You might not be able to prevent all bad things from happening to your child, but you can fight for her. Here’s how to advocate for your child’s emotional health.
Dr. Asa Don Brown is a noted author and clinician who has written about the effects of childhood trauma on adults. He defines verbal abuse as any “aggressive behavior that occurs through human communication.” It is language whose sole intent is to offend, disparage, or undermine the well-being, self-esteem, and integrity of another human being. Included in this list of abusive verbal behaviors are swearing, name-calling, threats, negative criticisms, and racial slurs.
It is unconscionable when children are on the receiving end of verbally abusive language. But when it comes from their teachers, it can be particularly damaging and hurtful. Know that you, as the parent, are not powerless to stop it.
How to Tell If Your Child Is Being Verbally Abused
If you hear your typically upbeat child start saying things like “I’m stupid,” or “I can’t do anything right,” don’t be too quick to attribute these comments to your child having a bad day. Negative self-image is often the result of verbal abuse. Drastic and sudden personality changes in your child are signs that something is troubling them. Listen not only to their words, but to the feelings behind them. Because of their young age, most children cannot verbalize these feelings directly.
Get to the Root of the Problem
Avoid asking pointed or leading questions when you’re trying to discover the cause of your child’s errant behavior or comment. For example, instead of asking, “Did your teacher call you stupid?” ask instead, “Why do you say you’re stupid?” If his or her reply to the latter question is “Because my teacher said so,” then you know you have to probe deeper.
You may want to talk to the parents of other children in your child’s class to see if they have had a similar experience. If you find other parents facing the same problem, get together and compare notes; there is strength — and comfort — in numbers.
Devise a Plan of Action
Talk with your child’s teacher, but avoid coming across as accusatory or vindictive. Instead, let her know how her language and tone in the classroom is profoundly and negatively affecting your child. Discover constructive and positive ways that you can work with him or her to alter your child’s perception of classroom events.
Most teachers have the interest and welfare of their students at heart. If you engage them in an honest, open, and sincere dialogue they will likely be cooperative, especially if you keep your child’s well-being at the center of your discussion.
However, if your child’s teacher is unyielding, be ready to elevate your child’s case to a higher authority. Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 to find out what further steps you can take. The department of Child Protection Services in your local area is another source you can call for advice.
The effect of verbal abuse on children can be disastrous and life-long. Several psychological problems such as dissociative disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and paranoia have all been associated with childhood abuse in some way.
Once you have determined that your child is the victim of verbal abuse from his or her teacher, initiate a frank and constructive dialogue with your child's teacher. Keep his welfare at the center of the discussion. Be ready to elevate your child’s case to the proper authorities if the teacher is obstinate.
Your child has a right to a nurturing and professional school environment. Do not let a teacher’s verbally abusive language deprive your child of this right.
Brown, A. D. (2011, August 14). What are the effects of verbal abuse on children. Retrieved from Counselling Connect.
Brown, A. D. (2011). The effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview. Ann Arbor: ProQuest, UMI Dissertation Publishing. Cardigan, B. (2014, March 11). Yelling at children (verbal abuse). Retrieved from HealthDay.
Cohen, L. J., & DeBenedet, A. T. (2012, May 1). When teachers bully children. Retrieved from Time Magazine.
Cromie, W. J. (2007, April 26). Verbal beatings hurt as much as sexual abuse. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from Harvard Gazette.
Jha, A. (2012, February 13). Childhood abuse may stunt growth of part of brain involved in emotions. The Guardian. Retrieved from The Guardian.
Kendrick, C. (n.d.). Verbally abusive teachers. Retrieved from Family Education.
Wright, P. (2011, April 18). Dealing with a verbally abusive teacher [Web log message]. Retrieved from The Wrightslaw Way.