“You are a failure! Why can’t you be like your friends? They perform better than you. I wonder if you will ever make it in life.” These are the words Ben Mutaki, a resident of Kitebi, a Kampala surburb has grown up hearing.
Mutaki says these words tormented him and lowered his self-esteem even as an adult. He kept wondering what he would do to please his parents. “I understand my parents had good intentions for me and perhaps, they used these words as a way of pushing me to work hard. But saying these words in the presence of my friends and siblings made me feel less of a human being and unappreciated. At some point I wondered if my parents ever loved me,” says Mutaki.
Alex Ssetemu, a father of four, says negative words have potential to cause psychological damage to the child. While parents cannot protect their children from some of the words they are exposed to, say in schools and in the neigbourhood, it is a parent’s responsibility to ensure that children grow up in a setting that is friendly and encourages healthy growth.
“As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that the words we use while speaking to our children are nurturing and supportive. On many occasions I have heard parents say to their children: “you are good for nothing just like your father or mother.” Although parents get upset with children, some statements leave children with lots of unanswered questions,” he says.
Daphine Gimugu, a counsellor, says every parent wishes the best for their children and because of this, it is sometimes difficult to tell a parent how they must raise their children.
But sometimes parents need to be conscious of the way they speak to the children. “How you express your anger as a parent matters a lot. Tame your anger and choose the words you say to your children carefully,” she says.
You are a bad child
“You are a bad child seems simple, but it is tormenting to the child. Instead of reflecting on their misconduct, children often think they are the problem,” says Gimugu. He adds: “One day my daughter came back home upset. When I asked what the matter was, she said her teacher had told her classmates she was a bad girl because she had lost her pencil,” Gimugu says.
She says the best way to handle this is to demonise the unbecoming behaviour and not the child. Experts warn that such words may cause behavioural problems, poor coping skills and academic challenges.
I sacrifice a lot for your well being
“By the time you decide to become a parent, you are ready to take on responsibility that comes along with fatherhood or motherhood. But it is quite devastating each time a parent reminds their children of how much they have sacrificed for their well-being,” says Heron Namagembe, a mother of four.
While it is true that parents make many sacrifices for their children, rubbing it in children’s faces all the time sounds like they are a burden to a parent. Such statements perhaps are the reason children choose to confide in other people except their parents.
You are just like your mother or father
According to Ssentamu, comparisons are commonly used among single parents who tend to transfer relationship anger and frustrations towards their children. “Children who listen to such comments over and over again usually hate who they are and their parents as well. Telling the child they are as stupid as their father or mother will make them think what you are saying is inherited and nothing much can be done to change the situation.”
This kind of behaviour also exposes the child to grievanaces meant for their adult parents, something that causes divisionism among parents.
I wish I never gave birth to you
No matter how frustrated you are with your child, never tell your child that you wish they were never born. Psychologically you are implying he or she is a mistake.
“When you are too angry and frustrated, walk away or ignore the child for some time, until you have calmed down and you are in a position to respond in a responsible manner,” says Gumugu.
Why are you not like……..
No one wants to be compared to another person. Whether they are compared to a sibling or a friend, it makes them feel like they are not good enough.
Mutaki says children have unique qualities and parents ought to emphasise their children’s strengths and building them instead of comparing them to other children. Gimugu urges parents to be considerate whenever they are speaking to their children. She says while many parents use criticism and negative language as a way of teaching children to be responsible, as they grow older, the negative statements affect their emotional development.