We’ve all heard a parent scream at one time or another: “You are so stupid! Quit asking me that question!” “Can’t you keep up? I’ve never seen such a lazy child.” “You’re acting just like your father!” “Worthless, that’s what you are. Now keep your trap shut and maybe you will stay out of trouble.”
Put yourself in the child’s place for a moment. Think of an intimidating, powerful adult over twice your size yelling and screaming at you in public ... telling the world that you are stupid, worthless, lazy, ugly or whatever. Dragging you from one aisle to the next, you become so humiliated that crawling behind a row of clothes or climbing in a large box of detergent seems like the best option. But, of course, that’s really not an option. Truth is, you just have to endure.
This endurance comes at a lofty price. Wounds have been inflicted and the emotional bleeding is serious. You might think that you would be accustomed to such wounds as they have become a daily occurrence, but each new round of verbal insults does new damage and you take another step away from ever fully recovering.
The tongue is a lethal weapon. Thoughtless words, the quick response, a sharp tongue can inflict emotional wounds which may take days, months or even years to heal. Such parental outbursts are not to be taken lightly. When words are flung in anger, they have a way of finding the most vulnerable target which is more often than not our children. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us,” must have been clueless. Careless words can do untold damage.
Damage occurs because such words inflict wounds to the being. By the word being I am referring to the inner sanctuary of who we are. Our being is sacred in the sense that it is the inner essence of who we are. It is extremely difficult to change since it is our most basic perception of ourselves — ugly or beautiful, fun or boring, happy or sad, intelligent or dumb, worthwhile or worthless. Protecting the inner essence of our being is our doing. The doing is not so much who we are as what we do with who we are. The doing can change rather easily, it just takes desire.
For this reason, it is of utmost importance that parents do not attack the being of a child, but rather his doing. For example, it is one thing to say to a child “You’re lazy” (an attack on the being) and quite another thing to say, “I told you to clean up your room. Now you can’t go out to play with your friends until the job is done” (an attack on the doing).
If I’m repeatedly told I’m lazy then I gradually begin to feel this is who I am and nothing I can do will change this. But if I’m told repeatedly that my room is a mess and needs cleaning, I always know that I am capable of cleaning up my room. Same is true for all other verbal assaults on the being. Remember, it’s very difficult to change one’s basic perceptions of self as ugly, worthless, stupid, lazy and so forth.
Don’t underestimate the power of the parental tongue in shaping your child’s self-image. Protect the being by using your tongue to send positive, caring, encouraging messages. Reserve even gentle attacks for improving the doing, continually reminding your child that even though you may dislike his actions (his doing), you will unconditionally continue loving him (his being).