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When Parenting Crosses A Line: Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can leave emotional scars that never go away. And the sad part is, we often mirror the behavior that we are taught. If we grow up feeling demeaned, we often repeat the same actions with our own children.

(Note: If you read the article on Physical Abuse, you'll notice the intro and helplines are the same as they were for that article. This was supposed to be one article initially, but it was split because there is too much to cover for one article alone. Thanks for understanding, dear Readers!)

Of course kids need discipline, but it should never be done when angry with the child or done out of anger, because, well, when we're angry we aren't thinking as clearly as we should. For some, this becomes child abuse. Making disciplinary decisions are best made when adults are not angry or in the heat of the moment. Sometimes walking away and cooling off does wonders for the parents and child.

What is discipline, you ask? Well, according to the Vocabulary.com website, it is “to develop behavior by instruction and practice; especially to teach self-control”It should always be done with self-control and never done out of anger. When you discipline children, you are teaching them by correcting them, and the key word is 'teaching'. If the child learns nothing, then it is not discipline, it's punishment.

I do not, before this goes further, think that spanking alone is abuse… or that raising your voice is abuse. Not at all. But sometimes, parents snap and go far over the line, and yes, that is abuse. There are many kinds of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual, but I won't get into sexual abuse here… because that's not a parenting problem, that's something else entirely.

Verbal Abuse

First, we need to define verbal abuse signs and symptoms. According to HealthyPlace.com, America's Mental Health Channel, signs are what you observe about the abuser doing verbally abusive things to you, things they do and say that affects the way you think, feel, and believe. Symptoms are what you see in yourself, and others may not notice them, and they can include how you feel and the level of fear you feel.

Second, if a child is being abused, they may find it difficult to observe their abuser or themselves. Observing means you 'state the facts', but it also implies interpreting those facts, and that's hard for a lot of verbally abused children. They may second-guess their observations because the abuser plants in their mind that they can't believe their own thoughts, that this is for their own good, or that this is what happens when someone is actually disciplining a child.

Please note I am leaving out the far more obvious forms of verbal abuse, including screaming obscenities, outright insulting, threatening a child, and yelling in a child's face. Those should be more obvious. I'm talking about more of the subtle, less obvious forms of verbal abuse that happen and people sometimes don't even realize it's wrong. Verbal abuse can cause emotional pain, and that's hard to shake, even as they grow older.

According to HealthyPlace.com, some of the top signs and symptoms of verbal abuse are:

10 Insulting Ideas/Behaviors

This is when someone makes fun of your ideas, behaviors, and beliefs. Children take pride in what they achieve. So for an adult to smash it into the ground and tell them that it stinks, can hurt them in ways that we cannot see outright. Think about if you spent forever working on a craft, then someone you love who's opinion means the world to you spits on it and tells you it should be burned. Same thing. Instead of negative, harsh words, you can be constructive about it. Always say something positive, and then say something like “Next time you do this, you should try ____, I think that'll be lovely!”

9 Inciting Defensiveness

This is when someone says something that is almost true about you, but it leaves you wanting to defend yourself still. For example: “Karen is such a good student, she always gets A's. C's just aren't good enough, they're just not trying hard enough…” to a B / C student. 

It's disheartening and can make a child feel poorly about themselves. Instead of saying something like that, change your wording. Offer to help, or to get some help if you think they need it, or have a non-insulting discussion about the topic.

8 Offensive Remarks

This is when people say things like "What, it was a joke!" to dismiss things that offend you. Making rude jokes is already inappropriate, but to write it off as someone being overemotional or saying it's just a joke makes someone feel worse than they already feel because of the joke. 

Everyone's feelings are valid, even a child's. Instead of making jokes that can be offensive, make jokes that everyone can laugh at, and instead of making rude comments, leave those at the door on the way in, because no one else wants to hear them.

7 Negative Comments

Belittling anything about people, places or things that you love. And yes, this includes T.V. shows and games for kids or activities they enjoy. For example, if you have a son in ballet, this means saying things like “Ballet is such a girl's activity, why would you do it? It makes you look like a wimp.” 

A few words can make a child drop an activity or hobby that they love.Instead of criticizing your child over something you don't like, you can try introducing them to new activities, and simply being supportive over their choices, whether you like them or not.

6 Backing Into A Corner

This is when someone physically makes you back into a corner or somewhere you cannot easily get away from during arguments or intense conversations.This takes it into a borderline physical and verbal abuse situation. It makes the child feel trapped and scared, and that is never ok. Everyone should feel like they can escape from a bad situation. Instead of physically controlling the situation, keep your cool and stay back. Breathe. And never back the child into a corner.

5 Nervousness

Nervous when approaching them with certain topics. This is a big sign, and can be indicative of multiple kinds of abuse in the home. If the amount of nervousness is making you uneasy, you need to call someone or ask a professional what you should do. Remember, you can make the difference in a child's life.

4 Derogatory Comments

This includes when people make derogatory or rude comments about a group that you belong to, such as your gender, your race, and your religion. The comment may end with the phrase “I mean them, not you.” This is hurtful and can make a child doubt themselves. This can happen by a parent making distasteful jokes, racially charged jokes, and so much more.

Instead of making jokes like this, make better choices when it comes to humor. You can joke around without alienating a group of people or your child. 

3 Condescending Questions

This is when people ask you questions about something that happened, and then make replies like"Why don't you sit there, and think about that answer..." or they just sit there and stare at you, letting you know your answer wasn't "right".

Do you like when people do that to you? Probably not. It makes you feel inferior, right? Well, you're an adult… so imagine how a child would feel. Instead of making the child feel wrong, give them a real opportunity to be right. Have a meaningful discussion, drop hints, and help the child to feel important.

2 “Telling On Themselves”

This is where you have a need to "tell on yourself" about things in case the person hears about it later, in case they get mad. We all want our kids to be honest with us, but kids shouldn't feel like they have to tell us every little detail about every single day or they will be in trouble. 

It's sometimes a sign that something is going on in the home that shouldn't be happening. Instead of encouraging this, encourage the child to be more independent. We don't need to hear everything about every moment, and kids shouldn't be made to feel like they need to tell us.

1 Purposefully Exasperating Conversations

This is when someone engages in long discussions about things you disagree with until you reach the breaking point, and you want to say “Whatever! You're right, I'm wrong!”They can also later insist that you repeat what they said, and later say, "Well, you agreed with me before!" No one wants to have discussions that end up like this, they're exasperating, and adults have more control of their emotions. 

Children have even less control, so conversations like this can end up in the child getting themselves in trouble, because they 'snap' and yell back at the parent. Instead of arguing, actually talk about the topic and try and see things from their point of view. This is important when it happens with adults, but it's more important with children because their point of view is even more different. 

Keep in mind, these aren't all the typical signs of verbal abuse, and they were more geared for adults originally, but they definitely qualify as verbal abuse for children as well. Kids are actually more susceptible to verbal abuse than adults are because they don't know any better. But, you do, and as the adult, you can step in, see that this is wrong, that the behavior is hurtful to the child, and you can stop it before it gets worse and happens again.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the United States, its territories, and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in over 200 languages. 

The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are confidential. If you suspect a child is being abused, call the Childhelp National Hotline, and make a report. You can be the first link in saving a child's life.

For UK readers, there is the NSPCC helpline at the number 0808 800 5000 . There is also a helpline for reporting and advice for those under age 18 at 0800 1111

In Australia, there is the Department for Child Protection and Family Support Crisis Care Helpline, at the number (08) 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008 .(country free call)

Information for this article is cited from HealthyPlace.com, America's Mental Health Channel, and can be found here.

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