There are some things parents or caregivers say in relation to a child’s feeling,which has good intentions underpinning it, but turns out to be disastrous given the underlying meaning it holds for the child. Acquainting yourself with this information, would help you avoid abusing a child emotionally , no matter how subtle. Children take the message in a caregiver’s attitude to understand the nature of anything. Once a child internalizes wrongly, it takes series of concerted effort to undo the disastrous effects it has in the life of that child.
These words/phrases or actions take the form of emotional abuse; it is the persistent or consistent attack on a person’s sense of value. This could be done either knowingly, or unknowingly, but given the danger it portends, it is best anyone prevents it. The danger is inherent in the erroneous and damaging message it communicates to the child. No child has the capacity to protect themselves, even if they want to. They depend on their parents or caregivers for all their needs.
The Nature Of Feelings
For this article to cut through in the context it is intended, you need to understand the true nature and representation of feelings, as that would help you know what constitute emotional abuse or not. Feelings are in and of themselves valid. They are a demand upon the mind to perform function- to think. It highlights your needs or unsolved problem. Feeling is one of the primary tools every human being uses to function accurately, and meet his or her needs. However, when it is not utilized in the way it is intended; like when it is ignored, dismissed or neglected, it creates chaos for the person.
It is important to understand the nuance of emotional invalidation: This is an act a number of parents perpetuate every day without understanding the damage it has on the child. Because of its subtlety, it is often confused for discipline towards the child. Emotional abuse can take the shape of subtle and not so subtle attack towards a person’s sense of value. Worth noting, whatever form it takes, it has the same depth of damaging effect on the person.
Below are some phrases that caregivers should never say to a child in order to avoid abusing the child emotionally.
#1 “Awww….. don’t cry.”
When a child cries, he or she express their feelings, needs, frustration or pain. The above phrase might seem as a harmless and very comforting thing to say to a child, but because children do not come into the world knowing how the world works, they rely on the message in their caregiver’s attitude to understand the nature of anything. Feeling is one of those things they do not understand its use, why it is there or what it represents. ‘Comforting’ a child who clearly is expressing their needs, or self, with those words is communicating the message to the child that they should stop feeling their feeling.
Thus, this further narrows down the message to the child that their feeling is something that generates discomfort and is inherently shameful. The child consequently learns to conceal their genuine feeling.
#3 “It’s okay”
While the above phrase might seem lovely and endearing, it communicates to the child that there is a limit to how they should feel and that their feeling is something worthless. In other words, for their feeling to be relevant, it has to make sense to someone else. Failure for an external factor to certify it worthy, condemns the feeling to abrupt interruption.
This teaches the child to hoard and not feel a full range of their feeling for fear that they will be offending their parents if they continue to emote their feeling. It might be true, parents or caregivers use this phrase with the ‘best intention’, however, children are underdeveloped; that is why they are referred to as dependents. They cannot take care of themselves, therefore, they rely on their parents or caregivers to meet their emotional needs. There is no limit to how a child should feel as long as the need the feeling is highlighting remains unmet.
Sometimes, children don’t have any physical need except for a relationship (connection). When their need for connection is dismissed as attention-seeking, it brings the same damage to the child. Just as much as dismissing a child for their physical needs bring harrowing damage to them. It is always worth remembering, that feelings are in and of themselves, valid. Whether it makes sense to another person or not.
Think about those times in your life as an adult, you related your feeling/frustration/pain/joy to someone else and the person either paid no attention, dismissed you as bothersome or did not share in your feeling. How did that make you feel? If you felt more pain or confusion, consider how it is for a child who is still grappling with the understanding of the world.
#2 “Don’t be scared.”
When children emote, the responsibility is on you the parent or caregiver to validate and accept that feeling. Whether the reason for their feeling makes sense to you or not. You need to understand that a child is in his or her own world and majority of what they feel is difficult for them to comprehend. The above phrase is damaging in the sense that it communicates to the child that they are feeling wrongly. This is another way of telling them that their feeling is inappropriate and wrong. This subsequently leads the child to erroneously internalize their feeling as something inherently wrong. It further helps them to effortlessly, shut themselves out from revealing their true feeling.
A child uses the understanding of their feeling to make sense of their inherent nature; because their feelings are intimately tied to them. Their genuine feelings, represents their genuine needs which is an extension of themselves. The problem lies in adults using our current understanding or grasp of the world to judge a child’s ability to act in accordance.l
As a parent or caregiver, you can mitigate this disaster with the accurate knowledge and right attitude. This way, you model appropriately to a child. This would also rub off in your attitude towards the child’s feeling and sense of self- the two vital tools for a child’s healthy emotional and mental development. Children learn from the message in your attitude. Therefore, taking out time in learning and influencing the child positively will help you bond and grow your relationship with your child in healthy ways. And contextually, help you avoid abusing your child emotionally.
Of a higher consequence is the erroneous fundamental core belief a child internalizes of their inherent nature. This erroneous core belief about themselves is that they themselves are inherently devoid of worth. That this, is the natural state of their inherent nature. This huffington post astutely highlights the debilitating effect of emotional abuse when the child grows into adulthood. He or she faces varying shades of chaos because his core belief about his inherent nature is at odds with reality.