By Melissa Martin
There is a powerful word—a toxic word that wounds the heart of a young person when spoken by a parent, a teacher, a coach, a youth leader. The emotional injury from this word doesn’t heal. And shame seeps from this lesion. Oh, it may scab over, but a scar remains.
The result is feeling unworthy of love. The result is feeling undeserving of second chances. The result is feeling not good enough. Do you want your child to become a pushover or unhealthy people-pleaser with peers? Do you want your child to depend on the approval of others for validation? Do you want your kid to rebel with resentment?
Or perfectionism, self-judgment, and low self-confidence may settle into the brain. Do you want your kid to base her/his worth and value as a human being on straight A’s; sports stardom; and other achievements? Do you want your child to feel like a failure? Do you want your child to develop a fear of letting you down?
Children want to please their parents. Kids want to please teachers and coaches. Young people want to please adults.
The word is “disappointed.” Stated in a shame-blame voice tone by an adult to a young person. “I am so disappointed in you.” Stated with penetrating eyes—with a lack of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Kids hear, “You are a disappointment to me.”
“You have really disappointed us.” Most parents are not aware of the emotional hurt caused by using this phrase with the noxious word. Children will hang up their own picture on the invisible Wall of Shame. “I feel like a disappointment to my parents. I can’t do anything right. I just want my parents to be proud of me. I am disappointed in myself.”
What is the definition of disappointed?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the meaning is “defeated in expectation or hope.”
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines disappointed as “unhappy because someone or something was not as good as you hoped or expected, or because something did not happen.”
How would you feel if your spouse, partner, or boss stated, “I am so disappointed in you.” And gave you the look of shame—disgust, disgrace, dishonor. How would you feel if your pastor said it? How would you feel if God said it?
Hold on. I am all for discipline and consequences; guidelines and structure; respect and obedience. Positive parenting teaches children to be responsible and accountable.
Nonetheless, kids will make poor choices and mistakes. It’s how they learn to make better decisions and solve problems. Kids will experience emotional outbursts. It’s how they learn emotional regulation.
Parents, please stop using that word. Try communicating—not yelling and blaming. Focus on the negative behavior instead and the what/why/how/when/where. Help your kid identify her/his feelings. What purpose did the behavior serve? Teach kids to problem-solve. Set reasonable consequences. Follow through and be consistent. Demonstrate grace and forgiveness to your kids—along with logical expectations.
Parents need to examine and adjust expectations that are too high for their kids. Expecting a 4-year-old to sit absolutely quiet in a 60-minute religious service is unrealistic. Kids go through ages, stages, and phrases of childhood development. Expecting your kids to never squabble with siblings and friends is an impracticable expectation. Expecting a teen to never lie is improbable.
Yes, adults need to set expectations for children—but balanced expectations. Too low and kids become bored. Too high and kids become apathetic.
And kids need to know they are valued, wanted, and loved—even when being disciplined. So take the word “disappointed” out of your vocabulary.
(Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in US)