The 101 Commandments of School
Not so long ago, I visited schools across the United States, asking kids questions. I put their answers into a book and called it The 101 Commandments of School.
I learned a lot about school, about kids, and about words. My favorite commandment was, “Thou shalt not suck on a marker. . . . The color will come off on your teeth . . . so everyone will know you did it. Plus, they don’t really taste that good.”
School Days, School Days, Dear Ol’ Golden Rule Days
I love words. I make my living with words. So does my husband. Words have power when strung together in just the right way.
But when misused, words can hurt. Forget that nonsense about sticks and stones breaking bones and words being incapable of inflicting pain.
Dropping off a child at school can feel like turning that child loose in a pool of alligators, if not sharks.
It’s not hard to detect a big bully who’s looking for a fight. But emotional bullies come in all shapes and sizes, armed with invisible, sharpened words. And sometimes, emotional bullies come in the form of our own kids.
As you get ready to send your children off to school, think back to when you were their age.
Did you ever get called a name? Did you ever call someone a name—just teasing? Skinny, Fatty, Shorty, Dummy, Airhead, Hick, or something worse? I’ve been called all of the above, always accompanied by laughter. Usually, I laughed along . . . but not always.
I used to be master of sarcasm, saying one thing, but meaning another. I thought I was so funny, and so did my school “audience.”
To someone with a new haircut, I might say, “Is this weird-hair day? I must have missed the memo.”
About someone who failed a math test, I might comment, “He’d fail a taste test” or “Brains aren’t everything . . . and in your case, they’re nothing at all.”
Just joking. But joking with an ounce of truth is a recipe for hurt feelings.
I cringe recalling words I misused for a laugh at another’s expense. But those painful memories spurred me to write Just Sayin’, a novel for school kids. In that book, my main characters write letters to each other and enter a contest: “The Last Insult Standing.” (They love words too much to text.) In the process, they come to understand the power of words and the emotional pain of insults.
Emotional pain can be replayed and refelt for years. Not so with physical pain. If sticks and stones broke your bones in second grade, you may remember what happened and recall that your body hurt. But physical pain can’t be felt again.
On the other hand, if someone called you “Loser!” when you struck out at recess, you may still feel that hurt whenever you come to the plate. Hurtful words can stick with us for the rest of our lives. James 3:5 warns, “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.”
The Right Words
Thankfully, words are also powerful when used the way God intended. Words are gifts. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus is called “the Word!” The apostle John begins his book, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
Hopefully, our children won’t be emotional or physical bullies. But there’s more. We can challenge our kids to be encouragers and to speak up when others are being teased or bullied.
Paul wrote the Ephesians, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29).
As our kids go back to school, they go equipped with hundreds of words. Make sure they know how to use them.
Psalm 19:14 is a great back-to-school prayer for parent and child: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens TV appearances. She is has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literature and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner. Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats. Visit her at DandiBooks.com.