Words Hurt: What You Say May Be Hurting Your Child
A few weeks ago, while my husband was waiting for his bus home from work, he overheard a conversation between a mother and her child that has been bothering him ever since.
He heard this mother asking her child, who appeared to be about 6 years old, why he asked such stupid questions. He also over heard her say “I’ve been alone with you every day for the last two weeks. I need a break from you.” The latter is something I’m sure many parents feel from time to time, but is cruel to verbalize. The former is a terrible thing to even think, let alone say to a curious young child.
If this frazzled mom said those things in public, I fear to think what she says behind closed doors.
As a parent I understand the frustration and the exhaustion and I won’t lie and say I haven’t yelled at my children before. I have. And every time I do, I feel terrible that I couldn’t control myself better. But there is a big thick line between raising your voice and yelling cruel things to and at your children.
According to an article on Huffington Post Canada, a study found that harsh verbal discipline, unkind words and yelling at children can cause as much harm to a child as physically hurting them.
Harsh verbal discipline, described as yelling, cursing and humiliation, like calling a child dumb or lazy, can have the same impact as physical punishment, the study found.
"The negative effects of verbal discipline within the two-year period of [the] study were comparable to the effects shown over the same period of time in other studies that focused on physical discipline," a press release from the University of Pittsburgh, where the study's lead author is an assistant professor, explained.
I’d like to think there is a significant difference between raising your voice and verbal abuse. Because, while I’m sure it’s not an admirable thing to do, most parents would have to have the patience of a saint to not raise their voice once in a while. Volume and tone is one thing. Cruel words are another.
Even if the mother my husband witnessed those weeks ago is generally a nice mom just having a bad day, her words, even if infrequent, will hurt and damage just the same, the study found.
“[The study] measured whether ‘parental warmth,’ or the degree of love, emotional support and affection between parents and adolescents, counteracted the effects of verbal discipline -- and concluded it does not. ‘Even lapsing only occasionally into the use of harsh verbal discipline can still be harmful,’ Wang said in the study's press release. ‘Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” the article said.
I don’t think it’s earth shattering news that calling your child stupid is damaging. What my husband witnessed that day was abuse; we felt that then and we still feel so now. I think this study falls into the 'well, yeah!' category. Anyone who has suffered at the hand of verbal abuse would tell you it felt no different than being punched in the stomach. It's no surprise it would have the same long term consequences on a person's feelings of self worth.
It's words that have the power, not the volume of speech. Volume isn't the hand. The words are. I am not an abusive parent because I raise my voice. The woman at that bus stop however, never raised her voice once.