There are people who have a talent for sticking their foot in their mouth and then there are people who just don’t care what they say. Words are either gifts or weapons and I strive to keep what comes out of my mouth a gift. However, it’s impossible to live as long as I have and not occasionally say something I regret. I’m guessing that most of us do. The only person I know who had complete control over what she said was my Grandma Layne. She lived to be 89 and not once did I ever hear her say anything bad about anyone.

The worst offenses with words, in my opinion, are those hurled by adults at children. When I was a little girl, an incident happened to me that I have never forgotten. I was wearing a new dress and my teacher looked at my dress and said, “One day you will be sorry you ate so much.” Her words went straight to my heart, and I never wore the dress again.

There are just some things you should never say to a child (or anyone else for that matter). Grandma’s rule for life was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In other words, think before you speak.

Here are my top five tips on what to avoid:

  1.  Never say anything negative about your grandchild’s weight, and never ever say “fat.” The only people who should discuss a child’s weight with him or her are the parents and pediatricians. My role as a grandparent is to help with healthy eating habits and encourage exercise. Nothing else.
  2.  Never talk about appearance choices, and never ever say “ugly.” If a child loves a pair of plaid shorts and a striped top and insists on wearing them, why not? I admit I would have fought this battle with my children, but as a grandmother I know they look precious wearing anything. I’m a nana, not a fashion critic.
  3.  Never compare children to other children, and never ever say “dumb.” For example: “Your brother is so smart. Why don’t you make good grades like him?” Self-esteem is so important, and as grandparents we want to do everything we can to make our grandchildren feel good about themselves. Comparing them to others only makes them feel inferior.
  4.  Never say anything bad about a child’s parents in front of them. I don’t care if they have said something bad about you or you strongly disapprove of something they are doing. Keep your mouth shut! A child doesn’t have the knowledge or capability to sort out complicated situations. Angry words will only confuse and frustrate them.
  5.  Never say “never.” As in, “My grandchild will never do this or do that.” If it didn’t work with your kids, why would it work with your grandchild? “Never” can also be bad when you tell them, “Never tell this to anyone.” Kids can’t keep secrets, and it’s not fair to expect them to. Secrets are for grown-ups and even then, most of them will say, “I’m not supposed to say anything but …” and go ahead and tell the secret and then ask you not to tell. If you have a secret, don’t weigh down a child with it. If you have to tell someone, tell an adult.
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Words have a way of flying out of our mouths, and once they are gone we can’t take them back. Studies have shown that verbal abuse of a child can have lasting effects. Researchers have found that people who were verbally abused as children grow up to be self-critical adults prone to depression and anxiety.

Always focus on the positive, and if you have any doubts about what you are about to say … don’t say it. Make your words gifts, not weapons.

Teresa Kindred is an author and freelance writer, and a former teacher. She’s the mom of five grown children and six precious grandchildren. She and her husband have been married for 37 years and live in Kentucky. Her blog for grandparents is at NanaHood.com.