"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

YOU’RE STUPID MOMMY! GO AWAY! YOU’RE YUCKY!

The subject of today’s blog is angry children saying and doing things that in turn anger their parents which in turn “makes” their parents say and do things that further anger or alienate their children in their well-intentioned effort to show them that they will not tolerate rude behavior. Not after all of the things I do for you!

In other words: Fun stuff!

So let’s get this party started.

The life of a child, just like the life of an adult, is full of disappointments, slights, frustrations, annoyances and the like. It doesn’t matter if we think what our children are upset about is something that warrants their anger because feelings have nothing to do with logic. What matters is that our children are indeed upset about something and they need help managing and expressing their feelings and dealing with the situation.

Why?

Because children aren’t born knowing how to deal with anger. And once they do start to learn, they need practice. In a safe environment.  And they need parents who model it beautifully day in and day out.

Which leads me to ask: How perfectly do you handle things when a car cuts you off? Or a friend doesn’t invite you to a party that everyone else is invited to? Or you lost a lot of money in the market? Or you didn’t get the job you want? Or your client is angry at you for making a mistake?  Or your husband isn’t helping? Or your wife doesn’t get it, still! Or a co-worker stole your idea? Or someone didn’t show up for work and you had to do everything for them?

Do you always set aside time with that person to tell them how you feel in a calm way? Do you always look to see your part in it?

Or …

Are you quick to blame? Do you yell at somone? Or get in a fight? Or pick a fight about something else? Or ignore the person you’re mad at? Or not return their emails? Or pout? Or withdraw? Or gossip about them? Have you ever said something like, “You’re an asshole?” or “He’s such an asshole.” or “She’s such a bitch.” Or “Fuck-off!” either under your breath or to someone’s face?

In other words, do you handle your anger, disappointment and hurt feelings in the exact way that you want your kids to?

If so, congratulations! This doesn’t mean your kids will follow suit right away, but it means they’ll have a hell of a lot better chance of being able to channel their upset because they have someone who shows them day in and day out how to handle tough situations.

If not, read on!

Unfortunately, adults getting mad at children because of the way they’ve expressed their anger is more of a distraction than anything. It takes the attention away from the reason their child is upset and focuses on how they are showing their upset. It convolutes the situation and often the original upset never gets the time of day. It just festers. Your child never gets heard or understood. They don’t get an empathetic ear, they get punished.  And they feel badly about themselves. They feel wrong. And rude. And bad. And angrier! Because usually the way parents deal with a child’s “inappropriate” way of showing their anger is not only distracting and not helpful, but it’s also wounding.

What kind of things am I talking about? Do any of these things kids do all the time sound familiar?

They spit. They may even spit at you!

They growl. They may even growl at you!

They call their friends stupid. Or they call you stupid.

They say that they don’t want to be friends with their best friend anymore.

They say they’re not going to invite their friend to their birthday.

They say “You’re yucky! Go away!”

They cover their ears and say, “I’m not listening to you.”

They may swipe at you.

They may hit.

They may fall to the floor and kick and scream.

What are the usual ways parents respond to these expressions of anger?

Some threaten their children, as in:

“If you continue with this behavior, you will not get _______” fill in the blank with a treat, or a bedtime story or tv time or the privilege of going to a party or the beach or wherever.

Some YELL:

“Stop that right now!”

Some ISOLATE, as in sending them to their room or giving them a time out where they are supposed to really think about what they’ve done wrong.

Some HIT their kids.

Some ABANDON as in, I’m not going to be around you when you behave like this.

And believe it or not, some still wash their kids mouths out with soap!

These are all TRAGIC responses to an angry child.

Why? Because they don’t illuminate, they don’t support, they don’t educate.

Not one of these responses will help a child learn a better way to express their feelings or even understand why they are so upset in the first place. It may (likely) scare them so much that they’ll no longer express their feelings to you, but it will not teach them how to manage and deal with uncomfortable, hard feelings. You may be able control their behavior by instilling fear but you cannot control their feelings. They will still flood your children’s brains and bodies. And those feelings will ultimately make their way out of their body somehow.

Thinking about this makes me wonder if kids who bully do so because threatening weaker kids, lets them do to others what has been done to them in some way.

