  26. Cindy

    I can completely relate to this, and you are definately not alone! I think about this everyday because I can be so hateful toward my husband and son. For me, I think alot of it is learned, my parents were this way with me. I remember words hurt more than anything and I know how I make my son and husband feel, I just can’t seem to help it sometimes. I will take your advice and try these techniques. Thank you for this email today.

  27. Tracey

    This is something that I have really been working on. Thank you for sharing your experience. It has been a huge encouragement to me today.

  28. Kari Scare

    Well, this is a timely post. I wrote on related topic in my most-recent post this morning. In addition, my oldest son was recently diagnosed with some muscular eye disorders. When we got the diagnosis, I recalled all those times I spoke to him in frustration and even punished him when he didn’t seem to be trying or caring or whatever. Turns out he was trying and caring but his eyes weren’t cooperating. My assumptions got me in trouble, and my ignorance led the way. This was a big lesson that I’m still processing(happened just yesterday). I needed this post!

  29. Vicky

    Thank you for this post – it was exactly what I needed to read right now. I am sitting outside my daughter’s bedroom door getting frustrated with her not wanting to go to sleep – this helped calm the frustration and enable me to just talk her to sleep with kind words.

  30. Steph

    Thank you for this reminder. My memory is branded with irresponsible words that have been said to me and that I’ve said to others. We can never be too careful with when, how and what we speak.

  31. Victoria

    I want my children to know that even when you think you can’t “with God you can” . I have never been quick at learning, but I don’t stop trying, and I am hoping they will follow in my footsteps. I also hope however that they won’t follow me in my “pity parties” that I throw for myself all to often when I can’t seem to figure it out. Oh well, I guess the most important thing is that I do put an end to those parties, and I dust myself off and try again.

  32. Becky

    thank you for your honesty – it made a tough message easier to hear.

  33. Danielle

    Thanks for the reminder. I needed it today. After being up all night with my 3 year old who has croup, I was really short with my 7 year old. She did not deserve my harsh words and I felt awful afterwards. I apologized, but realized that the damage was already done. It’s hard to remember to filter your words when you exhausted, but our children deserve better!

  34. Jennifer

    I’ve learnt (the very hard way) that at the times when it’s really difficult to hold your temper and keep calm and speak encouraging words in a soft, even tone, yes, when you feel it’s the absolute hardest thing you could ever do – that’s exactly when it’s most needed.

  35. Siddra

    A quote (and I don’t know who said it) I try to remember in life:
    “They may not remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

  36. Diane Balch

    It is so hard to remember what it was like to be a kid and spend all of your time being told what to do. I try to remember to speak to my kids the way I would speak to a friend with kindness and sensitivity to the fact that it is hard to hear for the 100th time that you did something wrong again.

  37. Rose

    This post reminds me of the amazing Robin Moore (make a wish ambassador and so much more). Towards the end of her mothers life when the alzeimers was particularly bad, she started thinking of their interactions as ‘first time’ conversations. Even though it was the 100 th time that day to remind her where she was or who she was talking to, for her mother, it was as if it was the first time. So talking with love and compassion in our hearts when we are talking to the people we love, especially our kids, is something I try to remind myself about all the time. My 5yo ASD boy needs a LOT of reminding and support to complete even simple tasks – so deep breaths people

  38. laxsupermom

    Great post! It’s sometimes so easy to be short with those we love most. Thanks for the reminder that we could all use a moment to breathe.

  39. Andrea | Elimination Communication

    I don’t have a teen yet but I think this resonates with me as well when it comes to parenting toddlers. Words can wound, yes. My boy may not yet understand as many words as a teen, but I think he knows enough to interpret the tone. Thank you for this post that reminds parents about raising children with gentleness.

  40. charis

    i don’t have teenagers yet, but i still felt like this article applied to me and my life and was such a great reminder to how i want to live! thank you!

  41. Joanna

    This reminds me of Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A good reminder! Many a time I’ve had to stop and pray for the Holy Spirit to talk through me when I am angry…it’s amazing what helpful and healing words come out when I ask for it!

  42. Bonnie

    If you could think of one word that describes your childhood…what would that one word be? I remind myself and parents that I work with…that our words do count…and sometimes when we are frustrated, we say our words louder, when we feel we’re not being heard…I know I have. Reminding ourselves that not only words count, but how they are said can leave a lasting impression. How do you want your child to remember their childhood? How do you want to be remembered as their parent? Being a parent is hard work…but so worth it. I’d love to share my recent thoughts about being a Mom…after the fact.

  43. Ari

    Thanks for your thoughts. I have four little kids, and while the teen years ˆseemˆfar off, I know they’ll be here too soon! I apologized today to my oldest (age five) for yelling as we were late to leave the house. I DON’T want to do it and from the many confessions here, it seems like it the sin couching at many mom’s feet. So, I stay on guard , thank the Lord for grace, and thank you for the reminder.

    I also want to add that it is SO IMPORTANT to keep trying to control ourselves, and to make amends and acknowledge our wrong doing. I currently no longer have a relationship with my parents, because of their emotional and verbal abuse. It didn’t start out so bad, but as I got older and older they refused to see that their actions had any consequence. Their refusal to acknowledge the pain caused mostly by their words and lack of self control destroyed our relationship. As an adult I’m now able to protect myself, my husband, and my children, and work toward forgiveness and reconciliation but anger and harsh words killed some good years I wish we could have had together.
    I realize that this is the extreme end of the spectrum on your teaching, but do want to tell my story a bit for moms my age.

