BY SOFO ARCHON
Recently my beloved partner and I were walking through one of the most beautiful parks in Athens, Greece, where we encountered a beautiful incident that has been imprinted on my mind and which I’ll most probably never forget.
A father was playing football with his young, not more than three-year-old child and they both appeared to happily enjoy themselves, squeezing each and every moment out of their play. Suddenly, while the child was trying to kick the ball to the direction of his father, he tripped and fell abruptly to the ground. He started crying, seemingly experiencing pain and feeling helpless. The father quickly reached him, took him in his arms, and told him in a caring voice: “Don’t worry, my love.” In just a few seconds the child stopped crying and he and his father joyfully resumed kicking the ball back and forth.
Shortly afterwards, we went back home to relax after our long, exhausting walk. No sooner did we enter our apartment than we heard our neighbors around the corner screaming at their son and calling him stupid, a thing they usually do when they are not in a good mood — which is almost always the case. There have been times when we’ve heard them call him faggot, retarded, and other names of similar nature.
As you can understand, this child and the other one mentioned above have a totally different upbringing. The one is brought up in an emotionally healthy environment of love, affection and encouragement, while the other in an emotionally unhealthy environment of hatred, disrespect and criticism.
Words Shape Children’s Minds
Psychologists have for a long time now found out that the words parents use when they talk to their children can tremendously influence their psychological development, and hence their future behavior and habits.
But why is that so, you might ask.
Well, for one thing, children desire more than anything else to be loved and liked by their parents, and so the way parents talk to and about them means the world to them. Thus, their parents’ words deeply affect their psyche. That’s why, for example, when parents verbally express to their children that they are not liked and accepted as they are, children feel ashamed and hateful toward themselves. When parents, however, praise, talk with kindness and show respect to their children, children feel well about themselves and proud of who they are.
Secondly, in the eyes of children, parents are seen as role models who are all-knowing. To them, whatever their parents say must be right. They wholeheartedly believe in their parents’ ideas and opinions, unquestionably accepting them as the truth, and that truth shapes their entire worldview, including how they see themselves. Therefore, if, for example, a parent calls his son stupid, like in the example mentioned earlier, there’s a high chance that the son will believe that he’s a stupid and soon act like it. Or, if a parent calls her daughter ugly and disgusting, it’s very likely that the daughter will develop serious self-esteem and other mental health issues. On the contrary, if a parent tells her daughter that she’s worthy of love and respect, there’s a high possibility that she will grow into a confident and emotionally fulfilled person.
Teaching By Example
But it’s not only the words that parents utter that is shaping children’s minds. Most importantly, it’s the parents’ overall behavior and attitude. More than anything else, children learn by example.
For instance, if a child’s parents are filled with worries, fears and stress, then the child might very well develop into an anxious, insecure, neurotic adult. On the contrary, if a child’s parents are confident, can handle difficulties and have a positive outlook on life, it’s highly probable that the child will develop an optimistic attitude and be unafraid of facing the challenges that life brings on its way.
This means that perhaps the best way for parents to teach children nearly anything is to embody what they are trying to teach them. Many parents, however, give children advice that they don’t themselves apply in their lives. “Don’t ever smoke cigarettes, it’s bad for your health,” we often hear parents say to their children while holding a lit cigarette in their hands. Or, “Stop fighting with your siblings” while they angrily spank them as a way of punishment for their inappropriate behavior. The result? Children receive conflicting messages from the words and actions of their parents — and actions always speak louder than words. Hence, children reach their conclusions from what they’ve been shown and not what they’ve been told.
A child is like a sponge, unconsciously absorbing everything from its environment. And since parents are typically the most immediate environment of a child, their own psychological condition is of utmost importance to a child’s psychological development. If parents are not emotionally healthy themselves, they can’t but fail to raise emotionally healthy children — the emotional issues they are suffering from will inevitably be transferred to their children. Therefore, it’s important that parents deal with and resolve their own psychological problems (with the support of society, in the form of free mental health services, which sadly are nearly non-existent in most countries around the world), for only then can a truly positive parental environment manifest — that is, an environment that makes children feel secure, loved and supported.