The message that threatening, yelling, isolating, hitting and abandoning  gives is this: You are only loveable when you are behaving properly. If you can’t control yourself, I will treat you poorly, often equally as poorly as you are treating me or worse. You dare to spit at me? I’ll humiliate you in front of everyone in the parking lot and drag your rude ass to the car. Et cet era.

(Really, who is the bully now?)

Yes, you may be meting out your disapproval in kinder and gentler ways, perhaps you are only taking away a beloved toy, but you aren’t helping. And if you start with a toy with a four year old, you’ll have to continually escalate the punishment for it to have an impact.  (Picture your teenager grounded every weekend.) Also, you’re ONLY telling them what they are doing wrong but not how to do it right.

If your child is well-fed and not tired, there and then might be the best time to handle things (after they’ve calmed down enough to hear you):

“I’m hearing some rough language. Sara, you seem angry. And Wendy, did Sara hurt your feelings? Can you both please come on over and sit down. Let’s talk about this. I know you both have feelings about what has happened and I want to listen to both of you. Let’s first listen to Wendy. Then Sara, you’ll have a chance to talk. I want us all to hear each other.”

Of course different situations require different ways of handling it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts. But sometimes, it’s best not to say anything at all….right away that is:

Last night, about fifteen minutes after her usual bedtime, after a long weekend my daughter called me stupid. She told me to go away. She covered her ears. She said I was stupid again.  Then she said I was yucky. Then she came over to me, got my hand and walked me into a different room. Boy did she want space.

Why?

Because I was super calmly trying to discuss how angry she was at her brother Hudson who didn’t want to let her borrow his new book for special reading time alone with her father. Hudson either wanted the book back or wanted to be able to read it with them. Perhaps the book was his bargaining tool for getting in on some special time with Dad and Sister.

She didn’t care what he wanted. She was furious at him for interrupting her special time with her father. And she was furious at me for trying to talk to her about it.

I didn’t take it personally!

I know I’m not yucky. Or stupid. And I know my child loves me and doesn’t really mean that. What she likely meant was something like:

I’m upset. Let me be upset. Don’t try to fix the situation. I’m not ready to “talk” about it yet. I don’t want you! I want some space. And then I want Dad!  To myself.

I mean, many a parent, might think, “No child of mine is going to talk to me like that. I don’t care how late it is. First and foremost that is not a way to talk to a parent! EVER!!!”

And relax, I’m not going to let my child walk all over me!

Believe me, she knows I don’t like her to call me or anyone else, “stupid”. That’s why she was saying it. She was angry. And she needed me to know how angry she really was.

She was happy, warm and comfortable reading a book with her Daddy when her little brother had swung open her door and demanded his book back. Her bubble of peace and comfort had been abruptly punctured. It sucked!

So what happened?

My husband John continued to lie in her bed. Hudson climbed in next to him.  Hudson didn’t say anything. John didn’t say anything and I stopped saying anything.  She kept crying. We all heard her. She was upset. After a couple of beats, Hudson pointed to a picture and asked John a question about it.

This piqued Jules interest.

“What’s he pointing at?” Jules asked as if she hadn’t just been totally hysterical moments before.

“Well it looks like…” John answered. Jules then climbed in bed on the other side of John and he proceeded to read the book to both of them. They both cuddled up to their Dad and listened intently.

John didn’t use the opportunity to say, “I don’t like it when…”

It was late. She’d exploded. No one gave into her demands. She got to say them. No one took it personally. We’d revisit it. Later. When the issue wasn’t so hot and it wasn’t so late. They all finished the book together and John and Hudson left and went into Hudson’s room.

And then I asked, “Do you want to go to the bathroom before bedtime?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?…I’m going to go right now.”

“Yes.”

“When was the last time you went?”

“At the party.”

“Well that was at least two hours ago. Maybe just try?”

“You’re stupid mommy. Well not stupid but you’re yucky.” she said. This was her attempt at an apology for calling me stupid before. She knew it wasn’t right and she was sorry she’d done it.

From the toilet I calmly said, “Jules, I know that I’m not yucky. And I know that I’m not stupid. The reason you say those things to me is because you’re five and you don’t yet know how to express yourself when you’re angry and that’s what Dad and I are here to help you with.”

“I’m angry!” she then yelled from her bed.

“Are you angry because I recommended you try to go the bathroom more than once and you felt like I didn’t trust that you know your own body?”

“Yes!”

“I’m sorry Jules. I know that you know your body and can take care of it.”

