As parents we must communicate with kindness to enhance our children’s emotional development

How we communicate as parents is a fundamental formative factor in our children’s development, and is passed from generation to generation. If a child learns a negative form of communication, by which it was normal to insult, berate, condemn, and put down, then that child is likely to use this form of negative communication even when very young, and brings it into adulthood. This child can become a verbal bully in school and a verbal abuser in adulthood. Frequently this translates into becoming a physical bully and abuser. Verbally abused children also self-harm, behave in a delinquent way, and may become involved in anti-social behaviour, which is a serious scourge in many countries. They are likely to have problems in school, act out, and find it difficult to learn. Studies done on verbal child abuse have found that it brings on depression, anger, and dissociation in adult life. These symptoms are stronger than for childhood physical abuse, and research shows that parents berating each other on an ongoing basis are more traumatic than physical abuse.
We have a duty as parents to relay positive messages to our children. Even if we suffered verbal abuse as children and see this as the normal way to communicate, we can change our verbal behaviour. The story of Imani in Naomei Will’s blog, Within the Walls of Silence, is a good example. Imani grew up in the 1960s, when children were ‘seen and not heard’. As well as being raped as a young child and physically abused, she also suffered severe verbal abuse. She knew no other way to communicate, and had a violent adolescence. She brought her abusive ways into her marriage, and subjected her own child, Chantel, to physical and verbal abuse. Eventually, however, she made herself give affection to her child, and practised replacing hateful words with loving and healing words.
Whereas, verbal abuse of children has been largely sidelined, emotional child abuse has merited more study. The latter involves behaviour that interferes with a child’s mental health or social development. It systematically destroys the young human being. Emotional abusers shame children, make them feel worthless, ignore and disregard them. It is emotionally abusive to deprive children of affection and warmth, because their emotional needs are unmet. Children need to experience hugging, praise, love, support and parental mentoring. Failure to give such affection and nurture is emotional neglect, and amounts to emotional rejection of a child. The child picks up the message that they are unwanted. Of course, some mothers cannot give what they have not got, because of their own traumatic childhood. This is disastrous for the child, who feels emotionally abandoned.
If we fail to teach a child how to do ordinary things, and then blame them when they fail to do a task, we are guilty of emotional abuse. Some parents not only fail in this, but also place an adult role on their children to meet their own needs. I have encountered cases of children taking care of depressed parents, being forbidden to play with other children, and confined to the house to cater for the parent. Children are not capable of meeting parental needs, and are not equipped to perform adult roles. They will always fail, and ultimately will feel not good enough. In adulthood, this sometimes emerges as rage, shame, perfectionism and poor self-worth.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

Posted in abuse, Child Abuse