Why Speaking Gently to Our Kids is Even More Important in the Era of Black Lives Matter


While out on a New Year’s Eve run, I passed by a family loading up in their van.

Kids piled in quickly and a woman spoke harshly, “I’ve been calling you and calling you. I’ve been waiting here.”

Uh oh, I smiled to myself thinking of how frustrating it is when I’m ready to leave and my son is taking too long. I felt her pain as I came closer to their driveway then what I heard…

“You’re disrespectful.”

“You don’t listen.”

“This is why you’re never going to do anything.”

While I was able to keep running from those insults and curses, those children could not. My heart broke for them.

I was recently reading about the word gap, the phenomenon that lower income families speak dangerously fewer words to their children. This impacts their vocabulary, the ability to express themselves, and makes school more challenging.

What really got my attention was when researchers analyzed the types of words being spoken to children in low income families, the words were negative, much like what I overheard.

Researchers at Rice found that “by age four, the average child from a family on welfare will hear 125, 000 more words of discouragement than encouragement. When compared to the 560, 000 more words of praise as opposed to discouragement that a child from a high-income family will receive, this disparity is extraordinarily vast.”

Short version: not only do these kids hear fewer words, much of the words they hear are negative. The researchers don’t go into race in their findings, but I think black parents can take valuable insight from this study.

If any children in this country need to hear kindness, it’s black kids. In the era of Black Lives Matter we’ve become critically aware that from education to employment to simply walking down the street, we have so many different challenges thrown at us. So much negativity, judgment, and hate that sometimes ends in death. It’s isolating. It’s painful. It’s damaging.

Yet at the same time, it seems to be a cultural choice that we too must deride, degrade, and humiliate our children under the guise of discipline.

As I turned the corner, I wondered if we don’t believe in, encourage, support, and choose words of love with our own children, who do we expect to nurture them?

If we don’t come to them with love as our language, then why are we bothered when they don’t listen?

Why are we surprised when they trust their friends more than us?

If their mistakes are met with a reminder of everything they did wrong and an onslaught of all their disappointments, why would we ever expect them to come to us for help?

Why do we get mad when it feels like the rest of the world views them as worthless when we use those exact words as regular discipline?

I completely understand that gentle parenting isn’t for everyone, but I believe there still has to be other ways to communicate with our children with less trauma and more love. I believe it starts with the words we use.

For me, in this new year, I’m redoubling my efforts to make love my language not only to my children, but to my husband, my friends, and the world around me. In 2016, love is going to be my language.

About Alicia B

Alicia lives and took a semester of photography in a small college town that often challenges her resolve to live as simply and as stress-free as possible. When she’s not working, rereading the same children’s books, cooking, or wondering how crunchy she’s become, she’s busy updating her site, liciabobesha.com. You can follow her on facebook.

  • Andrea Rose Clarke

    Eyes welling up. I remember how much I loved Mr. Rogers as a child, because his patient, innocent-before-proven-guilty unconditional affection was nothing like what my home was like. My father adored me, but wasn’t home enough to protect me from what now I now know was my mother’s unaddressed emotional trauma. Our children growing up in that positive environment will naturally have us talk tenderly to each other as adults. #revolutionarylove

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    • Alicia B

      Mr. Rogers is the perfect example. I think children need guidance, limits, and lots and lots of love based in kindness. That kind of love is revolutionary!

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  • shar

    spare the rod spoil the child

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    • Berdell Fleming

      These are two different issues. Screaming ,yelling ,demeaning and humiliating was never suggested ,or ordered by Bible! ‘ Children are a gift from God” how are gifts to be treated?

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    • Alexandria Taylor

      Assuming that you know what that actually means and you’re not just quoting the Bible… Yes, it is important to discipline children, providing boundaries and structure for them. That doesn’t just mean to beat them (physically or verbally).

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      • Alicia B

        Yes, discipline is a must but it should come from love. No child deserves to be told they are “nasty,” “no good,” and “won’t ever be anything” as a form of discipline. That doesn’t improve behavior. It simply just crushes the soul.

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  • http://www.daniel-p-fuller.blogspot.com/ Daniel Fuller

    The idea of trust is what seems to be missing from most adults’ beliefs about “discipline” for children. In contrast to nearly every sedentary society, including modern Western ones, nomadic hunter-gatherers are prone to trust children and regard them as equal participants in community life, rather than objects to be controlled. A quote from The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas:

     “Ju/’hoansi children [of Africa] very rarely cried, probably because they had little to cry about. No child was ever yelled at or slapped or physically punished, and few were even scolded. Most never heard a discouraging word until they were approaching adolescence, and even then the reprimand, if it really was a reprimand, was delivered in a soft voice […] We are sometimes told that children who are treated so kindly become spoiled, but this is because those who hold that opinion have no idea how successful such measures can be. Free from frustration or anxiety, sunny and cooperative, the children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children.”

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  • kalexa1

    So poignant; so true. Excellent article.

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  • Nunya Biznys

    When I was young child, I had to go to the hospital. I remember having the sweetest, kindest nurse in the world. She would bath me, feed me, sing songs, to me, read to me, speak gently at all times. I loved seeing her. One day, I accidentally spilled my cereal. I was certain that I would see the mean side of her that I was so accustomed to seeing in adults at home. So, I instinctively cried. She reassured me that everything is ok and helped me clean up. I was shocked. Truthfully, I didn’t want to go home where I was yelled at and hit daily. I also developed a negative view of black women because of my mother’s behaviors that I had to de-program as an adult. Now, I try to be like that nurse was to me to my own child. It’s not easy but I have to remember how I felt as a small child and maintain that empathy. Thank you for this article. It is much needed.

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