Most of us can finish the childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, I suspect that few of us know that words can literally hurt children physically. Years of research have validated that hurtful words spoken to a child in his formative years damage his spirit. More recently, scientific research has confirmed that verbal abuse can actually trigger abnormal changes in a child’s brain.
Unlike most animals, the human brain begins to develop at birth, not in the womb. The environment, relationships, and experiences in a child’s life play a key role in how his brain develops.
There is a great blog regarding this: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-brain/201010/sticks-and-stones-hurtful-words-damage-the-brain. A quote from this site really sums up the incredible responsibility that we have as parents, educators, and advocates for children:
When that environment is hostile or socially unhealthy, development of the brain is affected,
and often it is impaired. Early childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or even witnessing domestic violence, have been shown to cause abnormal physical changes in the brain of children, with lasting effects that predisposes the child to developing psychological disorders.
The environment that children are raised in molds not only their minds, but also their brains. Many have long suspected this, but now we have scientific instruments that show us how traumatic childhood experiences alter the physical structure of the brain and how sensitive we are as children to these environmental effects.
Early childhood experience can either nourish or stifle brain development,
and the consequences are physical, personal, and societal.
Brain damage in childhood forever impacts who that child becomes. Every stressful moment that our baby hears us argue, every time we lose our patience and scream at our children, every time we allow our children to berate each other with cruel words and excuse it as normal sibling rivalry, and every time we keep silent when someone abuses our child emotionally or verbally … each and every one of these moments impacts our child’s future.
The first five years of a child’s life matter. Did you know that even infants who are subjected to stressful environments exhibit abnormal levels of serotonin and adrenaline in their systems? These elevated levels cause the brain to “rewire” itself. This rewiring prepares the body to survive, but it also fosters the development of antisocial behaviors.
Words hurt. Kindness heals. Think before you speak. Be a hero. Life will eventually present our children with plenty of stress. They deserve a childhood that allows them to develop and learn without the handicap of having to deal with adult dysfunction while they are trying to “grow a brain.” It’s our job to protect their hearts, ears, and brains.
Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.