“If I have to go, I will.”

“Great, thank you for reminding me. Let’s read one more story.”

We read one more story. She wanted me to lay with her for a little extra. I did. And she went to sleep.

Are you at all convinced? Have I given you pause?

P.S. Tomorrow night’s Echo Parenting class (see this post and this one) is about setting limits. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll report back!

UPDATE:

My sister, Suzanne, read this post and asked me to pass on some information about young kids and using the toilet. Suzanne is writing a book with a pediatric urologist at Wake Forest University called IT’S NO ACCIDENT: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Constipation, Wetting, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems. Here is what she wrote me:
In your post, you wrote that you apologized to Jules for recommending more than once that she use the bathroom. You had asked her, “Do you want to go to the bathroom before bedtime?” and when she said, “No,” you followed up with, “Are you sure?” and “Maybe just try?” When Jules became angry, you said, ”I’m sorry, Jules. I know that you know your body and can take care of it.”

I appreciate the instinct to let a 5-year-old take charge of her body and not to pressure her to use the toilet. But the reality is, 5-year-olds don’t know their bodies and need their parents to make sure they use the toilet before bed, first thing in the morning and approximately every two hours during the day. It’s a matter of health. Just as you wouldn’t say to preschooler or kindergartener, “Are you sure you don’t want to brush your teeth” or “You can decide whether you need to wear sunscreen,” it’s important not to leave toileting decisions up to young kids.

What’s the big deal? That’s what IT’S NO ACCIDENT is all about, but in short: Virtually all toilet-trained kids hold pee or poop or both — kids will deny it, but it is a fact. And this behavior — mostly undetected by parents and unmentioned by pediatricians — can be extremely damaging to young children’s bladders. Holding is the cause of millions of cases of accidents, bedwetting, urinary tract infections, urinary frequency and other toileting problems each year. When a kid consistently delays peeing, her bladder wall becomes thicker and more muscular, which decreases her bladder capacity and causes the bladder to contract more forcefully (that’s what’s happening when your child makes a mad dash to the bathroom). Over time, the child’s bladder can go haywire. Holding poop, which more than one-third of kids do to a severe extent, contributes to accidents, bedwetting and UTIs even more than holding pee. Basically, when poop gets backed up, it presses against the child’s bladder, messing with the nerves that feed the bladder.

It’s not normal (or healthy) for toilet-trained kids to have accidents. It’s not “kids being kids.” It’s a sign of a holding problem. In 90 percent of cases, the cause of accidents is holding poop, pee or both, yet few parents realize this, and they continue to let their kids decide when to go to the bathroom.
I realize this is totally off the point of Jen’s post, but I had to weigh in! It’s critical for parents to keep track of when their children last went to the bathroom and to instruct them to do it. So rather than ask “Do you want to go?” “Are you sure?” try, “It’s time to go to the bathroom!” If your child resists, use whatever approach you use when it’s time for her to brush her teeth or wear sunscreen. The healthiest thing for a child’s bladder growth is to have her pee BEFORE she feels the urge.

 


 

34 Responses to “YOU’RE STUPID MOMMY! GO AWAY! YOU’RE YUCKY!”

  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you Jennifer for that article. I get a lot of flak for ‘letting’ my 16 month old dd ‘have her own way’, so it’s nice to have you Elain it in print what I’m doing.

    I often see myself as a 4 or 6 year old, proud to have the responsibility to meet all her needs. It takes the hurry to do more important adult activities out of the equation. Our culture would do well to understand that children are the best carers for babies/toddlers outside the breastfeeding relationship. This occurs under the right guidance and example of older children to watch and follow. Yes, that is no typo, I did mention being a 4 year old, having that responsibility.

    Most of the non Western world have babies ‘toilet trained’ well before they can even crawl. Megan, you mentioned that babies don’t have the full amount of myelin covering the lower nerves until a certain age. That may be the case, but it doesn’t effect their awareness of needing to go and their ability to hold on, albeit for a small amount of time. From birth, babies are acutely aware of their elimination needs and give off squirmy cues or grunting noises until they feel the care giver has responded and given them an appropriate place to eliminate. They don’t want to ‘dirty the nest’, so to speak. Carrying babies allows for quicker response and a sixth sense to this fussing. Accidents happen and are learnt from immediately. Mums, or the carrier, blame themselves for not being on the ball.

