The Language of Love

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

Recently, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber announced that she would introduce a bill to ban physical punishment of children under the age of four in California.  Ever since her announcement, there has been a statewide and even nationwide reaction, most of it by parents who are adamantly opposed to the idea that they would not be free to spank their children “when they need it”.  As Randy Thomasson, President of Campaign for Children and Families put it:  “Any elected official who supports a ban on spanking is attacking dads and moms and usurping their God-given responsibility to raise their own children.”

A great deal of research has been done over the last 35 years which shows the harmful and lasting effects of physical punishment not only on children, but on the parents who do it and on the relationship between them.  Further, the evidence that it doesn’t work is overwhelming. (See these books: Behind Closed Doors, Beating the Devil Out of Them, For Your Own Good).

What do children really learn from being physically punished?  They learn that those who love you also hit you–“my dad loves me, but he turns against me when he becomes angry with me.  At any time I displease him, ‘misbehave’ or do something ‘wrong’, he might hit me.”  Love and violence become linked.

There’s no question that physical punishment should be avoided.  Period.

Many parents know this and do not hit their children and never have.

But there is also emotional punishment.  Angry outbursts, sarcasm, the “silent treatment”, rejecting, name-calling, blaming, accusing, put-downs, discounting, judging, criticizing, ordering–all these cause emotional harm. (Note how many of these are among Dr. Gordon’s Twelve Roadblocks.)

This way of talking to children is commonplace.  In fact, it is so ingrained and feels so natural that most parents are probably not aware of how often they do it or just how hurtful and harmful it is. This kind of communication can be just as damaging, if not more so, than physical punishment.

It is the language of control and it communicates unacceptance of the child or other person. The effects of verbal violence can be serious and long-lasting.  It can make kids feel fearful, anxious, defensive, closed.  It contributes to low self-esteem, depression, troubled relationships and a lack of empathy for others.   It is the opposite of the language of love.

The Language of Love

When a parent is able to feel and communicate genuine acceptance of their child as he or she is, the effects can be profound.  Children learn to accept and like themselves, to develop a sense of self-worth, to learn to solve their own problems, to deal constructively with challenges, to become independent and self-directed, to actualize their potential.  Even more important, acceptance of a child–or of anyone as they are–is an act of love.  To feel accepted is to feel loved.

Words are powerful. What we say and how we say it really matters.  Our communication can either have a destructive effect or a healthy effect on our children and the other people in our lives.  And those effects can last a lifetime.