The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Avoiding Emotional Child Abuse and Its Lingering Effects

Once upon a time there was a children's TV show host whose air name was "Captain Kangaroo." His heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s and I was among his many young fans. Many years later, the good Captain, a.k.a. Bob Keeshan, wrote a book entitled Growing Up Happy: Captain Kangaroo Tells Yesterday's Children How to Nurture Their Own. There is a lot of wisdom in this book, some of it hard won. Even if you never watched the Captain as a kid, this book is worth a look. Here is Bob's closing remark on the painful subject of the emotional abuse of children:

Every parental action, every parental word weighs heavily with a child. that is why the language of sexual stereotyping, even casually spoken, can have serious and lasting effect. That is why the language of denigration can destroy a child's confidence and self-esteem, leading to a lifetime of unhappiness. That is why parent power should take the form of "Hey, I like you, you're okay.""Don't worry about it. Give it another try. You can do it.""Did I remember to tell you I love you?"That language of parent power will make a child bloom, and bloom prettier than the most beautiful hothouse orchid.

Bob is exactly right. Further, such abuse can come from other sources as well. Today's society is pretty casual with the derogatory labels and defamatory language (need I refer to Rush Limbaugh's recent "slut" outburst?). The impact of emotional abuse can be life-long. Working as a chaplain in a retirement community as part of my Masters of Divinity degree program, I met a lady in her late sixties whose father had wanted a son, not her, and made that clear every day of her young life. He called her names, denigrated her abilities (you're only a "girl"), and generally let her know she was not the child he had wanted. Those awful messages had followed her all her life. She had come to think of herself as her father had seen her and it had twisted her entire life. It was awful to hear this and to see the impact such harsh and abusive statements had in her life.

Parents: I know the job is tough. I know there are days when the kid(s) have you at your wits end. I know how children can push your buttons. But stop, take deep breaths, and think before lashing out with abusive language. A moment's fury for you could lead to a lifetime of pain for them. Remember that those same children also love you fiercely and look to you for everything.

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