Ask the Experts: Name-Calling

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on Nov 15, 2017 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: My husband and our son do not get along very well. My husband has recently been saying some damaging things to my son such as calling him a loser and an idiot. I know my husband is frustrated with our son but I can see the name-calling is hurting their relationship. When I speak up to my husband he says I’m choosing sides and letting our son get away with bad behavior. I feel stuck in the middle. What do I do?

Answer: It is hard to be in the middle in this kind of situation. Thank you for asking this question because many parents identify with this sort of problem. Your husband’s behavior may be based on a true desire to help your son become a healthy, functioning adult. Or, he may have been treated the same way as a child and he is replicating the behavior with his child. Either way it is not helping, it is hurting your son. Unrealistic expectations on the part of parents can also create the misbehavior or underachievement in the child. It is the “which came first question.” There are many ways to help children and teens get their behavior under control without insults. Insults, like calling a child “loser” or “idiot” actually are a form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse refers to any act by an adult which results in injury to a child’s health and wellbeing. 

Here is a list of kinds of emotional abuse:

  • Yelling or swearing 
  • Name calling or insults; mocking
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Ignoring or excluding
  • Isolating
  • Humiliating
  • Denial of the abuse and blaming of the victim

These are the effects of this sort of emotional abuse: lowered self-esteem (hinders success in life); increases rebellion in the child or teen; teaches the child to become aggressive toward others; increases depression (fosters feelings of worthlessness) and, causes the child to lose respect for the parent.

It is important that you help your husband to understand the damage that he is doing. If you are unable to do this, consider that you may also feel intimidated by him. If you feel you need help figuring out how to help your husband and your son, please talk to a counselor. Change can happen. Counselors can help the whole family. Your husband may just need to learn about another way to relate to his son. Children need parents to set realistic expectations, to respect them, to be consistent, and to model appropriate behavior and coping. This is the tough, but important part of parenting.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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