Words Matter: Developing Mantras With Kids

This one is about your kids, but it’s also about you…

Because your relationship to yourself, as a parent, matters immensely in the way that you communicate with your child and how you build a family culture.

Words are important.

Sounds strung together to contain meaning, the ability to communicate our thoughts. Words are the building blocks of relationships, communities, businesses, schools, philosophies, and every single aspect of human life that involves cooperative interaction. Words are what allow us to learn from people who’ve died before we were born. Words are what allow us to learn from the living people right around us. 

We’re surrounded by words:

Books to billboards, our children’s tiny voices to the talking heads on the evening news.

Contained in these words are messages: things we want to know, things we need to know, things we couldn’t care less about, messages designed to sway us or convince us, messages that allow us to do our work and live our lives. 

Words are everywhere. They make the world wonderful; they also make the world noisy.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows the power of words.

You still remember the crushing thing your father said to you. It was the words of that one excellent teacher that made you love learning. The power of “those three little words” is undeniable: I love you. With words, your heart was once broken. It was someone’s words that shone the light in your darkest hour and showed you the path out. The first words out of your child’s mouth are like music to your ears and the first time they sweetly coo, “I love you…” well, you just love them right back don’t you? And the first time they shout, “I hate you!” Your parent soul crumbles a little. Words are power.

The words we speak to others are how we make ourselves known, how we build the things that matter to us, and how we create life together.

But what about the words we speak to ourselves and beyond that, to our children?

Have you ever tried to think without using words? 

Go ahead, try it. 

I’ll wait.

We can feel without words (some would say that feeling is the one thing that cannot be captured by words) and there is some debate about this, but most psychologist believe that thought without words is impossible. If you’re interested in thinking more about that, have a listen to this episode of Radio Lab.

What we think matters. 

It affects how we communicate with others and how we interact with our world, but more importantly, it creates our inner world.

Every moment of every day, your inner monologue is creating you. It is creating your world, and it is responsible for your experience of the world… and your child’s.

Think about that for a moment. 

What are you saying to yourself? 

The messages we speak to ourselves are often the result of what has been handed to us by others: parents, teachers, friends, bullies, partners, religious leaders, siblings and others. What we sometimes don’t realize is just how much those messages affect us and how much of our reality is created by them. 

Of course the good news is that we can analyze those messages and choose them to create something new. That, in essence, is the power of a mantra. We choose our focus. We choose words around which we construct a new reality, an intentional one, instead of the one we ended up with by default.

What you speak to yourself will affect who you are and how you are living your life.

What you speak to yourself will determine whether you follow through and achieve your dream, or give up.

What you speak to yourself will affect what you speak to your child.

In 1902 one of my favourite modern thinkers and philosophers published a book on this very topic. It’s called As a Man Thinketh. The title, of course, is taken from Proverbs 23:7 which reads, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The book itself is not religious in nature, but examines deeply the responsibility we must take for the current state of affairs in our lives and the direction we take in the future with regards to the ways in which our thought patterns affect our outcomes. 

A few quotes:

“[People] are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”

“Right thinking begins with the words we say to ourselves.”

“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power. ” 

“A person is limited only by the thoughts that he chooses.” 

“The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers.” 

“All that a [person] achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of [their] own thoughts.” 

What are you saying to yourself?

What words do you allow to shape your inner monologue? 

The purpose of this exercise is to examine the ways that our words are holding us back instead of pushing us forward. And the ways in which our the words inside our heads, the ones that never escape our mouths, might be affecting our relationships and our ability to effectively communicate with our kids.

You need a mantra. 

A mantra is not a whole wall full of quotes that inspire you, although those can be good too. A mantra is something that you choose carefully, intentionally and towards the greater purpose of creating something in your life. 

I choose mine annually.

I spend time considering carefully what it is that I want to cultivate in the coming year, on the inside of myself, that will push me higher toward my dreams. One year it was “Peace, Purpose & Joy.” I spent the entire year organizing my internal world around those three concepts. I spoke words to myself that increased my peace, focused on my purpose and cultivated joy. For myself and for my children.

Another year, when inner life was particularly difficult it was “Cultivate happiness.” I woke every single morning and asked myself, “What would make you happy today” and then I did that thing, for me. The spill over into my external life and relationships with my children was tremendous.

Another year, it was “rebirth.” Actually, it’s the sanskrit word for rebirth, Jati, which carries a great deal more meaning for the layers of my life. It is tattooed on my inner wrist as a result of that year. That year I focused on recreation in the layers of my life and towards our next big dream. If you’re a mother then you know that birth is painful, and that whole year was a lot of work. I expected to hurt. I expected to suffer. I expected to sweat. But I also expected to produce something bigger and better and more eternally worthwhile than I ever have before. And I did. It was a year of rebirth for my kids too, as most of them blossomed through their teen years.

So let’s think more about words, shall we? Let’s consider the concept of a carefully chosen mantra and its power to create within our lives, as well as the power to spill over into the lives that our children are creating around us. We have a massive amount of influence over their experience and the stories we are telling ourselves, the words we are speaking to our inner selves are directly impacting the quality of that experience. We’re also modeling for them what healthy adulthood looks like. 

What do you want your child’s inner monologue to be?

Try This:

Take a few hours by yourself this week and get somewhere quiet.

  • Shut out the external barrage of words and listen to what is going on inside.
  • Listen to the words you have swirling around in your own thoughts.
  • Think carefully about the messages you’re sending yourself and begin gardening your soul in this capacity.

There are going to be some thoughts to water and nurture. There are going to be some others that need to be ripped out by their roots and thrown away. You’ll also need to consider which new seeds you will plant.

If you think it’s useful to you, join me in selecting a mantra for yourself for the year. There are no rules, you’re free to choose what’s best for you. 

Oh, and the James Allen book:

Luckily, it’s in the public domain. You can buy a pretty paperback copy inexpensively through the link above, or you can download it free for your kindle, or as an audiobook. It can also be read online for free.

You can also watch/listen to the whole thing on Youtube here, it takes about an hour.

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

Jenn Sutherland-Miller is the project manager for Beyond the Red Tent. 
She is also the co-founder of Headstart Homeschooling, a resource for parents who are ready to reimagine education. If you are worried about what school will look like next year, or if you can feel in your soul that it’s time for a change, Headstart Homeschooling will provide the support, encouragement, inspiration, and resources you need to reimagine education, starting now.  Want to learn more about Jenn? You can follow her at Jenn.Lately, on Facebook, or Instagram.

January 21, 2021