by Rebekah Hinkle
One steamy August morning as I was opening car doors for students on the first day of school, a new 3rd grader stepped cautiously onto the sidewalk. Before he closed the door his grandmother called out to him, “Learn it all today so you won’t have to come back tomorrow!”
They exchanged grins, beginning a morning drop-off ritual that continued all year long. His grandmother’s words ensured that this student started each school day with a smile, and any teacher would tell you what a positive impact that could have for a child.
Whether our goal is a smile, academic success, or character development, our words can have great affect.
The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
What we say to our children in the morning sets the tone for their day, and what we say in the evening colors how they reflect on their experiences. Our words shape our children’s daily outlook, and over time they mold their perceptions about school and life.
Aware of this power, intentional parents choose their words carefully for the benefit of their children. They consider the values they hope to instill and purposefully speak words that reflect those principles.
The great news for each of us is that this new school year is a fresh chance to speak intentionally to our children and thereby shape how they think and act.
The following phrases were contributed by parents and educators from across Texas. Consider whether some of them may be worth adding to your repertoire this year.
“I Love You No Matter What”
Our children need the security and confidence found in knowing that they are loved unconditionally. We can
let them know that there is nothing they could do to make us love them more or make us love them less. If our children can enter the schoolhouse each day with that assurance, they will be well prepared for both academic and character success.
“Make Good Choices”
This is a popular phrase contributed by parents and educators alike. When we remind our children to make good choices, we are emphasizing the fact that they are responsible for the actions, words, and attitudes they choose. Rather than perpetuate an idea that things happen “to” our children, we can reinforce the understanding that the quality of the school day depends largely on the series of choices they make.
Students can ask questions at school for many reasons—to clarify understanding, to explore ideas, or even to advocate for themselves. We can encourage our children to increase their knowledge and think divergently by being brave enough to ask questions. Many teachers would agree with Paul Samuelson when he said, “Good questions outrank easy answers.” If I want my children to think and learn deeply, then I want them engaged enough to be asking questions.
“Try Your Hardest”
This sentiment is frequently stated as, “Do your best.” It occurs to me though that “do your best” may emphasize outcome when what we really intend is to focus on the process and work ethic. None of us can be sure we will do our best every day, but we can always try our hardest. Consider whether emphasizing effort over outcome is important to you.
I find that my own tendency is to tell my children to “be nice,” but I’m afraid that phrase communicates that I simply want them to stay out of trouble. I’d like to set the bar higher and communicate that we value kindness, which turns their focus how their words and actions affect others.
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
One mother shared that she reminds her children, “It’s never okay to be mean. You can always disagree without being mean.” In the same vein, another mother tells her children each day to “be a friend to someone who needs one.” These phrases encourage our children to look outside themselves and focus on the wellbeing of those around them. Our schools are wonderful places when filled with kindness and compassion.
“Be a Light”
Reminding our children to be a light to those around them is another way to help them see a purpose outside themselves each day. We can even talk with them about our own purpose in our daily roles as adults and thereby model for them that none of us are the center of the universe. Our children are often in a position to be a blessing to both children and adults at school, and they need to know that we support them.
“What Happened During Recess/Lunch/Band?”
We have likely all asked our children the vague question, “How was your day?” and we have likely all gotten an equally vague answer. Honing in on a specific time of day has a greater likelihood of receiving a meaningful answer.
Other ways to follow up on your child’s day include asking questions such as, “What was the funniest/best/weirdest thing that happened today?” We may also find it helpful to ask questions that cycle back to the words we used as we sent them off, such as “Who were you kind to today?” or “What questions did you ask today?” Our children have much to tell us, but they may need our help in remembering details.
Our words at the end of the school day can have profound power, too. When we ask probing questions, we give our children the opportunity to reflect and process their experiences. It also gives us the opportunity to understand our children’s experience and know how next to lead.
We may even find that we need to adjust the following school day’s parting words.
Rebekah Hinkle is a local wife, mother, and educator.