Part 1 of 2 ~ What To Do When Your Child Shouts “I hate you!”
A Client Writes* . . .
Can I get some advice? Just recently Alice (age 7) has been shouting “I hate you!” She says this right after I have to tell her to do one thing, or stop another. I’ve been saying “I love you!” back. But yesterday I lost my cool and yelled “It’s so easy for you to hate! You can’t mean it – you’re just mad that I’m telling you what to do!”
Later she told me I hated her – where did that come from? Am I just giving her negative attention? Should I just say nothing next time? Help!”
Dear Alice’s Mum,
When we take what an emotional child says at face-value, as an accurate self-assessment, it’s very tempting to respond with ~
- “Alice! I never want to hear you say that to me or anyone ever again!” (which puts your embarrassment and hurt ahead of helping Alice through her emotional confusion)
- “Well, I love you.” (hoping to role model, or shame her into, what she should say)
- “No you don’t, you love me!” (which denies her inner turmoil)
- “No need to get all upset over this!” (which belittles her feelings).
However, when we take what an emotional child says as an inaccurate “first draft” (because learning how to recognize and name emotions is tough, like learning maths only harder) we can stop taking what they say at face value and recognize a learning opportunity.
Let’s imagine a child blurting out an inaccurate response in maths class.
Maybe Suzy shouts out “six times eight is eighty-four!”
An unhelpful, “face-value” teacher might say:
- “Suzy, how can you possibly get this wrong! What will your parents think?” (takes a child’s mistake as a personal attack on her competence)
- “Well, Jimmy, can you help Suzy? (hoping for reassurance as a teacher, but this comes at the cost of shaming Suzy)
- “No, wrong. Look it up!” (Which doesn’t help Suzy figure out where she went wrong in this problem)
- “Now Suzy, maybe this is too hard for you. Why don’t you go back and review the four times tables? You got those right I think?” (Which belittles Suzy’s very real ability to master her eight times tables).
Similar ideas, right?
Tomorrow I’ll share how to use these opportunities as golden moments for understanding our child’s attempts more fully (both in maths and emotions). I’ll show how to help this elementary-school-aged child learn how to recognize, name and use her emotions to not only get her needs met more effectively, but also (added win-win) to connect her with her mum, instead of pushing her away.
* My clients get much more than the typical “50 minute hour.” I’m on their team 24/7. I often write between sessions, and encourage regular texts and emails. In these intermittent “A Client Writes” postings, I share some tools and tips I’ve been asked about (after removing any identifying details of course). If you want some of this – let’s chat!
Gemma, I love your wise example. It’s so easy to take things our children say personally. I love the idea of a first draft! it must appeal to the writer/editor in me.
Thanks Lisa! Yes, it is so freeing to let go of seeing things as “all about me.” Particularly our children’s early efforts at communicating. I so appreciate your on-going support.