Watch your mouth

What you say can affect your children and your future

A few years ago, I was talking on the telephone to someone from Work and Income New Zealand. It was one of those depressing conversations where you find out you’ll be getting even less money than you thought.

I put the receiver down and burst into tears.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?” asked my daughter, who was then about two-and-a-half. Without thinking, I replied, “We haven’t got much money.”

To be honest, I was probably pre-menstrual or just having a bad day and within hours I was fine again. The financial situation soon eased as well. But here’s the thing: the words I had spoken to my daughter clearly stuck in her head. Several times over the following weeks, she made comments about how we didn’t have much money.

I soon realised that my negative words were building a negative attitude in my daughter. That she was starting to see her world through a little filter called, ‘we don’t have much money.’ So I started making a concerted effort to point out our blessings. I told her how lucky she was to have such pretty curtains in her room; how fortunate we were to have a reliable car; and how lots of children in other countries had no sweatshirts, let alone several in different colours.

I also put a photo of our sponsor-child, Ninoska from Honduras, on the fridge and talked often about what her life might be like.

The upshot of it all was that Miss We-don’t-have-much-money now thinks she is a very lucky girl. She genuinely thinks we have ‘lots of sings’ (she can’t pronounce ‘th’).

Powerful words

The words we say in front of our children are very, very important. Children don’t have our ability to process or rationalise. They don’t understand that things can be said on a bad day or in the heat of the moment. You forget, they remember.

Anne Malcolm, a senior counsellor with Relationship Services, says young children take what their parents say as gospel.

“It is incredibly important to be aware of what we say in front of our children, because we can terrify and worry them by the words we speak,” she says.

“Single parents often talk out loud about their financial concerns, fears for the future or the weight of doing all the household tasks. They need to learn to shoulder those concerns themselves to protect the children. If you need to talk about it, do so with other adults.”

Words create reality

But it’s not just for our children’s sake that we need to be careful about what we say. The words we speak and thoughts we entertain can have a direct impact on our lives.

Now, I used to think that sort of thing was a load of New Age hocus-pocus. But there is far too much evidence to the contrary.

Take athletes, for example. Mental practice, visualisation and positive ‘self-talk’ are important components of elite training in just about every sport. A recent study at the University of Illinois found that a group of basketballers who did mental practice for half an hour a day – imagining themselves shooting perfect baskets – improved the same amount as a group who did real goal-shooting practise for the same period.

Last year I had trouble with insomnia, but managed to get on top of it after someone loaned me a tape by a Wellington psychologist and sleep expert Ross Gilmour. On it, he says the subconscious mind ‘believes’ what it hears and works to make it happen. That is, the more I said to myself and others, “I can’t sleep,” the more my subconscious mind set about to make that reality.

So if you say, “I’m never going to have enough money,” “My kids are going to be a disaster,” or “My life sucks,” guess what? That’s probably what you’ll get.

An American expert on the power of the mind, lecturer John Kehoe says:

“You will always remain where you are unless you change your thinking and the words you hear yourself say.”

Anne Malcom says it’s also important to watch what you put into your mind..

“Too much talk-back radio, junky magazines and trashy TV becomes an overdose of negativity. I wouldn’t go as far to say, ‘think happy, be happy’ like Pollyanna, but there is certainly an element of truth to that.”

Eliminate the negative

So how do you snap out of thinking and talking negatively?

Firstly, make a decision about it. Refuse to say negative things about yourself – in conversation or to your self. It’s surprisingly difficult. John Kehoe says it can take 60-90 days to change a thought or speech pattern.

Refuse to speak negatively in front of your children about money, their father, your workload or your expectations for the future.

Read some good books on positive thinking and taking responsibility for your life. The average library should have several; look for authors such as Norman Vincent Peale, Susan Jeffers or John Kehoe.

Try repeating affirmations – “I am unique and beautiful. I am a loving person. I will marry an awesome guy” or the opposite of whatever issue you struggle with. It sounds airy-fairy, but what do you have to lose?

I still have my black days, believe me. But I’m determined to beat them.

Sandi Paterson

Sandi Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga. She lives in a 1950's bach with her daughter, a grumpy cat, and a budgie who sits on her computer when she writes. This article appeared originally in Little Treasures magazine.

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