Attack the Act but Not the Child
While insults affect adults, somehow from the home to the classroom there seems to be some unspoken agreement that it’s OK to insult children. Granted, it may have become so much of habit that we don’t recognize the remarks as insults, after all, they’re just kids and we (adults) don’t really mean any harm. But words do harm and we need to monitor what we say to children. In fact, there should be a requirement that adults- especially parents, teachers and others who interact with youth– take a clearing course where they are supported , in a safe setting, to confront and heal emotional wounds from their own childhood. Words do hurt and the emotional damage done in childhood by spoken words and actions by adults considered unfair by youth account for the growth of mental health professions and prison populations.
One way of monitoring is by listening to the way your child speaks to his/her siblings or other younger children. A parent shared that she had noticed her 12-year-old son was constantly screaming at his younger brother. She mentioned it to her husband and he told her that she always screamed at the 12-year-old. It was a surprise to her but afterwards she noticed that she really did yell at him for everything. One problem with this was her son had no way to distinguish satisfactory behavior from unsatisfactory behavior. In addition to screaming at his younger brother, he probably would have begun to ignore his mother’s words. She has now altered her pattern by listening carefully to herself when she speaks to him.
If parents will commit to controlling their tongues we can have young people feel good about themselves and it is common knowledge that individuals who feel good about themselves produce positive results for themselves, their families and community.
Name-calling and insults are totally unacceptable. To call a child (of any age) stupid, ignorant, dumb, etc. is a direct attack on the child’s very being. It offers no corrective measures for the immediate situation. These words do not help – in fact, they harm. Focus on why the action is negative.
Parents, teachers and adults who spend any amount of time with youth have the opportunity to either boost or destroy their self-esteem. Taking responsibility, adults should explain what they expect from the child and why, correct errors when made by explaining the error and sharing different approaches – not condemning the child regardless of age. Correction, NOT punishment must become our collective goal. Otherwise, we continue to send angry, needy youngsters into a world of other needy, angry youngsters and the result is increases in violence and prison populations. The goal is to develop self-reliant, confident, loving human beings one child at a time. Insults have no place in the game plan.
There are incidents that happen on a daily basis that may annoy. Adults must focus on the incident and its negative impact on child physically or relationships without condemning the child.
A. Your child steps off the curb while you’re waiting for the light to change. A car narrowly misses him. Choose the most helpful response.
1. (Slap the child on the back) “Idiot! You could have gotten killed.”
2. “That was a dangerous thing you just did. You could have gotten hurt. You’re only to cross when the light is green.”
B. Your 11-year-old has complained that your 15-year-old has hit him.
1. “You big bully! You coward! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
2. “Nazim, I am very annoyed that you chose to hit your brother rather than telling me. If you cannot handle it verbally, I request that you find me or your father, otherwise, you’ll be punished. “
The challenge is for adults to examine what we’re doing or not doing that’s creating children who are filling the prisons and killing each other. If we begin to seriously look at our interactions with them we may find that a number of confidence killers happen daily in our homes and classrooms. It may be difficult to change our patterns, but doing it with other parents can be fun because you can keep each other abreast of the progress or breakdowns. Share your results with us. It’s really an empowering project – for adults, children and community. Share your project with firstname.lastname@example.org.