Tonight I spent a 5-minute TV spot wondering why two men seemed more concerned about why a mom took to Facebook to rant about the hospital worker who told her kid "he probably likes you" as the reason she was hurt and needed stitches for an injury she sustained at the hands of another child, than about the words that the worker used to justify said aggression.
Maybe it's because I am a writer and words matter to me. A LOT. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the words I use when I write, and when I speak, and the impact they have on those around me.
One of the men on the panel argued that the mom was just "going off" on the poor hospital worker who was in all likelihood trying his best to make light of the situation to ease the fears of this little girl. My fellow panelist argued that the four year old wasn't going to remember what some stranger said to her at the hospital, so what does it matter? The other panelist said that if it was such a big deal, why did she not speak to the person directly, or a supervisor, or call the police?
It's hard to undo years of status quo thinking in a five minute TV spot, and though I tried to paint the picture for my fellow panelist and for the audience, I feel like I need to expand on why these words matter, why I am SO there for this mother and her rant and her reasons for doing so and why, YES, this is a big deal and it is one we all have a role in making better for our children.
"Boys will be boys. That's just how they are."
"It means he likes you."
Do you understand what these words mean to kids? How they internalize them? How we are normalizing violence as a form of affection? We are constantly telling our kids when they are toddlers not to hit, not to bite, to "use their words", and then we turn around at some point and then tell them when someone does hit them, pull their hair, trip them on the playground or slam them into a locker in junior high (true story), that this behaviour is somehow now meant to show how much they LIKE you?
Here's the thing... Yes, kids are going to hit, and get into scrapes, and have emotions that they can't find the words for, and they will lash out physically. It is our jobs as parents, and teachers, and caregivers to help them find those words, to calm them down or redirect them in these moments of frustration, to help them get to a place of empathy, and to not perpetuate tired old behavioural stereotypes that make excuses for, or normalize aggression as acceptable and/or desirable.
A child who gets hit and hears, "he probably just likes you", may turn into the tween who thinks that a boy snapping her bra strap at school is flirting with her and think that she should be glad of the attention she is getting. The tween happy for this attention, may turn into the young adult whose boyfriend verbally abuses her, but thinks that he does so because he cares so much. The young adult who tolerates the verbal abuse, may turn into the wife who gets beaten regularly and thinks that she deserves it because she "pushed him too far".
Do you see why these words matter? Because when we change our words, when we move away from these patterns of behaviour, we change the way our kids navigate their way in the world around them. We give them the power to know themselves, to understand that aggression is not affection, with give them the tools to employ empathy, and teach them better ways to communicate with each other and respect each other.
And that is why this is a big deal. Because it's not just one worker at the hospital. It's the patterns of behaviour all around us and once we recognize them for what they are, we need to change them and demand better of ourselves.
As to the mom taking to Facebook to air her frustrations and not to the powers that be at the hospital to discipline this employee, all I can say is that in an emergency room with a sick or injured child, your biggest concern at that moment is your child, not the stranger at the desk. The situation didn't sit well with her and she later communicated that in a way that is common in our world. She did not name this person or cause him to lose his job. What she did do through her Facebook post is start a whole lot of conversations (over 35,000 shares at last count) about WHY OUR WORDS MATTER in these situations.
For that I applaud her and I thank her.
That is how we change our world and make it better for our kids.
We use and choose our words wisely and share them with as many people as we can!