Recently, I heard a touching story which illustrates the power that words have to
change a life -- a power that lies right in the hands of those reading this article. Mary
had grown up knowing that she was different from the other kids, and she hated it. She was
born with a cleft palate and had to bear the jokes and stares of cruel children who teased
her non-stop about her misshaped lip, crooked nose, and garbled speech.
With all the teasing, Mary grew up hating the fact that she was "different".
She was convinced that no one, outside her family, could ever love her ... until she
entered Mrs. Leonard's class. Mrs. Leonard had a warm smile, a round face, and shiny brown
hair. While everyone in her class liked her, Mary came to love Mrs. Leonard.
In the 1950's, it was common for teachers to give their children an annual hearing
test. However, in Mary's case, in addition to her cleft palate, she was barely able to
hear out of one ear. Determined not to let the other children have another
"difference" to point out, she would cheat on the test each year. The
"whisper test" was given by having a child walk to the classroom door, turn
sideways, close one ear with a finger, and then repeat something which the teacher
whispered. Mary turned her bad ear towards her teacher and pretended to cover her good
ear. She knew that teachers would often say things like, "The sky is blue," or
"What color are your shoes?" But not on that day. Surely, God put seven words in
Mrs. Leonard's mouth that changed Mary's life forever. When the "Whisper test"
came, Mary heard the words: "I wish you were my little girl."
Dads, I wish there was some way that I could communicate to you the incredible blessing
which affirming words impart to children. I wish, too, that you could sit in my office,
when I counsel, and hear the terrible damage that individuals received from not hearing
affirming words -- particularly affirming words from a father. While words from a godly
teacher can melt a heart, words from a father can powerfully set the course of a life.
If affirming words were something rarely spoken in your home growing up, let me give
you some tips on words and phrases that can brighten your own child's eyes and life. These
words are easy to say to any child who comes into your life. I'm proud of you, Way to go,
Bingo ... you did it, Magnificent, I knew you could do it, What a good helper, You're very
special to me, I trust you, What a treasure, Hurray for you, Beautiful work, You're a real
trooper, Well done, That's so creative, You make my day, You're a joy, Give me a big hug,
You're such a good listener, You figured it out, I love you, You're so responsible, You
remembered, You're the best, You sure tried hard, I've got to hand it to you, I couldn't
be prouder of you, You light up my day, I'm praying for you, You're wonderful, I'm behind
you, You're so kind to your (brother/sister), You're God's special gift, I'm here for you.
John Trent, Ph.D., Vice President of Today's Family, Men of
Action, Winter 1993, p. 5.
Andor Foldes is now seventy-two, but he recalls how praise made all the difference for
him early in his career. His first recollection of an affirming word was at age seven when
his father kissed him and thanked him for helping in the garden. He remembers it over six
decades later, as though it were yesterday. But the account of another kiss that changed
his life says a great deal about our inner need for purpose. At age sixteen, living in
Budapest, Foldes was already a skilled pianist. But he was at his personal all-time low
because of a conflict with his piano teacher. In the midst of that very troubled year,
however, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to the city to perform. Emil
von Sauer was not only famous because of his abilities at the piano, but he could also
claim the notoriety of being the last surviving pupil of Franz Liszt. Sauer requested that
young Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged the master with some of the most difficult works
of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann. When he finished, Sauer walked over to him and kissed
him on the forehead.
"My son," he said, "when I was your age I became a student of
kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, 'Take good care of this kiss --
it comes from Beethoven, who gave it me after hearing me play.' I have waited for years to
pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it."
Tim Kimmel, Little House on
the Freeway, pp. 41-42.