It is challenging for parents to keep their cool sometimes. It doesn’t mean they are bad people. It means they are human. No parent is perfect and there isn’t a golden secret or a book that’ll explain to them what exactly to do. Life alone is stressful and adding parenting to the mix can leave parents feeling on edge. Now this doesn’t excuse any abusive behavior. My hope with this article is to bring awareness on the dangers of saying hurtful things to children.
Why do words hurt?
Neuroscientists have discovered that hearing hurtful words activate parts of the brain that process pain. Which is why I believe the English rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me” should be reevaluated. A professor of anthropology from the University of Connecticut explains, “accusatory statements – especially those that start with “you” – are a factor that contribute to increasing rates of depression in the United States and often lead to serious health problems” (Grava, K. A. 1999)
But why does this happen? When a person hears something hurtful. The pain modulation and emotional response center of the brain, known as the amygdala, activates. Releasing stress hormones that affect brain function. The amygdala interprets hurtful words as threatening, which is why negative words have power. Not only that, but the human brain is hardwired to pay extra attention to the negative. It’s the way our ancestors survived. This trait has been passed down to us, causing us to dwell on the hurtful statements.
The following is a list of hurtful things parents say to their children:
**Trigger warning, these comments are upsetting – read with caution**
- “I wish you would have never of been born.”
- “I should have aborted you.”
- “You are the biggest mistake of my life.”
- “I brought you into my life and I can take you out.”
- “You’re just like your mother/father.”
- “You’d look prettier if you lost weight.”
- “It’s your fault your dad/mom/brother/sister/etc died.”
- “That’s the way I was raised, and I turned out fine.”
- “You never do anything right.”
- “I do everything for you, what else do you want from me.”
- “It’s your fault your dad/mom left me!”
- “When I die, don’t come to visit me in my grave.”
- “Why can’t you be like your brother/sister/friend/cousin/etc?”
- “I’m going to leave you and never come back.”
- “Don’t eat that, you’re getting fat.”
- “Stop crying, it’s not that big of a deal.”
- “I’m disappointed in you.”
- “You belong to me and no one else.”
Parents must teach their children skills, boundaries, lessons, and how to appropriately behave. But yelling and losing their temper isn’t effective. In fact, it teaches children how to incorrectly handle stressful situations. Parents are the example their children will follow. And let’s be real there will be moments that parents no matter how hard they try will lose their temper. Instead of blaming their child for their reaction. It’s best to apologize and take responsibility. By holding themselves accountable children will learn accountability.
“Don’t say something permanently hurtful just because you are temporarily upset.”
Gava, K. A. (1999). Hurtful Words Can Have Physical Effect, Says Researcher. Retrieved from: http://www.advance.uconn.edu/1999/990830/08309909.htm