Sticks and Stones and Hurtful by huanghengdong



                   Joan E. LeFebvre
                  Family Living Agent

                             Sticks and Stones and Hurtful Words

                          We all remember                                                        Children who were verbally abused grow up
                          the childhood                                                          to be self-critical adults who are more likely
                          chant “sticks and                                                      to experience depression and anxiety
                          stones can break                                                       (Sachs-Ericsson). They had almost twice as
                          my bones but                                                           many symptoms as those who had not been
                          words can never                                                        verbally abused. They were also twice as
                          hurt me.” We had it                                                    likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety
                          wrong. Hurtful                                                         disorder. Sachs-Ericsson studied more than
                          words can cause                                                        5,600 people ages 15 to 54 and,
                          significant                                                            surprisingly; nearly 30 percent reported they
                          emotional harm.                                                        were sometimes or often verbally abused by
Names will forever hurt especially when                                                          a parent.
parents do the name-calling.
                                                                                                 Emotional abuse of a child occurs for many
Verbal or emotional abuse conveys that the                                                       of the same reasons that physical abuse
child is worthless, flawed, unloved,                                                             occurs. When parents are stressed, they
unwanted, endangered or only of value in                                                         may lash out verbally and physically at their
meeting someone else’s needs. It includes:                                                       children. Some parents who verbally abuse
  ▪ Belittling, name-calling, degrading,                                                         their children may have learned this
     shaming, ridiculing or humiliating a child                                                  parenting style from their own parents. They
                                                                                                 may be unaware of positive ways to
  ▪ Making a child feel unsafe by slamming
                                                                                                 motivate or discipline their children.
     a door, bashing an object, or
     threatening severe punishment
                                                                                                 Verbal abuse can have long-term effects on
  ▪ Setting unrealistic expectations with                                                        children. Over time, children begin to believe
     threat of loss of affection or physical                                                     the negative things they hear about
     harm if not met                                                                             themselves. They use those negative
  ▪ Ignoring a child, being emotionally cold                                                     statements and thoughts as explanations for
     and unsupportive, withdrawing comfort                                                       anything that goes wrong. A child may use
     as a means of discipline                                                                    negative self-talk and believe “I’m stupid” or
  ▪ Rejecting, avoiding or pushing a child                                                       “I’m lazy” or “I’m no good.” When the
     away                                                                                        message is repeatedly conveyed by a
                                                                                                 parent, the pattern of self-criticism and
  ▪ Describing the child negatively                                                              negative thinking follows the child into
  ▪ Openly admitting dislike or hating the                                                       adulthood. Self-criticism makes a person
     child                                                                                       more prone to depression and anxiety.

     An EEO/Affirmative Action employer, University of Wisconsin-Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and programming, including Title IX and ADA requirements.
Most research on child abuse has focused on                     abuse. Protect children from the negative
physical or sexual abuse. Little attention has                  effects of emotional abuse by:
been paid to the destructive nature of                            ▪ Learning more about emotional abuse.
parental verbal abuse including swearing at,
                                                                  ▪ Developing positive parenting skills
belittling, or calling children unkind names.
                                                                     where discipline corrects a child’s
Children who were verbally abused are more
                                                                     behavior rather than punishes or
physically aggressive, more likely to engage
in delinquent behaviors, and have problems
with personal relationships.                                      ▪ Identifying ways to effectively manage
                                                                     your stress.
Research by Martin Teicher at the                                 ▪ Creating a support system.
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical                         ▪ Being a good role model. Cultivate
School, shows that verbal abuse during                               positive relationships and treat others
childhood may have an impact on mental                               with respect. Praise your partner and
health that is even greater than other forms of                      your kids publicly and in private.
abuse. Parental verbal abuse affects a child’s
developing brain and is also a powerful                           ▪ Apologizing if you lose your temper and
negative model for interpersonal                                     say something in anger that wasn’t
communication that impacts a child’s future                          meant to be said. Children benefit from
relationships.                                                       knowing adults can admit when they
                                                                     make mistakes.
Yvonne Vissing and Murray Straus define                           ▪ Walking away when you feel you are
verbal aggression as “communication                                  losing control. Take a time out, ask
intended to cause psychological pain”                                another adult for help, take a few deep
including name calling, nasty remarks, stony                         breaths and count to ten before saying
silence, and sulking. In a 1991 nationwide                           anything. When unkind words leave your
study, they found that nearly two-thirds of                          lips they can’t be erased and won’t be
children were victims of verbal aggression by                        ignored.
parents. Verbal aggression by parents took
place an average of 12.6 times per year, or                     Physical abuse might leave physical scars
more than once a month. While the average                       but verbal abuse leaves invisible scars that
was about once a month, some parents                            may never heal. The impact of verbal abuse
almost never spoke harmfully to their                           on vulnerable, developing children lasts a
children, while others did so frequently. More                  lifetime. Sticks and stones will break our
boys were victims of verbal abuse than girls.                   bones but unkind words from a parent are
                                                                even more destructive and enduring.
Parental verbal aggression leads to physical
aggression by the child (Vissing and Straus).                   Sources:
                                                                Sachs-Ericsson, N., Verona, E., Joiner, T., & Preacher, K.J.
The more frequent the verbal abuse, the                              (2006). Parental verbal abuse and the mediating role of self-
more likely a child will be engaged in physical                      criticism in adult internalizing disorders. Journal of Affective
aggression or delinquent behavior. Even                              Disorders, 93, 71-78.
                                                                Teicher, M.H., Samson, J.A., Polcari A., & McGreenery C.E.
children who are never hit or spanked by their                       (2006). Sticks, stones and hurtful words Relative effects of
parents exhibit behavior problems associated                         various forms of childhood maltreatment. American Journal
                                                                     of Psychiatry, 163, 993-1000.
with verbal abuse.
                                                                Vissing, Y.M., & Straus, M.A., (1991). Verbal aggression by
                                                                     parents and psychosocial problems of children Child Abuse
Parents should not underestimate the                                 & Neglect, 15, 223-239.
consequences of verbal and emotional
                                                                This document can be made available in alternative formats, such
                                                                as large print, Braille, or audio tape, by contacting your county
                                                                Extension office. (TTY 1-800-947-3529)
Author:   Pam Peterson, Assistant Professor, Department of
          Family Development, University of Wisconsin-
          Extension                                             For more information on Parenting and Child Development,
Editor:   Joan E. LeFebvre, Professor, Department of Family     contact: Joan E. LeFebvre, Area Family Living Agent,
          Development, University of Wisconsin-Extension        University of Wisconsin, Extension, 330 Court Street,
Reviewer: Dave Riley, Extension Specialist, Child Development   Courthouse, Eagle River WI 54521-8362, 715-479-3653,
          and Early Education, UW-Madison                       FAX 715-479-3605, E-Mail
Layout:   Penny Otte, Office Operations Associate, Family       April 2009
          Living Area Office, Vilas County

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