DEAR ABBY: I am deeply concerned about my 9-year-old son's self-esteem. My wife is constantly yelling and calling him names over trivial things. She is a perfectionist, so anything not perfect is cause for a verbal assault.
A recent example is a misplaced 39-cent notepad. My son was called an idiot, stupid and an ass in her tirade. I feel this cannot be good for his emotional well-being, but I am unable to stop her. She becomes irate when I even suggest that she is less than a good mother. She does not do this in public, but I still think it is hurtful to my son's self-esteem. She does the same sort of thing with me, but I've had counseling to deal with it. What can I do for my son? -- CONCERNED DAD IN BATAVIA, ILL.
DEAR CONCERNED: Your concern is valid. Your wife's inability to control her temper can have lasting effects on your son's self-esteem. Children form their sense of worth from messages (verbal and nonverbal) their parents give them. When a parent tells a child he's an idiot, stupid or an ass, that is how he will perceive himself. On some level he will blame himself for the abuse. Unless something is done now to break this cycle, as your son grows up he may be unable to shrug off the guilt and sense of inadequacy his mother is placing on his shoulders.
The label for what your wife is doing is "verbal abuse." It may take psychological counseling for her to learn to cope with her temper in a more appropriate manner. I urge her to seek it.
You didn't say how long the verbal battery has been going on, but if the pattern is well-established, counseling is also in order for your son. Our society has come a long way in recognizing the need to protect children from sexual and physical abuse. It's unfortunate that so little can be done for the child who is verbally abused, because as it stands -- unless a concerned adult steps in to defend him -- he is all alone.