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Remember that old rhyme we were taught as kids?

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones,

But names can never hurt me.’

Look, I am sure the person who came up with it originally thought they were doing the best thing for their child – teaching them resilience and that the words of others about you don’t matter, that they can’t hurt you unless you let them… but the truth is, no matter how many times you tell yourself that, they still do.

Name-calling shouldn’t be minimised or dismissed, because every time someone is called a name – it has a very real impact on a person’s sense of self. Who they are, how they feel about themselves, including their self-worth is questioned, even altered, by being defined by these harmful terms. Because of this, name-calling is one of the most painful and damaging forms of bullying.

Research from the University of California has shown ‘that a weak message repeated twice, becomes more valid than a strong message heard only once. Even one repetition has the power to change our minds’ – Dr Habib Sadeghi . This is called the Illusion of Truth Effect, meaning, the more times you are told something about yourself, no matter how untrue it is, the more you believe it.

Hearing those negative things about yourself externally can lead to negative internal dialogue – where you repeat these untrue messages to yourself. We all know how hard it is to switch off that ‘internal dialogue’ and let’s be honest – it’s already way too hard on us, it doesn’t need any help. Which is why this form of bullying is so hurtful, because it can turn us against ourselves. We should be our greatest cheerleader, not enemy. 

I remember watching a Dr Phil episode, where he explained how internal dialogue works and how powerful it is.  We can speak at a rate of 125 – 150 words per minute (wpm) but our thoughts can operate at 1250 – 1500 wpm. Which means, ‘you can be told something one time, but in your head, you’ve got the ability to tell yourself the same thing up to 1500 times in a minute!’

Often a bully’s objective when saying these words is not just to affect how a person sees themselves, but how others do too.  For example, if a bully calls someone ‘stupid’ in front of a crowd, the bully hopes the group hears it and will believe it too. The more that message is reinforced, the more others will associate that name i.e. ‘stupid’ with that person too. Which is why, even as a bystander to this form of bullying, standing up and rejecting the bully’s message is so important. It tells the person being bullied, that what’s being said isn’t true – helping to stop that ‘Illusion of Truth Effect’ – before it begins.

Other negative consequences of name-calling include:

Kids compromising their values and beliefs. To avoid being attacked, children may bend to peer pressure and go against who they are and what they stand for.

Damage to a person’s wellbeing and mental health– you know how you’ve felt when you’ve been called a name, this causes a noticeable change in a person’s behaviour and personality. Children can become withdrawn and struggle with feelings of loneliness and despair, anxiety and depression. In some cases, some contemplate suicide. If you see changes in your child’s mood, sleeping habits and behaviour, try discussing it with them and take them to see a doctor. You can also call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Name calling can lead to compromised physical health. Trouble eating, sleeping, upset stomachs, headaches, ulcers are all very real conditions associated with stress, name-calling and bullying.

Name-calling can lead to physical violence by the perpetrator too. So, please ensure, if your child is being called names at school you bring it to the attention of their teacher or principal.

I hope we’ll all be a little more careful with the words we use and use them to uplift, not to destroy, others. Reject self-criticism – giving yourself the same kindness and empathy, you would others. Defend and be there for your inner-self as you would any friend. Surround yourself with people who celebrate you and reinforce all the positive things about who you are. Remember to be your own cheerleader – YOU ARE AMAZING, and don’t forget to tell yourself that.