When your child says “I HATE you!”…?

Posted by Samantha on August 23, 2011 in Boundaries, Connection, Empathy, Feelings, Parenting Dilemmas, Punishment |

Nia, not hating me

Yesterday, after I picked my daughter up from camp, I spent the next few hours fielding a variety of childish behaviour that ranged from a mildly off-putting bossy tone of voice, through an assortment of teenage-style eye-rolling, right up to the entirely unhelpful “I hate you”.  For those who need a reminder, she’s five.

A few hours (and a bit of family football) later, she went to bed happy, willingly and on time with many professions of love for me and her father.  This morning we were awakened with many (MANY) kisses by our still very happy and well rested Sunshine Girl.  It began to dawn on me that I must have handled things well yesterday.

So when your child is pulling out all the stops behaviour-wise, just HOW DO you send the message that their behaviour is unacceptable but that they are not?

I thought I’d share with you some of what I did yesterday.

First I did some detective work: did she have a row with anyone at camp?  Did anything else happen that she wanted to tell me about?  Apparently not.

I know she’s hungry and tired after camp so I reminded myself of that.  But I didn’t mention either hunger or tiredness because I’ve finally learned that she HATES it when I tell her she’s cranky because she’s tired or hungry.

I can remember directing her attention to the (new-ish) anger rules pinned on the sitting room wall and suggesting that she could let me know she’s upset or angry in some other way.

I reminded her that if she was feeling angry she could certainly tell me but that when she says “I hate you” it makes it pretty hard for me to listen to her.

At one point (sitting at the dinner table with Daddy now present and the recipient of her latest “I HATE you”) I said something like “I know other people say it but in our family we don’t say “I hate you” because that can really hurt people’s feelings and there are other things we can do when we’re feeling cross….”.

In other words, I stated my boundaries clearly and consistently.  And respectfully and lovingly.  Over and over again.

I didn’t get mad at her (I must have had a good night’s sleep!).  But it was tough.  And I remember feeling upset and a little worried at times as I watched her behave this way.

There were moments when I wondered if she should experience some sort of negative consequence for her behaviour, like losing a privilege of some sort.

I had to check in again (and again!) with what I know about punishment.  Sure, I might have felt like a more effective parent in the short term if I’d “done something” like say no TV/bath/story later and then followed that through.  But in the long term it would only damage our relationship and make her more angry and resentful.

It was a tough afternoon but I stuck with what I know and went for connection in the face of conflict.

I also told myself some helpful stuff that helped me stay calm and detached from her anger.  Like:

  1. She’s probably heard and seen a bit of this type of behaviour at camp today and she’s trying it on for size.  She’s checking to see how this behaviour goes down in our family.  That’s ok.  In fact, it’s to be expected given her age and her personality.
  2. I’m not actually responsible for controlling the words that come out of her mouth or the way she behaves.  She’s responsible for her own behaviour.
  3. This is good, you’re showing her more responsible and respectful ways to express yourself when you’re cross and don’t like someone’s behaviour.  In time, she’ll be able to do this too.  Keep it up.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t ok with her behaviour.  Not at all.  I wanted it to stop but I kept my cool.  I was at times cross and upset about how she was behaving.  And I told her so.  When her Dad got home I let him know – quietly – that she was in a challenging mood.  And that I was dealing with it but was tired from the exertion of it, as well as a bit irritated and upset.  I could see he was grateful I wasn’t ranting!

So is it taboo to mention that your OWN kids sometimes behave badly when you’re supposedly an expert in child behaviour?  Maybe it is.  But the truth is that sometimes my children behave in ways that I’d rather no-one saw but me.

So I’m working on telling myself that IT’S NORMAL for ALL children to behave like this at times.  And that it’s really hard to know, except with hindsight, as either a parent or a parenting expert that you’ve done the “right” thing.

Sometimes, like me yesterday, the best anyone can do is whatever comes to mind at the time.  And only afterwards can you tell whether or not you got it right for you and your kids.

Today, I’m glad to say, all this practice I’m putting in seems to be leading to some kind of progress!

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