Children can say some pretty hurtful things.
As my kids perused the LEGO aisle in Target one day, I spied on a mom and her little girl.
They were picking out a birthday present and the mom tried to convince her five-year-old daughter to choose a small LEGO friends set.
The daughter agreed, but then… went one step further: she asked for the same set for herself.
“No honey, we’re buying birthday gifts today.”
“BUT WHY??? THAT’S NOT FAIR”
Mom still tried to explain, “Sweetie, its not your birthday. We’re just getting something for your friend.”
“NO. I HATE YOU! YOU’RE THE WORST MOMMY! I DON’T WANT YOU AS MY MOMMY ANYMORE”
Whoa. That’s some pretty explosive guilt-inducing dynamite thrown by that Kindergartener.
I glanced at the mom who froze. Here she was, in public, with other parents watching and her child just said an extremely hurtful thing.
I watched as her face redden and her eyes start to water.
She grabbed her child’s hand and left the toy aisle.
You do everything for your kids and when they pull out the “I Hate YOU” bomb, your first response might be to cry. That’s OK.
We’re human and do not have to hide our emotions from our children.
You don’t have to fake a tough skin.
Nor do you have to pretend it didn’t bother you.
Ignoring hurtful words hurled to you by your child is not going to make the situation any better.
In short, to handle this, you don’t have to pretend to be a parent that you’re not.
These four simple steps will help you direct those emotions in a helpful way.
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#1 What are you feeling?
Before you jump in to solve this situation, how are you feeling? Mad? Sad? A fist of firey rage?
Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychologist and & Dr. Tina Bryson, psychotherapist, authors of The Whole Brain Child, says you have to “name it to tame it.”
This works with kids as well as adults.
Name your emotion and give it a label.
Are you angry? Hurt? Frustrated? Ready to pack a suitcase for your kid and tell her to find a different mommy?
Once you know your own feelings, you can move on to handling your child’s.
Why do this?
We want our response to be controlled and accomplish our long-term goals for raising our kid.
Yelling back, “Well, I hate you as well” doesn’t teach our child anything about managing emotions or treating people respectfully – even though that may be exactly what you want to say,
That’s why it’s important to name your emotion before you move on.
#2 Show your child how her words affected you
I always cringe at parenting advice that tells you to brush it off, your child doesn’t mean it, or parents need a thick skin.
That’s how we raise sociopaths.
Kids need to know exactly how their actions affect other human beings and they can’t learn this through the silent treatment or ignoring them for a while.
They need to be told by you directly and using as few words as possible.
In his book, Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp describes it as the fast food method. You can use this tactic on any child when explaining something regardless of age.
Kids tune out adults when we go into lectures.
Instead, think about when you’re ordering at McDonalds.
You don’t say, “Oh I want those crunchy, salty fries because they taste so good and I know how they aren’t healthy for me but I really want them anyway so can you please put them in my bag? Oh, but make sure no fries fall out because that wouldn’t be good”
No way…and yet this is what we do whenever we try to talk to kids about feelings.
Instead, at McDonalds you say, “Medium order of fries, please.”
When your child tells you, “I hate you,” kneel down, look them in the eyes and say:
“What you said really hurt my feelings. I feel very sad.”
Notice the wording, “What you said…” instead of “You”. We always want to criticize a child’s actions instead of the actual child.
They can apologize for what they did, but they can never apologize for being them.
You don’t have to say it calmly. In fact, I like to amp up my sadness a bit with kids under 4 because that’s how they understand emotions.
#3 Take a break from talking
When we’re upset, we often need time to sort through our emotions, feel our emotions and decide what we want to do next.
While you can’t leave your child in the middle of Target, you can tell her:
“I need to take a deep breath (take a breath) and think about this.”
Then, take her by the hand and lead her away. You don’t have to speak since just told her the exact reason for your silence.
You’re also modeling how she should deal with a situation when she’s upset.
You child may at this time apologize – which is all well and good, but in no way gets her off the hook.
If she apologizes, you can say, “Thank you, but I still need quiet time”
#4 What do you want to teach your child at this moment?
Once you’ve gained control of your own emotions, you can start thinking about what you want your child to learn from this.
Depending on your kid’s age, you have a lot of options on what to teach:
- Saying kind words
- Expressing anger in a calm way
- Not having LEGO Friends be a trigger to incite rage
It really depends on your child and what problems pop up with her again and again.
For example, with my son, I’m constantly working with him on methods to control his anger. Every time he explodes at his sister and hits her, we go back to the question, “What are other things you can do when you’re angry?”
“Go scream into a pillow.”
One conversation doesn’t cut it. Its something that we talk about over and over again.
But lately, I’ve seen results. After hearing my kids yell at each other downstairs, I then hear silence followed by my son’s muffled rage screaming.
He knows where to find a pillow
For the Target incident, the mom might have decided to teach her daughter an acceptable way to respond when she doesn’t get something she wants.
Should she say, “I hate you, mommy?” Nope,
But she can say, “I’m really mad because I want those LEGOs”. That’s perfectly acceptable. As parents, we can empathize with not getting something we want.
We can say, “I get it. It’s OK to be mad and upset. If you want the Legos, let’s figure out a way you can save your allowance for it”
We can teach our kids not to say hurtful things
By acknowledging our own feelings, communicating these feelings to our kids and then taking a break to plan what we want to teach in this situation, we can raise incredibly empathetic kids who gain more control of their emotions.
We yell less and they learn to communicate in acceptable ways.
And on tough days, it’s totally OK to relax with a glass of wine. Parenting is tough. I got you.