Words Hurt

by | Nov 23, 2021 | Family, Learning, Mental Health

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4 girls in school hallway, one sad-words hurt

Giving Kids the Tools to be Confident and to Stand Up for Themselves

“Sticks and stones break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a saying that has been used forever, right. But words hurt, so how can we teach our children to respond confidently? Giving kids the tools to be confident, to stand up for themselves will help them throughout life. These tools to be confident will provide them the skills to feel comfortable in their skin. The skills to respond strongly when words hurt. 

LISTEN to the hurt

The first thing we can do is listen when they tell us that another child is being mean to them. Acknowledging their feelings and emotions is the first step. Instead of saying it is okay or brushing it off, we need to acknowledge that they will get called names throughout life and it does hurt. No matter how confident we are, unkind words hurt. It’s our job to figure out how we can give them the skills to cope when it happens.

Mom and daughter on couch with sad face drawing


When our children give us a window into their pain or hurt, we can start building their self confidence by acknowledging, validating, and allowing those feelings to exist. We need to listen to our children when they say something negative about themselves. Listening to your child is so important. It tells them that the feelings they are having are real. 

Acknowledging their pain with our words takes practice. As parents we want to fix it right away, instead of fixing it, work to empathize with them first. Phrases like, “Wow, that must have hurt.” Or ,”I am so sorry that happened to you.” Will let your child know you are listening to their words. 

Parents validate their child’s feelings by comforting them and talking with them about the incident. Listen without judgment. After you listen, ask them if they have some thoughts on how to cope with the problem, or what might help them to feel better. By including them in the solution you are teaching them to be the problem solver. 

We want to raise future independent, competent adults who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. In order to accomplish this we need to support them with instruction, encourage them to try, allow them to fail, role play, and guide them to have self-confidence. This is called emotional armor. 

EMOTIONAL ARMOR for resiliency

Growing emotional armor will protect them throughout their lives.

As parents, we are socialized for the fixer or protector role and take care of everything for our children. But you cannot put a Band-Aid on a social rejection. For example when your 10 year old daughter or son is all of a sudden cast out of their friend group, or when another child calls your child a name they don’t like. 

You cannot protect your child from all of this or the natural things that happen growing up so why not give them armor by teaching them to advocate for themselves.  This will help them to develop the skills and the grit needed to survive and succeed in life. 

Confidence isn’t about feeling good about ourselves all the time. It is about feeling comfortable in our own skin, even when we are in distress.

Dr. Becky Kennedy
The Scaffold Effect Book Cover


In his book The Scaffold Effect, author Harold Koplewicz describes for parents how to create a scaffold of support so that your child can grow in emotional resiliency. Growth is a process. This includes trying, failing and trying again. Parents can do this by empowering growth with these five steps:


It feels awful to stand by and watch your child struggle and fail. Especially when you know you could have helped or taken the pain away. The reward for being patient is a self-reliant, self-motivated child that has self-confidence.


Be there when your child fails. Validate their feelings. Then move towards compassion and problem solving by role playing different scenarios.


Make sure to be aware of what you want for your child and that you are not pushing that onto your child. Whenever you feel like you need to push your child in a certain direction, reflect on why you are feeling that way.


Failure and rejection is reality- we learn from those things and moments. You need to model how to fall down, stand up, brush off, and move onward.  


Stay in touch and observe if your child’s pushback against growth opportunities that seem like a good fit indicates a deeper problem. 


girl with face in hands

Role modeling and reinforcing courage will help your child to do courageous things and never give up. It takes time and a lot of listening. Kids should be given the opportunity to work out emotional, social issues on their own before you or an adult steps in to fix it. 


Another tool that can be used is called the Peace Path. The Peace Path is a conflict-resolution tool that helps students come up with solutions to problems using 6 steps. It empowers students to resolve situations such as strained friendships, on their own. This is a tool used in schools that provides kids the opportunity to express what  the problem is and how they are feeling. It gives kids a visual when solving problems with friends or peers.


We want to raise future independent, competent adults who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. In order to accomplish this we need to teach them how to advocate for themselves in a respectful manner. Parents are key to making this happen for kids. Start today to be a champion parent for your kids. 

Words Hurt

by Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach

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