“Don’t call me pigpen!” David, age 8, to his parents

Many other children, unlike David, will suffer silently as the venom of verbal abuse penetrates their souls.

You know the old expression: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me! Whoever coined that never learned a thing about the human soul and especially the soul of a child. Many adults today harbor deep emotional scars that never healed because of a derogatory nickname that someone gave them when they were young. If that someone was a parent, it takes a miracle to heal the insulted child’s soul, who grows up with a negative self-image that’s worse than a physical handicap.

Do you remember the classic “Peanuts” series with Snoopy and Charley Brown? It was an international favorite. There was one character in the series named “Pigpen”. Charles M. Schulz, who created Peanuts, never gave him a real name. Ever Pigpen became one of the “Peanuts” regulars in 1954, he has never been known by any other name.

Think about this for a moment: Can you expect a child whom the entire world addresses as “Pigpen” to be neat and clean? Can you expect him to bathe or to pick up after himself? Can you expect his briefcase, his notebooks, or his desk to be orderly? Never in a million years!

Suppose we were to discover that this little boy’s mother and father coined the horrendous nickname of Pigpen. We’d be furious and indignant, wouldn’t we? We’d ask ourselves how can people be so cruel as to bury their child alive in a coffin of a negative self-image, driven into him from an early age, that he’s a filthy, messy, slob and a social misfit. What can possibly be expected of such a child?

“Broken bones heal faster than broken souls…”

Where do parents get the license to murder their kids with verbal abuse? Where do they get the right to call their children “lazy”, “stupid”, “fat”, or “coward”? Insulting a child is every bit as cruel as beating him with a stick or stone; in many respects, a child’s soul is far more fragile than a human bone. Broken bones heal faster than broken souls.

Sure, children need guidelines and borderlines but they certainly don’t need insult. A child must be reprimanded for a careless or inconsiderate act, but he or she must never be called by a bad name. The Talmud states that one who calls another person by an undesirable nickname has no place in the world to come. Parents do not have a mandate to trample their children.

Parents enter the High Holidays by making theatrical requests of forgiveness from their peers. Do they ever apologize to their children for the insult and undesirable nickname they gave him/her? Even if the child is accustomed to that nickname, is a severe transgression of Torah when the nickname is anything other than complimentary and loving. The Talmud (see tractate Bava Metzia 58b) which pulls no punches about the severity of insulting or causing anguish to another human being by using a derogatory nickname. Insulting one’s children is one of the most dangerous offenses of Torah. Unfortunately, many parents – even observant ones – are not aware of this law. But, like with a speeding ticket, ignorance of the law won’t get an offender off the hook, especially when victim is the tender soul of a child.

The Zohar describes the importance of a name, saying that the name that a child receives reflects his or her mission in life. In Jewish esoteric thought, one’s name is a description of his or her soul, that tiny part of G-dliness within him. That’s why we must be so careful in the names we pick for our children and to shy away from ever using a derogatory nickname.

Since a child can’t forgive someone until coming of age (13 for a boy and 12 for a girl), there is virtually no correction for calling a child by some insulting name or by anything else that causes anguish to the child. Until the child grows old enough to forgive, Hashem won’t forgive the parents for verbally abusing their children by calling them all types of insulting and painful nicknames.

The Almighty gives children to parents as a deposit for safe-keeping. He expects parents to do their utmost to help the exquisite little souls that are placed in their hands to develop into emotionally healthy and productive individuals. We certainly must be extra careful in properly caring for the King’s possessions; those exquisite little souls belong to Him and not to us.

I think it’s about time that we change Pigpen’s name to David, wash the chocolate or the mud off his face and hands, and then give him a shampoo, a good bath, and then dress him up in a white shirt and black pants. With love and encouragement, he’s bound to grow up to greatness. Meanwhile, let David be himself and give him the same love and respect that we want for ourselves. G-d bless for much joy from your children, and if you don’t yet have children, may you become a parent in the nearest future, amen!

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