The three-year-old squirmed in his stroller. I said, “Hello” to his mom and smiled at the boy.
She greeted me with a tired smile. “You want him? You can have him. I’m over it.”
I laughed awkwardly. I knew she was joking, but did her son? Maybe he didn’t hear her.
Or maybe he did.
We all have difficult parenting days, and not just when they’re toddlers. We’ve all wished someone would take away just one of our kids—you know which one!—for a day or two. I am not “throwing shade” (as my teenager says) on anyone for feeling that way. In fact, it’s healthy to recognize these feelings. It’s also healthy to take the breaks we need from our kids in order to be completely with our kids the rest of the time. I took breaks. I still do.
But do our kids understand all this? Probably not. Toddlers and young children are very literal, concrete thinkers. Imagine what a three-year-old might think if he heard his mother (or father) trying to give him away.
- She doesn’t want me anymore.
- She doesn’t love me.
- She is sending me away.
- I’m worthless.
- I can’t behave.
- I don’t deserve her attention.
You get the idea.
Little pitchers have big ears.
This old saying means, “Be careful what you say. It might not be appropriate for young children.” Apparently, the imagery is that of large handles which look like ears on pitchers. (I had to look this up. A small pitcher might have two big handles. The imagery is weird, but the truth behind it is spot-on.
We may not use pitchers very often anymore, but our “little pitchers” still walk around with enormous ears.
Oh, be careful little ears what you hear.
There’s an old children’s song in which the singer advises various parts of his body to pay attention to what they take in. (I should have used it in my Reflections on Sunday School Songs series.) All of us should evaluate the images, sounds, and ideas we allow into our minds, but a young child shouldn’t have to filter his parent’s words. It’s up to us to guard our words in front of children no matter how exasperated or tired we feel.
Build Others Up.
Paul instructs us to be sure our language edifies.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. –Ephesians 4:29
Our children are no exception to the “helpful for building up” rule, and they are always listening—especially when it’s about them!
Need to vent? Find someone to talk to (such as a mother with older children) and schedule a time away from the kids. If you’re really struggling, talk to a counselor. Whoever you find to listen, talk about your difficulties and vent your frustrations, but also pray together and look for practical, small-step actions you can take to prevent future frustration.
Do you find yourselves making jokes about your kids that they wouldn’t understand? Listen, none of us are perfect, especially when it comes to our words (James 3:2). But let’s all pay a bit more attention to what our children hear about themselves when we’re talking to other adults.
With what are you filling the “little pitchers” in your life? Those big ears collect more of your words than you think! An #IntentionalParenting approach to what our kids hear from us…because #kidsheareverything, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
Have your words, spoken when you thought your kids weren’t listening, come back to haunt you? We would love to read some wisdom from parents of older/grown children. Or do you know another subject we should keep out of our children’s ears? I always love to hear from you in the comments below!