Words: Words Parents Use Can Make a Difference for Life. Words Can Send You into Space or Tear You to Pieces

10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez remembers his days in the migrant fields as dirty, dusty, and sweaty. How well I remember those same feelings, having also worked in the fields throughout childhood. As Jose mentions, summer vacation was not a time to rejoice. We knew our time off from school meant twelve-hour days seven days a week, getting up at 4:30AM and coming home so exhausted that we barely had the energy to take a shower.

Jose's father did something my parents never did. After a hard day of work, he said to them, "Remember this feeling because if you guys don't do well in school, this is your future." Jose and all of his siblings graduated from college.

My brothers and sisters were never encouraged, and I am the only one out of fifteen to graduate from college. My brother had this story to tell about when he was twelve: He was a sickly child, in an out of the hospital frequently. One year he remained in the children's hospital for over a month. When he finally came home, he was happy and excited to be with his family. On his first morning back, he overheard these words from the kitchen: "Why did you bring him back? He is useless to me if he can't work in the fields."

I never knew my father, and my mother abandoned me to my grandparents at birth. All my life, I felt that the only reason I was taken in was to be another worker. I felt that I had to work for my keep.

My brother went on to state that from that moment he heard those fateful words, he strived to be worthy and pull his own weight. Now, he is almost 58 years old, yet when he told me about this memory, he had tears in his eyes.

It is so hard to take back words once they are uttered. It is even harder when you don't even realize that your words were overheard.

Words are powerful weapons, both for good and for bad. They can make someone feel like they can conquer space, or they can make one feel less worthy than a cockroach.

A parent's single comment can resonate for years with unimagined consequences. Too many times parents or relatives will say something demeaning to a child without giving thought to the whole message being delivered. I have heard parents tell a child, "Get out of sight; you are nothing but a headache to me." And when this kid ends up on drugs or in a gang, they wonder where the kid went wrong, after all, they raised him well and gave him everything that he needed. Little do these parents understand, their children only want time with mom and dad.

I once heard a thirteen-year-old boy tell his grandmother, "I know dad loves me but I don't think he likes me." What a powerful statement to make and to feel. You can say all day long that you love someone, but if you don't make them feel as if you really care, all the gifts and statements of "I love you" mean absolutely nothing. Kids need to feel that you care and they need to know that you really mean it. The acts and comments you make are remembered for life. One careless phase or word can destroy a child and affect their self-esteem for years.

Don't tear down your child. Lift your child into space! Think before you speak to your child in anger. Give yourself time to cool off; count to ten or leave the room. Vent your frustration at objects, not people. Most importantly, remember how you felt at a young age and say what you would have wanted to hear. Say positive things about your children. Tell them you believe in them. If you let them know that they can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it, they will.