Most of us grew up hearing the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While the intent of this quip perhaps was to toughen kids up, in more recent years we’ve clued in to how false this message is! Name calling, harsh words, verbal bullying does hurt. Aggressive words and/or harsh tones can inflict emotional pain just as real as getting physically punched. And when such verbal punches are thrown in the home, it is especially hurtful. As parents and/or the adults in a child’s life, most of us are quite clear about the need to protect children from the bullying that can too easily happen among groups of children. But are we aware that when we speak harshly or critically to our children or spouse it is potentially even more harmful than schoolyard bullying?
What is the verbal climate in your home? How do you communicate with your children or spouse, especially when the pressure is on? Do you yell when you’re frustrated or angry? Do you use harsh, cutting, or condescending words with your family or with others within their hearing? Does this happen frequently? Occasionally?
A growing body of research is demonstrating how verbal hostility negatively impacts a child’s brain in much the same way as does acts of domestic violence including sexual abuse. The greater the intensity of the verbal hostility, the greater the frequency of it, and the occurrence of other forms of abuse in combination with it are factors that determine the degree of the damage inflicted upon the child’s brain. In short, yelling at your children can cause actual, measurable brain damage (Teicher, Samson, Polcari, & McGreenery, 2006; Teicher, 2016). To be sure, this damage can be healed, but the abuse has to be stopped first—the child’s climate has to be changed.
If the verbal climate in your home is “hot,” the therapists at Wasatch Family Therapy can help you reset your emotional thermostat and change out old, broken down communication styles for healthy, refreshing ones—ones that create a safe climate for your family to live in. Give us a call at 801-944-4555 and make an appointment. It’s one of the best things you can do for your children, your spouse, and you.
Teicher, M. H., Samson, J. A., Polcari, A., & McGreenery, C. E. (2006). Sticks, stones,
and hurtful words: Relative effects of various forms of childhood
maltreatment. The American Journal Of Psychiatry, 163(6), 993-1000.
Teicher, M. H., & Samson, J. A. (2016). Annual research review: Enduring
neurobiological effects of childhood abuse and neglect. Journal of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, 57(3), 241-266.