Negative Words and Their Impact on Children
‘I want this new toy set, NOW!!’ No, you can’t have it
‘But I just want to eat this chocolate grandma gave me ‘Don’t do it or you’ll spoil your teeth’
‘Negative’ words or phrases are often used by parents, yet we are unaware of the same. Right from when children are toddlers till the time they become teenagers, sentences are peppered with ‘No’, ‘Not Yet, ‘Never’, ‘Nothing Doing’ to convey instructions, set boundaries and instill discipline. Yet, can we mean what we say, without giving negativity so much emphasis?
Children are wont to ask or do something all the time. If we can save a rupee every time they ask and we refuse, we’d all be millionaires by now wouldn’t we? Although asking/insisting is their way to get things done, as parents we either succumb to their whims and fancies or use negative phrases to convey our displeasure or irritation.
Negative words have a lasting impact on little minds, much more than positive. Children observe, learn, imbibe and internalize more information than what we give them credit for. Words with a negative connotation have been found to build negative self image and resentment, with rebellious behavior seen over a period of time. Audrey Ricker, co-author of Backtalk: 4 Steps in Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids also says that the ‘no’ word desensitizes the child, making it lose its significance and must be applied only in serious situations to maintain relevancy
These words were an inseparable part of my vocabulary for a very long time, and I didn’t realize how much I was using them till pointed to me by the spouse. Over a period of time, I’ve learned to be more mindful of what I say (work in progress) and convey the same feelings with a slight twist to the words. This ensures my message reaches my girl, but is conveyed without use of any negativity.
In order to understand the kinds of negative words or statements that are a part of our daily conversations, I’m sharing some examples of instances that I’ve experienced and also seen around me.
When my child met kids or elders for the first time, I have often insisted or have heard other parents push their wards to greet them, often forcefully. After repeated prompts, a few do. I’ve found myself getting annoyed if my child refuses to ‘wish’, ending up berating her for the same.
WHAT I’VE COME TO UNDERSTAND, is that children have their own choices, and when given the chance to exercise them know what to do and accept the consequences of their actions. If they do not want to greet or say ‘hello’ (out of fear or shyness), they need to be asked to reflect on and exercise their choice. Rather than forcing, I’ve changed tactics to ask ‘ Do you want to greet her now or later?’ or ‘You can choose what you want to do’ to ease out any awkwardness without making my girl lose face.
Growing up I’d often hear another mother at school, call her child a ‘black sheep’ of the family. The girl was headstrong, would get into scrapes, lagged in studies and didn’t get along much with anyone. While this was often met with laughter by other parents, I’ve observed the girl looking angrily towards the ground and retreating gradually into her silent, angry shell.
WHAT I’VE COME TO UNDERSTAND, is that behavior is directly proportional to an awareness of self. The term ‘Self Fulfilling Prophecy‘ as coined by Robert Merton proves again and again, that children who are told negative things about themselves from a very young age, manifest the thought or become negative people. Children who push limits and go against the grain go against our sense of normal behavior but must respected nevertheless. The more they hear good things about themselves, the more they act out good behavior as they grow. It is important to separate the child from his behavior and focus on probably reasons for their displaying it.
At the park a few months ago, a neighbor’s child ran towards her mother having fallen thrice in the span of an hour. The girl went up to her mother crying about her leg and the mother pointed out that she’d better get used to the pain, because she was ‘clumsy’ all the time.
WHAT I’VE COME TO UNDERSTAND, is that children by nature being little beings take their time to learn and grow. Falls and hurts are a part of the growing up process. In this case, behavior of the child did not indicate clumsiness but yet the ‘name calling’ could impact the child significantly, making her develop low self-esteem and negative self-confidence. Instances like these should best be responded to in a neutral manner so that the child’s pain is addressed, yet allowing her to process what has happened in a non-judgmental way.
Words exchanged with children, in front of others have lasting impressions on their little minds. They absorb the associated feelings and process them faster than what is actually spoken.
If you get stressed about a function, they will learn to stress. If they see you get irritated with a task, they learn irritation. If they see your fear for a process, they develop anxiety. If they hear you call them ‘lazy’, ‘Idiot’, ‘Stupid’, and other negative words, they imbibe it and learn to act out the negativity. This sets expectations for their future actions.
Positive words instill positive behavior, giving children confidence, build self-reliance and help them develop empathy. When kids hear that they are loving, clever, smart and helpful, they makes these characters their very own.
Are there any other negative words that can be identified which we often use with our children?