We may teach our children the old schoolyard comeback about sticks and stones never being able to hurt them, but it’s a lie. Words in many cases can cause far more damage, especially when they come from parents, as painfully highlighted in a growing thread on popular question website Quora.
The original question posted was, “What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?” The heartbreaking answers have been pouring in as users share the comments their parents made that they’ve never been able to forget.
Some are phrases many parents may recognize uttering themselves, like “Now what did you do?” or “What’s wrong with you?” While others are more cutting, like, “I don’t love you” and “You are dumb.”
Yet others definitely seem to cross the line into verbal abuse, which is extremely serious and can cause severe impairments to a child’s development. Research shows that psychological abuse can even do more harm than physical abuse or sexual abuse.
However, it’s the other, more familiar-sounding answers — those that seem more like slips, words said in the heat of a frustrated moment — that will likely give most parents pause. They may seem small, but they clearly stay with children long after they’re said, and they can affect everything from a child’s sense of himself to how they interact with others.
How we say things matters too. Some studies have shown that yelling at children may be as harmful as spanking them. It can affect children’s self-esteem, make them more aggressive toward others and even cause depression.
None of us is perfect, and we’re all going to utter words we wish we could take back at some point in our parenting lives, but this thread is an important reminder to really think before we speak to our children, to not just throw out words and assume they’re harmless. So many times we worry about what we should say to our children — how to talk about weight, bullying, politics, sex and all the big topics — but what we should not say is just as, if not more, important.