…but words will never hurt me? Well that must be the biggest lie I’ve ever heard. Whoever first said that was surely never on the receiving end of painful words, harsh verbal onslaughts or cruel jibes. Whoever said that probably never went through putting on a brave face in public before making a hasty withdrawal and sobbing in private moments later.
As a teenager, I was the oldest in my very small private school for the final two years I was there. This meant that I had boobs first, wore make-up first and was larger than the rest of my year. And by the rest of my year, I mean the one other girl in high school with me. Now, I can’t fault the education, but good heavens the boys could be a nightmare. I was a swimmer in my school team for a season, and I remember getting ready to dive in to the pool one day when one of the boys shouted something about ‘watching out’ because there’d be no water left once I had.
I dove, I swam my length and I cried. And I walked back round to the changing rooms and blamed my red eyes on chlorine. What followed was a number of years of diet pills, laxatives and self-induced vomiting. I can still make myself throw up simply by hovering over the toilet. And I still have massive issues with food, healthy eating and weight management.
There was another time, when I was younger that we had an overhanging mulberry tree in our street and some of the girls formed a ‘gang’, with this overhanging tree as our gang-house. Once we were all in, we realised there wasn’t really room for all four of us, so since I was the most recent addition to the neighbourhood, they said I couldn’t be in the gang anymore.
I remember saying something like, ‘oh, sure, that’s okay’ and leaving and crying all the way home. One of the girls came to me later and said they were sorry and they could see on my face that I was really upset (I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions), and that they wanted me back in the gang. But I’ve often wondered if that wasn’t why I sometimes feel that no one wants to be friends with me, that they’re humouring me â€“ even when I know that’s not true.
Two silly incidents, both involving children, but so hurtful to me at the time, and so memorable and in their own ways, ultimately, scarring.
Sticks and stone might break bones, but bones can be reset. Words, however, can damage for life.
And that includes the things we say to our children. The little pet names, and the hurtful, spiteful things we might say out of frustration, have an impact.
If we call our children “terrors”, expect to be terrorised by them.
If we call our children “stupid” or “idiot”, expect them to be stupid or idiotic â€“ or at least to act that way.
If we call our children these things, and other similar names, it is an act of bullying and verbal abuse, whether you intend it or not. I mean, would you enjoy being called “fatso”, “brat” or “idiot”? How would you feel about the person calling you those names?
Psychologist Sarah Chana writes about name calling:
This effect is much much more powerful in childhood when a youngster’s sense of self is not yet fully formed.Â At this point, being called names can leave the child truly believing that he or she is damaged, worthless, useless, bad and defective, as well as unlovable. Once a child entertains such notions about him/herself, the child tends to act in ways that are consistent with that poor self-image.Â So a child who is regularly called “stupid” for example, comes to believe that he can’t do things like other people and then he stops trying to succeed. The label can be crippling.
The blog Bullies Be Gone has the following to say about parents who bully their children:
Whether that’s done consciously and intentionally, or the parents are righteous and oblivious to the effects they’re having, or they think that they’re preparing their children to be humble and moral or to face a hostile world, the pain is real and the effects can last for decades.
I’d like to challenge you today to pay attention to the words you use with your children. I’d like to challenge you to be conscious when you speak to them â€“ conscious of the message your words send, and conscious of the meaning your playful jibes might be sending to impressionable little ones, or older ones for that matter.
The words we use can shape a person’s future, whether we intend it or not. Sticks and stones, my friend, can be ducked, thrown back or evaded. But words leave their imprint on the soul forever.