I put the car in park. My 4-year-old son, Logan, enthusiastically unbuckled himself and opened the door.
Oh no, I thought. He’s going to say it.
He’s been saying it all the way home. I couldn’t get him to stop.
Are there people around? I surveyed my street.
Just my neighbor, Nick, 20 feet away getting ready to mow his lawn. There’s Jason and Heather across the street loading up their car for a weekend trip. And that lady who gossips about everything on the block walking her annoying dog that was really closer to looking like an oversized hamster.
Logan jumped out of the car and started bouncing up and down on the lawn, celebratory hands in the air, and he victoriously declared for the world to hear:
“We beat mommy up!”
I got out of the car and headed over to Logan, who just kept repeating the refrain.
“We beat mommy up! We beat mommy up!”
I made awkward eye contact with my neighbors who I think were eyeing the trunk of my car wondering if my wife was stuffed inside.
I approached Logan to try to calm him down.
“Daddy, we beat mommy up!”
“Yes, I know, son. I know. But…”
Our van pulled into the driveway and parked next to my car. My wife got out.
Logan turned to her. “Mommy, we beat you up!”
My wife smiled and looked at me. “We gotta get him to stop adding ‘up’ to that.”
“Tell me about it,” I said as I half waved at annoying hamster/dog lady walking by.
My four-year-old is obsessed with being first. Driving home from picking up the car at the shop was the equivalent to the Indy 500 for him. He and I had passed my wife on the road and made it home before she did.
We beat her.
We, however, did not beat her up.
I was surprised by how much that one word my son added changed the entire meaning of the three words preceding it.
We all do this kind of message modification. Sometimes it degrades.
I am just a mom.
My son is still whining.
My daughter is always late.
I can only play one song.
That one word turns a neutral into a negative. Remove it from the sentence and instantly your thought about the circumstance becomes more positive. More manageable. More hopeful.
That one word also has power for good, as well.
I don’t know, yet.
I’m a loser sometimes.
I am a mediocre volleyball player, for now.
I know that last one is two words, but I used it during a coaching session with a 14-year-old girl who wasn’t feeling great about her volleyball skills and it instantly improved the way she thought about herself.
Watch the words you add when you think about your teen, when you talk to your teen, and when you help your teen talk about themself.
Remember, as I learned from my son, one word can be the difference between a glorious victory and physical abuse.