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The Long-Term Effects of Name-Calling on a Child

It doesn’t take a child psychiatrist to know that calling children negative names can be cruel and hurtful. But according to new research, the names children are called can do long-term damage, even going so far as to influence the adults they become.

Being Called Fat Influences Girls’ Appearance in Young Adulthood

The new study, from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), involved 1,166 white girls and 1,213 African-American girls living in Cincinnati, Northern California and Washington D.C. Fifty-eight percent of these girls had been labeled “too fat” by parents, teachers, classmates or other relatives by the time they reached age 10.

The researchers measured the girls’ height and weight at the beginning of the study period and again at the end of the study period, nine years later. They found that those girls who had been labeled “too fat” by peers, teachers or relatives at the beginning of the study period were 1.66 times more likely than those who had not been called “too fat” to be obese at the age of 19. Furthermore, the researchers found that the chances of a girl being considered obese at age 19 increased along with the number of people who told her she was overweight.

UCLA psychologists were surprised at the finding. “Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said the senior author of the study, A. Janet Tomiyama PhD.

Our child psychiatrist points out that the results remained true even after the researchers adjusted for other factors that could have influenced the children’s weight, like income, race and age of puberty. “It’s not just that heavier girls are being called fat and are still heavy years later; being labeled as too fat is creating an additional likelihood of being obese,” Tomiyama said.

Name-Calling Changes Children’s Behavior

Study co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes that calling children negative names changes their behavior, making them more likely to live up to the expectation that the name implies. “Being labeled as too fat may lead people to worry about personally experiencing the stigma and discrimination faced by overweight individuals, and recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating,” he said.

Our child psychiatrist would like to emphasize that these behavior changes are unconscious on the child’s part. Teased and belittled children do not choose to behave in ways that align with the negative names they are called. Nevertheless, calling children negative names – even when you have good intentions – can have long-term physical and psychological consequences. If you think your child has suffered name-calling, he or she needs the help of a child psychiatrist right away to nip in the bud any unconscious behaviors that could make those negative names manifest in the child’s personality as he or she grows older.

Psychological Effects of Childhood Name-Calling from a Child Psychiatrist

While researchers in this study looked at the long-term consequences of criticizing a child’s weight, calling children any negative names at all can have devastating effects in the long term, according to our child psychiatrist. Here are some common criticisms children face that can alter their behavior for the worse:

  • You never pay attention.
  • You can’t do anything right.
  • You’re a loser.
  • Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?
  • Why do you always have to be so disobedient?
  • You don’t know the first thing about that, you’re going to screw it up.
  • Why can’t you just get along with people?

Children don’t have the wherewithal to ignore these negative messages from parents, peers, teachers and relatives. When children hear negative messages about themselves, they assume those messages are true. Without appropriate intervention by a child psychiatrist, children will internalize these messages and begin to embody them in their behaviors and personality. Many such children lack the inner resources to break out of the trap of negative self-belief as adults. Even when they do, it can take years of hard work and extensive psychotherapy, essentially robbing children of their right to fulfilling adult lives.

If your child is enduring negative name-calling, he or she could benefit greatly from the help of a child psychiatrist.

Call Proliance Center @ 561-338-7725 today to learn more about high quality mental health treatment.

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