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Your Words Matter

By Kayce Dallas, MSSW Intern, Kentucky Youth Advocates

You may recognize the common saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As a child, this was drilled into me by teachers and some trusted adults. As I got older, I found that words often hurt and have a lasting impact on your life. I can still recall a time in 1st grade when a student’s words cut me to the core. I wore my favorite shirt to school because it was my birthday. We were lining up for lunch and a kid poked my stomach and said “are you pregnant?” When I replied “no”, the kid responded with, “then why are you so fat?” I firmly believe that encounter 18 years ago is what started my extremely low self-esteem and my constant fixation on my weight.

Even when comments to kids are made in jest rather than meant to be hurtful, it’s important to remember that your words matter! The nuances between teasing and bullying can be hard for kids to pick up on and can be even more hurtful when those words come from the adult in their lives. Imagine a child who is belittled everyday by his father or a teenager who experiences tremendous pressure by her grandmother. These are examples of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is often a misunderstood form of trauma that can cause damage to a child’s developing brain leading to lasting impacts such as learning difficulties, problematic behaviors, and increased incidences of physical and mental health issues. “Emotional child abuse is the cornerstone of all the abuses because it is always present during physical and sexual abuse, as well as child neglect and it is the only type of maltreatment that can stand on its own.”

A first step in preventing emotional abuse is to support parents and caregivers in understanding how to strengthen their connections with their children and express love for them. We can also recognize the signs of parental behaviors, such as ignoring, over-pressuring, rejecting, or isolating the child.

It is important to note the signs of emotional abuse among children, which can be different based upon gender. Below are some examples:

Emotional abuse signs for boys:

– Aggression – Bullying tactics – Disobedience – Lying and cheating – Impulsive behaviors

Emotional abuse signs for girls:

– Withdrawn – Approval seeking – Compliant – Overly dependent – Worry excessively

Find more prevention steps listed in this resource from Prevent Child Abuse America.

Remember that your words matter. Let’s take conscious actions to stop using the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Words are hurtful and can cause lasting effects.

I leave you with this poem…

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me. Sticks and stones break only skin while words are ghosts that haunt me. Pain from words has left its scar on mind and heart that’s tender. Cuts and bruises now have healed, it’s words that I remember.


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