  44. jess

    I have a 4-yr-old and found this post to be just as applicable to younger kiddos. Thx!

  45. shawna wright

    My 12 year old daughter broke my kindle today. She carried it in an overloaded backpack…and who know how the screen broke, but it did. Luckily she told me over the phone before I saw her because it gave me a chance to cool down. I was able to love her through the delivery of the consequences. She has to buy me a new one. Nice for her that Amazon gave her a deal on the replacement! Lesson learner for both of us!

  46. Alicen

    Thank You for sharing! I find I get frustrated very easily in the morning when I’m trying to get both kids out the door to the babysitter’s without forgetting their snow suits, lunches, extra clothes, toy of the day, hat, mittens, etc… My older daughter (3 1/2) wants to stop, talk, dance, anything. I have to stop and remind myself that another 30 seconds is not the end of the world.

  47. Sharon Thoms

    Sadly this is so true. I also have often wondered why it is that familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. The words of my dear grandmother often ring in my ear, her favorite saying, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I was only talking to my DH about this yesterday, a young indigenous girl that I counsel from time to time, 27, with 7 kids and a hubby, in a 3 bedroom house and a newborn. She is known to say the most horrid things to her kids, mainly calling them names, eg: so and so, get outside you little …. This she screams, for peace and quiet to try and speak with me. Trying to explain to her that it’s not good, is very difficult. Who am I to tell her when she is dealing with her family the best way she can..Been doing some nvc work with her, but again difficult in between her policing 7 children under 11. On speaking to my DH about this he replied, “at least they don’t hit them.” Yes, and pretty much all the indigenous people that I deal with speak this way, to the kids. So I guess in a way it doesn’t seem to effect them or even upset them. In that case it is better than hitting them. She loves them to pieces as far as giving them toys, clean clothes, good food, school, doesn’t allow them to go away from their home or even ride bikes out in the street. It’s just the way they speak to the kids and each other that sends chills up my spine. Maybe it’s just the society with live in. My blog is an organizing blog that deals with the way we organize all area’s of our lives and the routines and habits we live our lives by. Thanks for sharing, it was a great article.

    • Ari

      Honestly, (and I was a child who grew up being cussed at, name called, and had all of my motives and decisions verbally attacked) the few times I WAS hit were easier for me to process because most people in the world know that is wrong: when adults hit each other the police come and judges get involved. I KNEW my parents were wrong in those times and it was easier for me to process. Having your mother who one day might say “I love you and will protect you” call you names and tear you down the next is WAAAAAAAY more damaging because its not only hurtful it is very confusing to the child.

      I know its uncomfortable, but I would model how to speak to children to your young mother. I have 4 kids in 5 years and know not to do that. Culture aside, damage is damage. She obviously needs help and you are in a position to help her. Help her come up with a plan to get the kids involved at home with her housework, cooking, helping with the younger kids. And MODEL speaking to them for her. Telling her she’s wrong won’t cut it.

      You’ve got to get your hands dirty, but isn’t that what love and counseling really is?
      Love your indigenous girl, love her kids. The chills up your spine are conviction.
      Be the good Samaritan, not the priest or Levite.

  48. Ash

    THANK YOU for this article. This is one of the biggest things I need to work on. My mother was great at not saying those things when we were young, but as we got older that kindness went away a little bit. That definitely hurt. It IS important to remember these things as your kids grow as well.

  49. Keya

    Thank you so much. I so needed to hear this. Even though I don’t have teens, I have to remind myself to think before I speak to my small kids. Words really do hurt, often times more than actions.

  50. Robin Dance

    Popping in for a minute to say THANK YOU for your words of encouragement, your own stories, and affirmation that *this* was of value to hear! I began a few posts before settling on this topic, one I’m preaching to myself because I can always use a refresher course.

    I want to reply to each of you (and will try??) but for now wanted to let you know I’ve caught up with comments and you’re inspiring me to explore a few other topics. I adore the Simple Mom community. Y’all tell it like it is! xo

  51. Jenny

    There is a Patty Griffith song about driving home from the funeral of a spouse that includes the line “40 years of things you say and wish you’d never said; how hard would it have been to say a kinder word instead”. I often think of that song and try to remember that the time we have our loved ones is so fleeting. It’s not easy when we’re tired or stressed, but so worth remembering.

  52. chris

    1. Think and breathe before you speak.
    2. Don’t assume they can read your mind.
    3. Tell them what they need to hear.
    Thanks. This may be my new mantra!

  53. Jasanna

    It’s so true! The ones we love know how to push our buttons best yet we don’t have a filter for them many times either. I generally shut my mouth when those times start to get aggravating and *pray*! It generally helps and it’s’ such a good habit, because it causes me to really evaluate the reason for my irritation or anger and either help the circumstance or take myself out of it. 🙂

  54. Bernice @ The Stressed Mom

    It is so easy to just let those harsh words fly. It takes discipline to rein them in. Even though our little children are impressionable, teens are really trying to find out who THEY are as a person, independent from you. Your words, loving and encouraging or harsh and condescending, will have a huge impact on their discovery.
    As a mom of 4 grown kids, I wish I could take back all those things I said too quickly to my kids. All I can do now is apologize and be their friend.
    Great post Robin!

  55. Melissa

    Ouch. I am guilty of that too. It is hard being a mother, so much to do and so little time. I try to remind myself that one day they will be grown up and gone, and the lessons I teach them they will carry with them.
    Great post!

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