He is a Hollywood star and author. The type you would easily recognize if you saw him out in public. He has been successful in multiple entertainment fields. Yet even now, in his mid 70’s, the words his parents said to him as a child still obviously haunt him.
Sadly, this Hollywood star isn’t alone. Untold numbers of adults are walking around deeply wounded by the things their parents regularly said to them as children. No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to erase those hurtful tapes.
I’m sure most parents don’t sit down when they have a child and think of all of the things they can say to their child that will break him or her. They don’t look into their child’s teary eyes and think, “Awesome! I really hurt my kid’s feelings this time.” Yet, many parents repeatedly say things that are slowly breaking their kids into tiny little pieces emotionally.
This brokenness can negatively impact their self image, their relationships and even their spiritual lives. Sadly, most of these parents are probably totally unaware of the damage their words are causing. They may think they are just teasing their child or helping their child be “better” somehow.
So what are those words that break children emotionally? It’s important to remember, we all misspeak at times. Apologizing as soon as you realize what you have done and trying to make amends, can heal any cracks your words may have caused. What causes the deep damage is repeatedly saying these types of things to your kids.
- You are…statements. These may be said directly to the child or the child may overhear their parent constantly describing them this way to others. Not the positive statements, but defining statements that are negative. For example, “You are so difficult”, “He is such a handful”, “She is so prickly”. If you are unsure whether or not the statements you are making are positive or negative, just don’t say them. Your kids are a mix of thoughts, feelings, words and actions. They don’t always align. A child who appears difficult may actually be a highly gifted child who no one is helping reach his potential, so he is bored out of his mind. When you repeatedly use “You are” statements, many kids begin to define themselves with that label – and sometimes only that label.
- Complaining statements. Okay, we have all had bad parenting days. You know those days when you aren’t sure whether or not you or your child will survive their childhood. Or there may be things you want to do that aren’t practical at the moment because your children are still at home. If your children constantly hear you say what a burden they are to you, or how you can’t wait until they go back to school, they will begin to believe you don’t love them. Even worse in a young person’s mind, they will think you don’t like them. They will begin feeling unloveable and unlikeable. After all, if their parents don’t like them (and in a kid’s mind that’s part of the parent’s job), then who else can possibly like them?
- Name calling. Stupid. Bad. Idiot. Klutz. Thunder thighs. Ugly names have no place in Christian parenting. Often parents view these as “pet names” used in “teasing”. They actually serve no purpose other than to demean. Your child doesn’t really think these names are funny on any level. (Even if they pretend to laugh along or begin calling themselves the name.) Don’t use them with anyone, but especially your children. (The Hollywood star’s parents called him “dumb dog” throughout his childhood.)
- Cursing. Christians should avoid cursing for a number of reasons. When you curse at your children, they know it is a sign of anger and disgust. When they constantly hear you cursing at them, they feel they are disgusting – whether or not that is what you meant to convey.
- Broadcasting your child’s weaknesses and mistakes to others. We aren’t talking about prayer requests for kids struggling with something like drug abuse. We are talking about posting on social media or telling everyone within earshot of the embarrassing things that happen to your kids. Or complaining about how they got in trouble for something in school. Or posting one of those posts meant to mortify a child that disobeyed. Kids need room to make mistakes and suffer consequences without feeling like the whole world now knows what they did.
If you have been guilty of using these types of words in your parenting, please stop. Apologize to your child. Look into getting you and your child outside help repairing your relationship and their self esteem if you need it. Don’t make the damage worse by continuing bad speech habits. Being kind in your speech to your children can give them the strength and resiliency they will need to live the Christian life.