Importance of verbal environment
A recent study in Maternal and Child Health Journal shows how important the verbal environment children are raised in can be. A group was studying variations in developmental progress among children of different ethnicity, when they stumbled upon an unanticipated correlation.
While searching for the cause of lagging development in minority children, it was discovered that in language with their kids, Mexican-American families tended to utilize "reasoning" in their conversational exchanges a mere 8% of the time; whereas "direct verbal commands" was the largest category, accounting for 42% of parenting efforts. Meanwhile, white parents tended to use reasoning techniques more than a third of the time, "inviting more complex thought and language development," says Bruce Fuller, co-author of the study. This subtle difference in how parents talked to their children accounted for a 6 month gain (or deficiency among the minority group) in basic language and thinking skills by the time they were 2 or 3-years-old. (Dokoupil, 2009)
Emotionally abusive environments produce similar effects, only to an even larger degree. The language interaction that the child is exposed to, even when not overtly abusive, tends to shut down communication. What child dares to ask a question when they expect to be put down through an answer? What child can engage in open conversation when they are so often attacked through language? How can you express emotions when adults use such feelings to belittle you? How can you express feelings if others pretend they don't exist? How willing will you be to attempt meaningful or spontaneous communication when your past experiences tell you that such exchanges can be dangerous and are full of personal attacks? Verbally and emotionally abusive environments reduce interaction to commands, meaningless exchanges, or hurtful remarks. Productive, meaningful conversation is all but eliminated, and this impairs the social, emotional, and even cognitive development of the child.
Women who are verbally abused describe being constantly on guard or that "I was only relaxed when he was out of the house." (Evans, 1993, p. 116) The same is true for children. A child in an emotionally abusive environment must be constantly on guard and on heightened alert, Children may come to automatically shutter at the sound of their abusers voice. They feel rejected and debilitated. They are often left confused, unsure, hurt, stunned, and shocked. When the environment is emotionally threatening, children do not have the ability to be themselves or grow and develop as children need to. Their life is lived from a protective shell that restricts development. Furthermore, it's a chronic stress environment that can bathe a child's brain in cortisol, inducing all the brain damage and/or physical toll that might be brought on by other types of abuse.