Be careful with what you say to your child. Words like “madamot,” “tamad,” and “pangit” will not only hurt her now, but it will stay with her as she grows, according to experts.
It's simple — when you say it, your child believes it. “Calling a kid ‘selfish,’ or implying there is something wrong with her is harmful,” said clinical psychologist Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., in an article for Psychology Today. “Kids internalize these negative labels and begin to see themselves as ‘not good enough.’”
These words are harmful because you’re sending the message that he is a bad child when what he needs to know is what he’s done is bad.
“No matter what behavioral challenges you're dealing with right now, that's not a message you want to send to your kids,” said Jennifer Wolf, a certified parent coach and advocate for single parents, in an article for The Spruce.
What is worse is these negative and hurtful messages become ingrained in our kids, and they carry it with them as adults, said Karyl McBride, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and a family therapist.
“Those messages play like endless tapes. ‘How could you be so stupid?’ ‘You can’t do anything right.’ ‘This is why no one likes you,’ McBride said in Psychology Today. “Shaming and humiliation causes fear in children. This fear does not go away when they grow up. It becomes a barrier for a healthy emotional life and is difficult to eradicate.”
These words often come up to correct or control behavior. But research shows these phrases don’t even correct the behavior. Instead, harsh verbal discipline, which can involve yelling and shouting and using words to insult or humiliate, causes emotional and psychological pain.
The research, published in the journal Child Development and involving 900 families, found that adolescents who experienced harsh verbal discipline from their parents were more likely to foster anger, be irritable, show signs of depression and misbehave in school. Moreover, they even found harsh verbal discipline was ineffective at changing the children’s behavior problems.
“The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence once there is a strong parent-child bond...is misguided because parents' warmth didn't lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline,” says lead author Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh.
“We must be aware of how we discipline our children,” said clinical psychologist Ma. Lourdes Carandang to The Philippine Daily Inquirer. Emotional bullying can happen at home, she warned.
As a real-life example of just how much your words stick and how much harm they can do, Carandang shared the story of one of her patients, already a graduate student, who still describes herself as the “ugly daughter.” As a young child, the patient’s mother would say, “Ito ang aking anak na cute” when about her younger brother but would say “At ito naman ang isa ko pang anak” when about her.
“That’s the kind of bullying that’s very subtle. It is insulting; it is pulling down (the other child). Parents can be guilty and not be aware,” said Carandang.
So, how do you point out unacceptable behavior without resorting to words that shame and hurt? Greenberg said to label the behavior, not the child. For example, instead of calling your child a “mean brother,” point out the mean action. Say something like, “Yelling and saying mean things to your sister is not okay. How would you feel if someone was mean to you?”
Greenberg admitted that, yes, it could take practice to become a more mindful parent who can be careful with words even when overcome with negative emotions. “Most parents are stressed multi-taskers who often forget to take care of themselves. This can lead to resentment when kids don’t seem to be cooperating,” she said.
“It is important to take some time to connect with your own feelings and calm down using deep breathing or self-talk before letting these emotions leak and derail your communication with your kid,” Greenberg advised.
Keep calm, mom. You can do this.