Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones

Sticks and stones

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal how a few words during childhood can seriously damage a person.

First a quick update:

“CNN – “Casey Anthony and the case for forgiveness”
Read my article on CNN along with over 2.000 comments here.

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Now, lets’ talk about the power of words, particularly as it applies to children.

You might recall the phrase and chant, a common rhyme in the school play yard, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”

The intention behind that mantra which, dates back to 1894, was to strengthen us and to try and create a wall around us so that we would not be hurt or negatively impacted by nasty or hurtful words by bullies and other children. Time and experience proves that mantra to be false; words do harm and they can leave an emotional wound that is deeper and longer-lasting than the pain or injury of sticks and stones. In fact, words spoken to a child are even more potent than words spoken to an adult.

Billy was seven when his father walked out on the family. Billy was the only child. Very soon, Billy’s uncle took him aside and said to him “Billy, from now on, you are the man of the house.”

This is a common occurrence: the spoken words and expectation that when the father is no longer living with the family (the result of separation, divorce or death) the boy is expected to take over dad’s role and be the “man of the house.”

But words take on a literal role for a child. Billy played the role of the man and mom expected him to be a man – fulfilling her mental and emotional needs. Billy was expected to be strong, to support mom emotionally and at the youngest age possible, around 12, he began to work during summer to make some extra money for him and his mom.

Believing that he was now the man of the house, the leader, Billy felt it was his role and responsibility to make mom happy and to take care of her. While the problem might seem obvious, the results and effect on Billy were not at the time those simple words were spoken. Billy was no longer allowed to be a little boy, to receive nurturing, love and protection; he had to take care of mom, instead of mom taking care of him. He was now expected to play the role of adult and be responsible for taking care of and protecting mom. Billy missed out on the fun of being a child and he grew up full of guilt for mom’s life – she was unhappy, unfulfilled, depressed and never dated another man after her husband walked out. Billy grew up feeling that he had to play the role of rescuer and savior to other women, he didn’t know how to let other women love and support him, and he found it hard to break free from the emotional connection with his mother.

Kathleen was only five when her parents were considering divorce. They had been unhappy and constantly fighting. Kathleen’s parents turned to professional help. But they didn’t turn to counseling, they turned to an attorney, and that attorney turned to Kathleen. And with a few simple words, he changed her life when he asked her “Do you want your parents to divorce or stay together?”

That seems like a fair and reasonable question – the intention of learning what the child wants. But it’s not a fair question to be posed to a child, a 5-year-old child. Of course, a young child would respond with ‘yes, I want my parents to stay together.’ But again the question, changes the role from a child dependent on her parents for survival to a decision-maker determining not only her future but the future of her parents. It was a heavy burden for a child to carry.

Kathleen’s parents decided to stay together but blamed Kathleen for their choice and for their subsequent unhappiness. Kathleen grew up riddled with guilt and anger hearing her parents constantly blame her for their unhappiness and their decision to remain married.

Children are like sponges and they absorb everything around them, particularly words. When a parent speaks, a child accepts and believes those words to be true, particularly if those words have a deep emotional or intensely emotional connection or significance such as Kathleen’s case or Billy’s case.

Oftentimes, the adult’s intention is sincere and harmless; the attorney simply wanted to know what the child wanted since her parents couldn’t decide for themselves; Billy’s uncle was trying to help out mom by saying she needs help.

The mistake both people made was failing to understand the needs, psyche and perspective of a child. Recently, I was speaking with a friend, the owner of Milestones Ranch Malibu (a residential recovery and treatment center for addicts) and he told me he was astounded by my insight which he feels explains so many adult problem behaviors: I revealed that children believe that they are the center of the universe and that they control and determine the happiness and mood of their parents. In other words, a child will blame him or herself if mom or dad is unhappy; a child will blame himself when his parents are fighting or divorcing. Even children who are victims of abuse subconsciously believe it must have been their fault: ‘if dad did this to me, it must be my fault; there must be something wrong with me. If dad left, he left me and it must be my fault.’

The point here is to clearly understand that children are sensitive and respond to words, particularly if the words are spoken and delivered with emotion which quickly and easily creates the belief that the words are truth. Maria’s mother would get angry at her and say to her “You’re ugly.” Maria grew up feeling and believing she was ugly and unlovable. As another example, Gigi was constantly told by her father that she is beautiful and precious; Gigi grew up believing that she is beautiful and worthy of adoration.

The second point is to understand the role that children are meant to play: the child is not an adult and is not supposed to take the place of an absent mother or father. Your child is not supposed to be your best friend or your man. Mothers need to beware of stop calling their young sons “the man of the house” or “my little man” because the child is the receiver not the provider or protector.

Listen to the interview and discussion between my friend and I, Dr. Vicki Panaccione, Child Psychologist and founder of The Better Parenting Institute for clarification and elaboration of what is dangerous parenting, what is healthy parenting and the real role of a parent. In the enlightening and at times frightening conversation, Dr. Vicki also warns parents about the dangers of “inappropriate seductiveness”; creating anxiety in children; seeking their children’s approval; expecting the child to fulfill the mental and emotional needs of the parent and; sharing a bed with a child.

hen we understand a child’s role and needs along with the real power of words, then instead of harming children, we can use our words to teach, guide, mold and empower them to realize their full potential.

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wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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