    Western culture in many ways has a strong adult focused busyness that numbs the awareness of these subtle nuances that have existed for millennia, well before the 1961 T. Berry Brazelton propaganda of disposable nappies, the psychology of pressure, force and fear been associated with any type of training before the age of 3 years old.

    Not trusting a five year old to know their body, whether they need to pee before bedtime or not, is very Western. If you are putting the child in their own room how will you know of the squirmy movements of a sleeping child with a full bladder, giving ample warning that a late night, middle of the night or early morning trip to the toilet is needed? Instead, we go into lengthy discussions with toddler or child, to ‘encourage’ them to go wee, for Mummy, or the cookie monster, or god forbid a gold star, rather than giving them assistance at the time when THEY need the assistance, to follow their own feelings when it is time to wee.

    Jennifer, I would be hoping your sister Suzanne could spend time, effort and money concentrating on revisiting ancient practises associated with being in tune with baby from newborn days rather than patching up problems that are so culturally generated. That being said, her work is still very important, for catching the horse after it’s bolted, so to speak.

    • Jennifer says:

      Sandra!

      Please forgive me for taking so long to post this and reply. I’m not sure what happened but it somehow fell off my radar.

      Yes, parents really are unware, or as you say numbed” to the nuances of our children’s subtle forms of communication.

      observe. observe. observe. and you’ll get to know your children intimately.

      thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

      jennifer

  2. jessica says:

    Thank you I really enjoyed reading this,my son gets extremely frustrated with the little things that wont work for him. and moanning, any advice please?
    jess

    • Jennifer says:

      empathize! nothing wrong with getting frustrated.

      “honey, you’re frustrated….that didn’t work out for you. you seem upset about it….”

      then let him feel his feelings and he can know he has a mom who cares and understands. which is what we’re all looking for!

      thanks for reading and writing in.

  3. ALiena says:

    Two questions:
    1. What do you do when your child (nearly 3) stops wanting to use the potty and kicks and screams when you try to put him on it even though it is clear he NEEDS to go?

    2.How do you deal with a child (age 5) whose anger escalates when he does not get what he wants despite repeated attempts at trying to help him express his anger in a way that doesn’t hurt others and trying to help him in other non-punitive ways?

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks for writing in.

      1) I don’t believe in forcing a child to do anything. Particularly when it comes to their bodily functions. That is something serious to mess with. If he goes in his pants, simply change them and say kindly “Let me help you get some fresh clothes.” If he is uncomfortable enough, he’ll go. Going to the bathroom and eating are two things they should really be able to control because it is their bodies. And by the way, while this may not be relevant to you, I’ve read that the average age of potty training is four. And I believe it. My three and half year old boy shows almost no interest in the toilet. When he’s ready, he’ll go.

      2) What do you think causes his anger to escalate? When he’s angry, do you validate his anger? Do you empathize with how hard it is to feel that way? Do you think he may sense some frustration on your part? Try to observe as much as possible. And do you know what he is angry about?

      More info I think would be helpful. I’m happy to look at the situation more closely if you want.

      I appreciate you writing in!

      Best,
      Jennifer

      • Sarah says:

        I think when we are holding safety limits (like going to the potty when they really don’t want to), it’s so important that we lead with empathy. “I realize that you really don’t want to stop what you’re doing. I imagine you’re really frustrated and wish you could keep playing. It’s really important that you go. This will keep your body healthy. Sometimes you are so busy playing that you don’t even notice when your body is sending you signals.” I even talk about the need to play overriding and blocking out the need to go to the bathroom.

        I used to play a little game with my son about listening to the signals his body was sending. How it starts with a little nudge “ahem, excuse me, I think it’s time to go”, then escalates to a “HEY ZACH! YOU REALLY NEED TO GO NOW!!”.

        I love the idea of helping them to listen to their bodies. Ask them whether their body is nudging or screaming at them to go. When I saw him doing the little wriggle dance,I’d pretend to be his body, saying “ahem, I think it’s time to go”!
        Hope that helps. Thanks for the post Jennifer!

