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Critical words can scar children for life

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Dear Abby: Because many people from all walks of life read your column, it's the best way to make parents aware of something they may unintentionally be doing to their children. Let me explain:

Recently I was standing in a store when I saw a young boy, who appeared to be about 10 years old, with his mother and a young girl. The mother said something to the boy, and he failed to respond correctly. Then she yelled at him, "Are you stupid or dumb or both?" It was evident that the child was embarrassed.Abby, I know exactly how he felt. When I was young, my mother never missed a chance to tell me how dumb, stupid or unattractive I was. Although she told me often how much she loved me, she undermined my self-esteem with her cruel remarks. I know she doesn't recall making such remarks, but here I am 50 years old and those words are still ringing in my ears. To this day, I am reluctant to attempt anything new or different for fear I will look stupid.

I have been to a fine counselor who has helped me deal with this, and I have a wonderful family of my own now who encourage me and assure me I can succeed at anything I want.

I do not wish ill upon my mother, but I feel very little for her and have no desire to share my life with her.

My point is: Parents should stop and think before saying things to their children that can traumatize them for life. The words may not cause physical harm, but they hurt nevertheless. -- Still Hurting in Richmond, Va.

Dear Still Hurting: You said a mouthful. I recall a little verse from childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Nothing could be further from the truth. Thank you for your sound advice to parents.

Dear Readers: I'm a longtime fan of Forbes. In the November issue, the magazine features a collection of "Golden Oldies" listing a number of people who had become successful in the autumn of their lives:

"Ray Kroc started the franchising of McDonald's restaurants when he was 52.

"Col. Harlan Sanders started his franchising business, Kentucky Fried Chicken, at 62.

"Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater (the Edgar Kaufmann house in Bear Run, Pa.) at 69, and the Guggenheim Museum at 76.

"Coco Chanel designed her famous woman's suit after coming back from retirement at age 71.

"Grandma Moses begain painting at 78.

"Emily Post's 'Etiquette' was published when she was 50.

"John Huston directed James Joyce's 'The Dead' at 80.

"Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin started producing his lighter-than-air crafts at 62.

"And last but not least, let us not forget John Glenn -- officer, astronaut, senator -- who literally went out of this world into space at age 77."

&copy 1998 Universal Press Syndicate