Words matter. They can wound kids for life. Are you choosing your words wisely?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me! As an adult, it’s easy to say this. Years of practice and learning may have toughened us up enough to rise above hurtful, careless words, but many children haven’t developed this sort of immunity.
Correcting children is a part of parenting, but we should choose our words carefully. There is a way to scold without wounding.
Think of the words you casually throw around at home. For instance, Tanga (stupid), Tamad (lazy), Bastos (ill-mannered) or Pasaway (stubborn). These words may seem like they’re not a big deal, but kids take these to heart. Often, so much deeper than they let on.
Though parents mean well, the manner in which they express their disapproval matters.
Here’s how to avoid wounding your kids through words and other actions.
1. Be self aware
“We must be aware of how we discipline our children,” clinical psychologist Lourdes Carandang told the Inquirer. “A parent may not think twice about attaching adjectives like ‘tanga’ (dumb) when disciplining an errant child. Such negative labels, however, inflict invisible wounds that a child carries with him or her for life.”
Make sure to explain why your disappointment, but don’t forget to reassure them that you love them and that they can learn from their mistakes.
Continuing, Dr. Carandang stressed the importance of building kids up, “We have to do away with putting down or emotionally labeling our children.”
Dr. Kenneth Barish shared with the Huffington Post that the most "common parenting mistake" he encounters when working with families is that parents can often be too critical of their kids.
He recommends that parents assess themselves objectively to find out if they are overly critical of their kids.
He acknowledges, however, that most of a parent’s critique are well-intentioned, driven by a genuine concern for our kids and a desire for them to grow up with all the traits and behaviors it takes for them to succeed in life.
He believes there is a way to correct kids without wearing them down. Citing a recent study published on the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, Dr. Barish stated that having an overly critical mother may lead to depression in children.
2. Avoid playing favorites
Based on her experience, Dr. Carandang shared how parents with more than one child can inadvertently show preferential treatment.
She recalled a student of hers who was intelligent but grew up feeling like she was ugly because her parents would refer to her younger brother as the “cute child” when introducing them.
This subtle form of bullying is no less insulting; it also “pulls a child down”.
“Parents can be guilty and not be aware” cautioned Dr. Carandang.
3. Be kind to your partner or yourself
When bullying is prevalent in the home, the child can learn to tolerate it elsewhere.
Parents should be careful not to bully or debase their partners in front of their kids to avoid this form of interaction to be the norm. If you're a single parent, the words you say about yourself impacts your children's self-image.
“We must consider the dynamics. Bullying is about power. The bully has to have power over another,” she continued.
Dr. Douglas Fields writes on Psychology Today that hurtful taunting or words can cause emotional trauma, which hinders a child’s mental and social development. He goes on to explain how early childhood experiences can either encourage or hinder proper physical, personal, and societal development.
4. Be accountable to yourself
Parents need to remind themselves that self-awareness takes years to develop. And each child has different needs to be met in order for them to form their personality, mindset and skills in a healthy way. We may be “wired differently”, but our experiences as children largely shape who grow up to be.
Try listing down all the kinds words you have said to your kids today. Is it a long list? In the same manner, you can also write down words that may have been too harsh. Seeing them written down in bold letters can help remind you that these words are real and they can cause real damage.
Dr. Barish clarifies that parents have every right to express their disapproval, but he doesn't believe that persistent criticism is a part of responsible parenting.
There must be a balance between criticism and praise to avoid deeply destructive attitudes that will foster defiant behavior and undermine a child’s trust in us and in themselves.
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