      • ECers and cloth diaperers will tell you that 4 is only the average age of toilet training because most people use disposables that wick away moisture and make it comfortable for the child to sit in his/her own excretions. Cloth diapered or EC babies learn much faster (on average), and actually children have some control over their sphincters as soon as they start walking. The myelin sheath that allows them to control their legs has, at that point, passed their genitals, allowing them to take control of the muscles in that area.
        The “sensitive period” for toilet learning is 12-18 months – meaning that they learn most naturally and have the most interest during that age range. If you wait until the child is older it may be more difficult. The trick is consistency and the calm, respectful attitude you’ve described above. It is culturally normal to excrete into the toilet, and it is something children learn to do just as they learn how to eat with silverware. Children love learning new ways to use their bodies (jumping, climbing, pouring, using a spoon, etc), and toileting is no exception! Often the reason it doesn’t go well is a combination of not enough practice opportunities and the child picking up on adult concerns about having to clean up a mess.

        • Iska says:

          I agree with Megan. I did EC with both of my children. My ds was in day care for quite a few months, so he was slower at being dry at 24 months than dd at 18 months. I didn’t force them, I listened and watched. I learned what their body’s needed. After they were dry, I found that sometimes they would resist going when I suggested it. So I told them that although they thought right now that they didn’t have to go, their bladder may have different ideas and would they please try and we could see what happens. That was usually acceptable.

          When dd is totally upset she can wind herself up and it will take hours to calm down. I have recently learned that if I ask for a hug, she snaps out of it and we can talk and resolve the issue.

  4. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for this post Jennifer, I really needed to read this today. Had a tough week of not knowing how to handle all the “naughty Mummy” and “stupid Daddy” and the scratching when upset. Thank you so much. I’ll work harder tomorrow at showing my daughter how to deal with upsets better :)

    • Jennifer says:

      hi sara,

      so happy you came across my post .

      i know in the heat of the moment it can be so hard to remember that she’s saying “hurtful” things or scratching because she’s in some real emotional pain and is not getting some basic human need met…and it’s our jobs as parents to help them identify the need. is she hungry? tired? not feeling heard? not feeling understood? not feeling felt? we can make sure they feel felt and understood without “giving in”. when a child does hurtful things it is because they are in pain. so best to empathize. hard to do when we feel triggered. so first empathize and then help them find a better way of sharing their feelings but they need that help many many many hundreds of times sometimes before it becomes “natural.”

      thank you so much for sharing the struggle we can all relate to!

      i think my next post will directly relate to this as well. all about SPITTING!!

      tune in.

      jennifer

  5. This post, and your sister’s follow up, are perfect. Simply perfect. Thank you.

  6. Holly says:

    I think this is good advice, and a good (great?) way to handle an upset child. I think the problem is that the parents are also dealing with A LOT. Maybe a perfect parent can handle things like this every time, but most parents can’t. However, I think it’s good you put it out there so we can keep this in mind next time we want to yell “NO!” or anything else at our children. I think many parents get home at the end of the day at their breaking point. Most don’t ever get a break, time to themselves, etc. Then their child freaks out on them for something completely inane, and the parent really just needs a break. If putting their child in a time-out so they can get 60 seconds of peace to collect themselves, I don’t think that is such a bad thing, and it will probably be just as condusive to raising a happy child.

    Again, I think you’ve offered some great advice here. I just think that parents would love to respond this way every time if they themselves weren’t at their breaking point. Ultimately, I think many parents in our society are lacking support, which usually leads to these types of reactions (yelling, time-outs, and especially abuse).

  7. Christa says:

    Well, in an ideal world, I’d parent just as Jennifer recommends. But, the reality is that I work, I take care of the house and have two children with completely different personalities. By the end of the day, I’m tired! And, being tired means that I’m not always at my best. So, I like Jennifer’s ideas and feel that they have a place but I’m sort of with Ellie, too. Sometimes, kids need to know that there are consequences to their behavior and that their words can be hurtful to others. They need to be taught empathy, compassion, and kindness not just by seeing it modeled but having it explained and then when they try it out, realizing that they have choices in their behavior too.

  8. Mary Willis says:

    Also, I think it’s okay to say: “I am walking away while you are so upset. I don’t like being called names” I’ll be making bread in the kitchen. We can talk later.” Yes, don’t take it personally, but also don’t have it fly or work. I, personally, do not like being called names, and I would not hang around anyone who did it, so I think this is also modeling staying calm plus not having it be a part of my life.

    Equally, if someone is calling them names, I want them to feel able to calmly walk away, then give that person another chance, if it is reasonable.

