Recently, I’ve seen articles and heard parents saying that since words can hurt, we shouldn’t deny our children what they want or ever say, "No" to them. They think that if we deny them or say "No", we’ll damage their confidence and self esteem. But if we give them continual praise and approval, we’ll help them develop high self-esteem and a willingness to take risks. Some studies are even quoted about the harmful effects of the words parents use.
I disagree with that advice and parenting style.
Of course words matter; and even more important is how they’re delivered – frequency, voice tone, body language and with beating or caressing.
Of course, unrelenting yelling, insults, criticism, humiliation, shame, guilt, dismissing, ridicule and rejection are harmful. Personal insults hurt little children. Hostility and personal attacks tell children that they are bad people for wanting what they want or for doing something wrong or for not doing something right. It’s easy for children to think their identity is damaged, defective or blemished in ways that cannot be rectified.
A few days ago, I saw a chilling video made at a car wash. A mother was holding the arm of an approximately 3-4-year-old child while torturing her with the power washing hose. The child was screaming in pain and writhing to break free. The mother was screaming that the child had better respect her. Of course, we don’t need research to tell us that’s lousy parenting and abuse.
Such unrelenting viciousness isn’t confined to parents; it’s also dished out at work. It’s as if some people really believe the motto attributed to Captain Bligh of the “Bounty:” The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
Don’t live a life fueled by such anger and viciousness. Weigh your life heavily toward approval, encouragement and praise. After all, children naturally want to learn, explore and imitate their loving parents. Maintain control of yourself during moments when your frustration might break out into emotional abuse and intimidation, or verbal and physical violence.
Create a background of loving physical and verbal caresses for all your interactions with your children. Against that background, it’s critically important that you correct, deny and say "No" sometimes. Don’t give children everything they want. Set age-appropriate limits on their behavior. Teach them how to get along socially.
Most important: Teach them that they can be denied and be told "No", and the world doesn’t end. Their lives go on just fine without getting everything. Maybe they’ll get what they want another day. Or maybe, they’ll have to grow up and earn the money to get what they want for themselves. Or maybe, as they grow older, they’ll become more aware of the consequences of what they want and they’ll learn to not want it. That’s called self-discipline, character and integrity.
If you never say "No", you end up with spoiled, selfish children like Veruka Salt from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Teach them to be resilient so a "No" doesn’t crush their spirits. Then, denial doesn’t stop them from ever wanting or asking again and a "No" isn’t emotional abuse and doesn’t cause emotional damage.
Teach your children what’s safe and unsafe, what’s right and wrong, what’s worthy and not good enough, what’s honorable and dishonorable. Without your guidance, TV will teach them.
Some people still have scars because of what their parents said and did repeatedly. And, of course, some have more and deeper scars. But let’s be clear. All of us ultimately have the same task: to get over our childhoods and create better lives for ourselves and our children. Whether the scars were caused by parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, teachers, school bullies or rotten strangers, the task is the same.
How can we do that? I always look to the people who had it worst: The ones who survived genocidal wars, prison camps, slavery. How do they look at themselves and the world that they can still laugh and sing and dance and love? And it’s our job to become like them also.
In addition, we can now resist the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual attacks by spouses, co-workers and bosses. We can now resist putdowns and bullies; we can now reject their opinions or fight back.
We must now train our own memories and fears: The future does not have to be as bad as the past was. Otherwise we become adult victims to what they did to us when we were children.
Don’t let those ruin the rest of your life. Grow up. They might have been in charge of the past, but you’re in charge of the future.
History is not destiny.