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Family Talk: Name-calling can have lasting effects

Name-calling is hurtful and just another form of bullying. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Name-calling is hurtful and just another form of bullying. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Sept. 17 was the birthday of an ancient King of France (or at least part of France) named Charles the Simple. You did celebrate his birthday, didn't you?! He ruled way back around 900 A.D. and he was the cousin of Charles the Fat, who also got to wear the crown for a while.

The most interesting thing about Charles the Simple is that his nickname "simplex" or “the simple” is misleading. The Latin word "Simplex" was given to him meaning straightforward as in “loyal” or “without guile.” But, even during that lifetime, people didn't understand the real meaning of his name (something good) and mistook it as describing him as “stupid.”

The reason I'm bringing up ancient French history? Contrary to the little “sticks and stones” ditty we learned as kids, names CAN hurt us. How would you like to be called “Jim the Fat,” or “Diane the Simple?”

Many of us likely had nicknames as kids, and they probably weren't complimentary. One of my nicknames growing up was “Priest the Beast,” and my schoolmates didn't mean it in a nice way.

Apparently, I'm not alone. Sherri Gordon at verywellfamily.com writes:

Name-calling happens a lot. In fact, 75 percent of elementary school students say they are called names on a regular basis at school. They also consistently hear students call others "retard" or "spaz" and nearly 50 percent say they hear things like "you're so gay" or "that's so gay." Meanwhile, it is just as bad at the middle school and high school level with nearly 65 percent of students indicating that name-calling is a serious issue at their school.

The point is this: The names we call people and the words we use to describe them are important. Calling children “stupid” has a longer negative effect than you might think. Consider this from the website “How to Adult”:

If parents actively engage in name calling, calling a youngster stupid, 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. It's not a stretch to conclude that name calling can have an effect on a child's future relationships. ... (A)s cited in the article "Child Abuse and Neglect" by Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., 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.

If you engage in negative name-calling with your children, just stop it. Today. If your child is experiencing name-calling at school, don't just dismiss it. Brainstorm ways to deal with it. Name-calling is just another form of bullying.

In celebration of the birthday of Charles the Simple, let's remember to monitor name-calling carefully. Maybe, if enough of us work on it, we can even turn it around and start calling people positive names like “Diane the Dynamo!” Who knows what kind of positive energy we could create?!

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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