    This happened the other day at school, when one child was threatening the other to get a hole punch (yes): “If you don’t give me that right now, you will never be my friend, or come to my house, or come to my birthday” (yes, this is a quote.) The other child said? “Can you be patient?” :) The first child: “No” :) So the other child handed her the hole punch and walked away. Awesome.

  9. Mary Willis says:

    Response to toilet training expert lady. This may be scientifically true, but, after being a Montessori preschool teacher for 20 years (about 400 toilet trainers, plus my own 2), I have seen that anything that involves a parent trying to take over toilet training or evacuating will backfire, and the child will a) join in merrily with a power struggle or b) feel disabled and give up on a whole lot, much more than toileting. I even know of a five year old who pooped in his pants for the first 3 months of Kindergarten because he was convinced he couldn’t wipe his bottom (adequately for his mother)…

    So, I am guessing when they are older (maybe five) you can begin to add this additional learning of your bladder issues, as a piece of information, like adding flossing to brushing.

  10. crystal says:

    i’m so glad i’m not the only one experiencing this. emotions run high with my daughter too – and it seems less i freak out when she does it, the quicker it gets resolved… this is tough – and she’s my only one, so i don’t get “another shot” ya know? lol Blessings to all the mommies.

  11. Ellie Kunath says:

    Am I the only one that thinks this article is insane? I am not an over-bearing parent by any means, but I refuse to accept such talk from my children. I’m all for raising kids that can express themselves and their emotions; but it always has to come from a place of respect. I think this type of parenting style is creating spoiled, entitled children who will enter the ‘real world’ and wonder why everyone doesn’t cater to and coddle them like their parents did…

    • Jennifer says:

      HI Ellie,

      Yes, I am sure there are millions of people out there that would agree with you. Conditional parenting (you act a certain way or their are consequences!) is THE dominant paradigm in our culture and likely virtually impossible to shake. Most parents who are open to this way and want to try to get to the root of the problem instead of just having their child behave properly virtually can’t do it. It is really hard. Hard for me. Hard for everyone who tries. And it is much quicker and seemingly more effective to just tell them how you won’t let them act and then make the consequences severe enough that they’ll comply. This is called behaviorism and is very effective. I can do it as well as anyone. BUT when a child screams, or cries or is rude they are trying to communicate in their own clumsy way. I want to know why they are acting that way. Were their feelings hurt? Embarrased by how they handled something? Do they feel left out? Feelings aren’t bad and can’t be controlled. I can try to get at what they are feeling and then help them find more effective, respectful ways of sharing those feelings. Make any sense at all?

      • Ellie Kunath says:

        Makes sense! More power to you. If you can pull it off and raise respectful, decent adults, that’s great. There are so many different parenting styles out there, and we all just have to do what feels right for us and our kids. How boring would it be if we all raised kids the same way? The only thing I can’t stand is the amount of rude, disrespectful children out there. It just seems to me like kids are getting nastier… my kids are 7 and 10 and I’ve seen and heard it all! I just want them to realize the words that come out of their mouth mean something to the person listening. Even if you’re angry or pissy, you shouldn’t disrespect the other person, and especially not adults. Some things should just be a ‘no-no’ and there’s no need or reason for discussion. I’m not going to rationalize with my child to not run out into a busy street… I’m going to yell ‘stop’ and I expect them to stop. Even if they’re hungry or tired or grumpy.

    • Caren says:

      If you make *hearing* your kids the priority, and respond to them from a place of understanding and empathy, they won’t grow up disrespecting people. Kids who are disrespectful have been disrespected; they’ve had their needs put second to their parents’ agenda – of behavior, or proper response, etc.

      If you can take a deep breath, or ten, and REALLY hear what your child is saying, without needing to control their reaction, just that connection will shift your whole relationship. If you can really hear what they’re saying, and *take what they’re saying seriously*, that can move mountains. If you absolutely have to, you’ll have time later, in a calmer moment, to talk about how screaming can make people not hear what one is saying. But I’ve found I’ve never had to “correct” how my sons expressed themselves. They grew into being better able to speak calmly – because they knew I would listen to them. They knew I would find the ‘yes’ in what they were asking for, or would STOP doing what it was that was driving them to yell.

      Put your kids’ needs (and wants – yes, I said wants) first, and your need for “correct” behavior third or one hundredth or neverth, and the kids will grow into kind, compassionate people. You get back what you give them, honestly. I’ve seen it happen in many, many families, that shift from arguing and yelling to happy, peaceful connection. It takes putting the connection at the top of the priority list.

