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The Effects of Telling a Child That He Is Stupid

by Kathryn Hatter, studioD

Although it might be easy to carelessly hurl names in frustration or exasperation, watch out. There can be real and long-lasting effects from calling a child stupid or other derogatory names. Feed a child’s psyche long enough on these negative morsels and it’s not surprising that before long, he may believe you.

Wrong Example

What’s a poor child to think when her parents are setting the wrong example? Parenting 101 usually includes parents teaching little ones not to call other people names. If parents actively engage in name calling, calling a youngster stupid, the child will (very quickly) notice this double standard. This negative example can have a powerful impact on a child’s ability to communicate effectively with other people, warns Joan E. LeFabvre, family living agent with the University of Wisconsin, Extension. Extending this example, it’s not a stretch to conclude that name calling can have an effect on a child’s future relationships.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Tell a child he’s stupid enough times and eventually he'll start believing you, claims Benj Vardigan, with the Behavioral Institute. When a child makes mistakes or doesn’t understand a concept, his knee-jerk reaction may be to conclude that he’s stupid. Take that one step further and watch a child stop trying to understand or stop trying to learn a concept because he automatically assumes he can’t figure it out. This pattern of negative thinking and self-criticism can be a dangerous place for a youngster to be. Climbing out of the pit of negative self-image is not a task any youngster should have to tackle.


The next logical step from the negative self-image trap might be depression and sadness, as cited in the article "Child Abuse and Neglect" by Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, published on the HelpGuide website. A child who internalizes a verbal “stupid” message from a parent won't feel the physical sting of a slap on the cheek, but an emotional slap cuts just as deeply as a physical slap. The little one might withdraw, have nightmares, show sleep disturbances or lose a healthy appetite, and effects can be long lasting.

Delinquent Behavior

Calling a youngster belittling names could lead to the little one showing off a whopping attitude, states LeFabvre. You might see some delinquent or socially unacceptable behavior erupt out of your tot. Hitting, pushing, kicking or other forms of physical aggression are not out of the realm of possibility. In fact, the more often the verbal abuse occurs, the more likely parents will see aggressive behaviors bubbling over in a little one.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

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