Words That Can Hurt Your Children
ISSUE: Hurtful words from a parent can wound a child every bit as much as a physical blow. Even when angry or frustrated, parents must think carefully about what they say to their children to avoid causing emotional injury.
Q: Why is it so important for parents to watch what they say to their children?
A: As parents, the words we use when we speak to or about our child will form the basis of our child’s sense of self-worth. Hurtful words from us can have a strong negative impact on our child’s sense of who he is and what he will become.
Q: What are some of the hurtful things that parents should avoid when speaking to their children?
1. Name-calling: The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is definitely not true when it comes to the parent-child relationship. If we call our child a “dummy” or a “bad boy”, our child will believe it is true and that label may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should direct our child’s attention to behavior that needs changing rather than attacking or labeling the child him or herself.
2. Negativity: Children tend to live up -or down- to what we believe and say about them. Negative statements such as, “You’ll never amount to anything” are very damaging to a child’s self-esteem. As parents, we need to believe in our children and predict a good future for them.
3. Scapegoating: Scapegoating means blaming our child for our own actions or mistakes, such as, “You made me lose my temper.” If we want our children to learn to take responsibility for their own actions, we must set a good example by doing the same.
4. Comparing: Statements such as, “Why can’t you be more like your sister,” not only damage our child’s self-esteem but also sow the seeds of resentment and rivalry between our children.
5. Threats: A threat is an exaggerated statement of impending harm, such as, “If you don’t get over here right now I’m going to leave without you,” or “If you do that again you’ll get a beating.” Threats create a climate of fear and make our child feel she is unsafe or will be abandoned. Instead of making exaggerated threats, we should give our children realistic warnings of the consequences of their bad behavior, e.g., “If you hit your sister again you will get a time-out.”