      Will everyone treat them this way? No. But if they know they have their parents’ unconditional support, they won’t need to go elsewhere to get that. Do you not understand that your relationship with your parents is going to be different than the relationships you have with other people? Wouldn’t you like that relationship to be *better* than the relationship you have with other people? You can create that for your kids!

      If kids are ‘angry or pissy’ as you put it, which do you think will shift that – insistence in the moment on ‘proper’ ways of speaking? Or lovingly hearing what they’re saying?

  12. Leslie says:

    Love this! Great post!!!

  13. mimi says:

    opps I punched in the wrong email the first time, motherof6greatkids@yahoo.com

  14. mimi says:

    They cover their ears and say, “I’m not listening to you.” I get this all the time from my 14 year old, I’m at my wits end. She is the baby of 6 children and my last one to leave the nest, no other child has been so difficult in all of their teenage years, Help !

    • Jennifer says:

      Have you tried something like.

      “I see you want some space and don’t want to talk right now.” And then giving her some space.

      Then at another time, casually bringing up the topic or making a time to talk about it….

      It’s hard to know as I don’t have much info, but when they are covering their ears, it’s pretty clear she’s in no condition to hear what you have to say. That should be respected.

  15. Stefanie says:

    Oh, this is wonderful and much needed. I think a lot of it is a) about remembering what this parental reaction feels like to a child, and b) watching your own reaction as parent and distinguishing between actual current feelings and feelings that aren’t happening right now, but the memory of feelings you felt as a child.

    I’m convinced that whenever I lash out back at an angry child (the way that my mother did, and the way that hurts me, the former angry child, to this day), it is because their anger rips open an old wound. And this is the opportunity to look at the wound, take feelings to where they belong and heal a little bit. I’m not done with it yet, but on my way… It’s the time to see not only what lies behind my child’s anger and understand it, but also at my inner child. I’m grateful that my kids give me so many opportunities to work on that.

    At least I always knew that their verbal or physical aggression was never really about me, but about the situation, which means I’m one step further in healing than my own parents were back then. My kids are welcome to let all kinds of frustration and anger and sadness out, which we weren’t.

    • Jennifer says:

      Our kids are such a gift to us to know exactly what to be self-reflective about…IF….we’re willing to do it. You really explained that beautifully here Stefanie. Thank you!

      jennifer

  16. amy says:

    good article! yeah, I think that a lot of people don’t as you wrote think that “The life of a child, just like the life of an adult, is full of disappointments, slights, frustrations, annoyances and the like.” I think a lot of people think kid’s lives are so easy and carefree, so they don’t deserve to get mad about things… But it makes life so much easier when we try to see their side of things, and the validity of their emotions (and our role in them)…and not expect them to be perfect and polite all the time…especially when they are tired!

    • Jennifer says:

      It’s really kind of crazy that people think the life of a child is all fun. They’re just learning how to function in the world and land mines are everywhere: they want a toy their friends wants, someone splashes them in the pool, they’re playing and their mom wants them to get in the car and go to the market, things that seem so small to us are so big to them…how much empathy and respect we give them makes all the difference.

      by minimizing their experience, we do such harm.

      thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  17. I wish every parent I know would read this post. So helpful. Thanks you!!!!

  18. Briana Weber says:

    What a great reminder, especially for my household which now has a 3 year old and a new born. I’ve also had so many conversations with the parents I work with, and have found that this is something everyone deals with, and its hard to be apart from yourself. I think through my job of caring for children in a daycare setting, I’ve learned to step outside of myself and see the child differently, but that has taken 10 years to perfect, and I’m still quite far from perfect!

  19. I love this. I’m adding your blog to my blogroll. :)

    I see so many parents take it personally when their kids lash out. It’s sad because it only escalates the situation. I find the situations we face like this diffuse relatively quickly because I don’t add fuel to the fire. I hope lots and lots of people read this post.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you Vickie! I really appreciate the support and you spreading the word. I agree with you, I hope a lot of people read this because this kind of gets to the crux of a major problem in parent/child relations. This dynamic/scenario makes it impossible for a child to feel loved unconditionally and parents don’t realize it. They know they love their kids unconditionally but their actions don’t show it because they’re so busy being offended.

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