Auntie Says… Words matter

What you say can have a lasting effect

Are you aware of what you’re saying to your child or what message you’re sending with your behaviour? Kids do hear whether you think they’re listening or not and believe me the ears perk up even more when then they overhear their name.

The reason I ask is that I had a chat with a mom a couple of weeks ago who related a story about her ten-year-old daughter returning from a weekend visit with her dad. The girl said her dad started teasing and calling her names when he noticed she had underarm hair. He told her she needed to start shaving because the hair made her masculine and no boy was ever going to like her.

Needless to say, this upset the young girl who then went home to mom and relayed the story. The mom, not wanting to put her ex-husband in a bad light, wasn’t sure how to react to the situation.

The whole thing peeved me off.

A parent should never demean a child for any reason and in this particular instance, the dad is way off base.

I see it as a clear case of bullying. Teasing and commenting on normal physical development and body image will do more harm than good. Personal grooming is something that needs to be discussed with options given but it isn’t something to be mocked or shame-filled.

I applaud the girl for questioning her dad’s words. By acknowledging that the words made her uncomfortable a much-needed discussion took place. In the end, I’m trusting the mom had a chat with the dad to relay the problem and I hope he took it seriously. The sad thing is a week before the young girl was completely unaware of shaving — it wasn’t even on her radar — and now it’s an issue. I hope the dad learned a lesson, but only time will tell.

Words have a lasting and powerful impact. Kids can become hypersensitive about things they have no control over, from the colour of their hair, the size of their nose, to the onset of puberty. Everything and anything can become an issue that affects self-esteem, personal growth and social interactions.

There’s a whole movement around body shaming, for example, where humiliation is used against someone’s size or shape. This disgusts me beyond any imagination and when it’s used on children or young people it’s even more deplorable.

Kids have so much anxiety and stress already in our fast-paced world they don’t need a coach poking them in the belly, parents putting them on diets, and they certainly don’t need a grandparent telling them all about their liposuction, boob job, and facelift while promising the youngster that they too ‘can have their flaws fixed.’

These are real stories about real kids.

Home and family should be a haven for children and not a place of ridicule and self-doubt. Comments are sometimes made in jest but believe me that can be even worse when you’re the butt of the joke. Words can sting and wound to a point of leaving a life-long scar. Imagine having no voice, no recourse, and no insight into what damage is being done.

I know I’ve barely touched on this issue but I want it to serve as a reminder that children do absorb our words and we need to watch what we say.

Often we don’t let kids watch adult movies because you ‘can’t un-see what is seen’, well, neither can you ‘un-hear the criticism, negativity, or judgement that you hear.’

Think about it.

Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan. She can be reached through her website at www.fayeearcand.com.

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