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Negative Words Hurt Children

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

by Deborah Wood, PhD, Child Development Specialist

Negative words can have lasting, harmful and unintended effects on children.

We know that secondhand smoke can have harmful and lasting effects.  Certainly, as a parent, you try to prevent your children from breathing the 69 different chemicals in cigarette smoke that can cause cancer.  But what about the effects of toxic words?  Can indiscriminate volatile conversation in the presence of children cause irreparable harm to their well-being?

The following fictitious anecdotes are drawn from real experience.  They are told from the point of view of the unwitting recipient of poisonous remarks – a child.  Each all-too-common scenario brings an outcome that likely was not intended by the speaker.

Honor Thy Parent
We were driving to Grandma’s, which is a long drive, so maybe Mom was getting cranky.  She started telling Dad that she hoped Grandma wouldn’t “push her buttons.”  I know what that means.  Mom says I push her buttons when she’s trying to get the baby to sleep and I tell her I can’t get the cat off of my homework.  (Really, I could. But I want to see if Mom will fuss at me or keep singing to the baby.)  Before this trip, I always thought Grandma was grand.  Now I see that she may be a nuisance just like me.  Maybe when my parents get old, I’d be better off just staying away from them.

Trash Talk
At my soccer game, Dad shouted that Bailey missed an easy shot.  I was on the field with Bailey, and it didn’t look so easy to me.  Bailey’s parents were in the stands and could hear what Dad said.  They yelled, “That’s OK, Bailey.  Keep trying.”  Bailey didn’t try any more that game.  Coach glared at my dad.  I think Dad should stick to yelling at the players on TV and leave my friends alone.

Not Funny
We got our pictures back at school today.  The teacher passed them out while we were doing a worksheet.  When she got to Ethan, she said, “That can’t be you.  That’s a good looking kid.”  Everyone looked at Ethan.  Some kids laughed.  Ethan didn’t laugh.  He put his head down on his worksheet.  I was nervous that maybe she would do that to someone else.  Maybe to me.  That’s why I didn’t finish my worksheet.  That’s why next year on picture day, maybe I’ll be absent.

My aunt and my cousins came to dinner yesterday.  She’s my mom’s sister.  She’s divorced.  She has lots of trouble getting money from my uncle, my cousin’s dad.  He has a new girlfriend who dresses cheap.  My cousins will never go to college because they’ll still be paying the rich divorce lawyers.  Besides, my uncle will ruin their minds anyway with the rubbish he lets them watch on TV.  My mom and my aunt didn’t ask what I think, but I’m beginning to think no one should get married in the first place.

Scuttlebutt and Other Bad Words
Dad works a lot.  I like when he works from home because I get to see him more.  But I don’t like when he gets mad on the phone while he’s working.  Sometimes he uses bad words.  Bad words are words that make the other person feel bad.  I wonder who he is talking to on the phone.  I wonder if the bad words are hurting that person as much as they are hurting me.

Global Disasters
A woman drove a car into a restaurant.  There was a bomb in her car.  When it hit the restaurant, it exploded and lots of people died.  I know this because the teachers were talking about it all day at school.  In the back of my classroom during group work, in the hall when we lined up for lunch, and on the playground right next to me and my friends when we were drawing rainbows on the blacktop with our colored chalk.  What I don’t understand is, why weren’t the teachers crying?  Why were they acting as if we ran out of soap in the bathroom?  But, no.  If they were talking about running out of soap, they’d be saying who would go get some.  They’d be doing something about it.  How can they talk about cars blowing up people in restaurants and not be doing anything about it?  I don’t think I’ll eat in restaurants any more.

Hello parents, teachers, babysitters and other folks big enough to know better.  Can you hear me?  This is to let you know that I can hear you.  When maybe you think I don’t.  Or maybe you just don’t think.

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist offering consultation, counseling and parent education in the greater Annapolis area.

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