Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: Would you call your kid an idiot?

Is it ok to call your kids bad names?
Photo / Thinkstock
Is it ok to call your kids bad names? Photo / Thinkstock

One thing that is great about being a parent of young children in New Zealand is that we are generally very well served by the specialist media. The major parenting magazines and a host of websites and other publications are excellent sources of information in general, even if they do have a habit of constantly recycling the standard parenting debates: breast or bottle? Daycare or stay-at-home? Nature or nurture?

But occasionally, at least in my reading of them, they get it wrong. Such as when, recently, one of the magazines had its psychologist answer a question from a woman in a blended-family scenario. The woman had a young son and was in a new relationship with a man who was generally loving to her son.

Occasionally, though, he would get very angry and do things like call the son an "idiot" when the boy did something wrong (and wrong sounded very much like child-like rather than actually mischievous).

Now, this might not sound like much I suppose, but it certainly set my alarm bells ringing. And I am not the kind of parent who doesn't believe in discipline. I don't ever physically punish my children but I sure-do lose my temper from time to time; I try hard not to shout but I can be overly "harsh" according to my husband, who tends to be the "good cop" in our parenting relationship.

However, and despite barking at my kids frequently, I would never EVER call them - or any other children - "idiots". To me it is the same no-no as saying a child is "dumb" or a "loser" - the kind of language that should have, in my opinion, no place in parenting (or marriage really, if you want to maintain civility).

Without replicating the letter, the gist of it was the man got overly mad at the child from time to time and lashed out. What should the letter writer do? The psychologist, to my astonishment, suggested there was much to commend about the relationship and that the trio should work on it.

She suggested the behaviour was almost normal as step-parents bed themselves into a new family. But I wondered if that was actually true. Most step-parents I know go out of their way to mediate their feelings of frustration towards their new charges, even when they are being provoked (and they often are). No doubt there are rocky times as boundary lines are drawn between the step-parent and the step-child but an openly displayed temper with poor self-censoring would be, I would think, a red flag for future behaviour. If he's doing this in the courting phase, how will he be acting when he is really comfortable?

My advice to that letter writer would have been the following: it is up to you to discipline your son and that should be done with regard to the feelings of your new partner. But there is no excuse for continually blowing a fuse at a young boy who is probably going through a fair bit of torment of his own over the new circumstances he finds himself in. Oh, and I would say this to the new man. Call my son an idiot one more time and I will kick you to the curb!

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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