Words Matter

Early this morning, Mercy walked into our bedroom, stood beside our bed, and started talking.

Are you wearing socks? I’m wearing pink. Pink’s my favorite. Do you like pink? What’s you favorite color? Look, I’m combing your hair. This is baby. I sleep with her every night. I had a good rest. Are we going somewhere today? When I get older you’ll teach me how to drive. We can go to the park. I can swing so high. What’s that? Cinderella’s coming to my house today. I love you Daddy. You’re my best friend. Do you want to play with me?

Then I opened my eyes and said, “Mercy. It’s very early.”

And yet the words kept coming out of her mouth. Lots and lots of words.

There are studies that show men and women—and thus fathers and daughters—differ in how they use words. And then there’s the research that suggests women talk more than men do. I don’t know if that’s true in general, but in my house they do.

My 5-year-old daughter loves to talk. She and I are wired differently in that way–she’s wired to talk, I’m wired to listen. It’s the perfect arrangement.

She talks and she wants to be heard. Just like all children need and want to be heard. Dad, don’t underestimate the importance of listening to your kids. They can tell when you’re preoccupied and not really listening. Look her in the eye when she talks to you and listen.

As much as she needs to be heard, she needs to hear from her Dad. Dad’s words matter. A lot. Your words matter because Dads matter.

The amount of words matters.
 Meg Meeker, in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, offers this rule of thumb for fathers of daughters: Use twice as many words as you normally would, even if you have to repeat yourself.

The reminder I often give my 5-year-old—“use your words”—I also give to myself. Dad, you’re probably not as verbal as your daughter, but she needs to hear from you. Don’t assume she knows what you’re thinking. Don’t assume she intuitively knows how much you love her. Use words.

The choice of words matters.
 Words have power. Words help people; words hurt people. Words build relationships; words damage relationships.

Author Gary Chapman recently wrote on Twitter, “To a child, the simple words ‘I love you’ can be like a gentle rain falling on the soul, but harsh words may be remembered for a lifetime.”

Because your words matter, choose them carefully. Affirm. Impart your fatherly wisdom. Teach. Write a note and put it in her lunchbox or backpack. Use words to tell your daughter why you love her.

The tone of words matters.
 As important as your choice of words is the tone you use when speaking them.

Recent research by British scientists shows that babies can understand what their mothers are saying even though they don’t understand the meaning of the words–babies they understand tone. The lesson is that the tone of your words speak louder than the words themselves. What does your tone say? Uninterested? Annoyed? Bored?

Your words matter. Use them. Choose them wisely. Infuse them with love.