What should I do when my child says mean things?
I'm using Love and Logic skills with my 12 year old with diabetes. She is so angry much of the time. How do I not visibly react to the hurtful things she says? ("I hate you-you are a bad mother.") I am able to say with a monotone, "I know" or "I love you too much to argue," but I find I still cry quietly. Should I be hiding this emotion? -T.D.
Dr. Cline’s Answer:
Ideally, children see parents as:
When a parent is "hurt," the parent is not “strong, powerful, or in control.” Simply put, when parents are "hurt" the adult hands a great deal of power over to the child. What’s worse is that most children feel guilty around a hurt but loving parent. Certainly this can cause children some anxiety, but even worse yet, most children need the parent to show some strength. They really want the parent to "do something!” (about their misbehavior). This, unfortunately, is not requested with words but with worsening and escalating misbehavior. Then a vicious cycle ensues. The child acts progressively worse and the parent becomes progressively more hurt.
Imagine how little respect our President might have if, upon hearing negative things from the opposing party, said, "When I hear those things it really hurts me." There is a big difference between “feeling hurt” and “taking good care of oneself.” Hurt folks are generally seen as impotent and one down in all situations. People who take good care of themselves engender respect. What a difference!
So, when our children say something negative, because we are strong and powerful, we do not need to get bent out of shape or hurt. Sometimes children say these things because they are going through a phase, they heard it work for other children at home or at school or they are simply having a meltdown. Whatever the reason, the beautiful thing is that we don't have to be around such a child. Small children can be removed; older children can remove themselves; and sometimes it is best for the parent to simply walk off.
For more information on this important subject, see Chapter 4 that deals in detail with avoiding control battles and power struggles.
Learning how to control our emotions and reactions when people say hurtful things to/ about us is one of life’s big personal growth opportunities for many of us. I am still a “work in process” on this one! For me, this comes from having had a hurtful, critical father. Recognizing this helps me to put things into perspective when my children or others say mean things to me. And, I try to remember that their mean words are not necessarily the truth but, more likely, a reflection of where they are emotionally at the moment. In other words, I try not to take it personally. It isn’t easy- the ones we love the most know right where to stick the daggers.
One Love and Logic response I use when my children say mean things is: “I’m sorry you feel that way sweetheart. And, I am happy to listen to what you have to say when you can talk nicely to me.” Then, I walk away. If a discussion is warranted, then I use the process we describe on pages 216-218 which gives a great example of a mother talking with her son about his angry feelings as he struggles to cope with his brother’s cancer.
This leads me to an important point which is that children with serious medical issues may be angry and/or depressed and act out on whomever happens to be safe and available which in this case is you. Listening to your daughter's underlying frustrations and fears is important. But taking good care of yourself is important, too. You can accomplish both things by saying, "Sweetheart, it sounds like you are frustrated about something and that's understandable given the challenges you face with your diabetes. I would love to listen to you when you can talk to me nicely."
Counseling is probably needed if your daughter is still perpetually angry after you have:
- Consistently responded to her anger with empathy and good boundaries.
- Discussed her hurtful behavior with her in the ways presented in our program.
On a final note- it is important for you to process the hurt you feel (as opposed to keeping it bottled up inside where it will eventually leak out). The key is to do so in healthy ways and not in your daughter’s presence. Writing, prayer/meditation, having a good cry in a bubble bath and talking with a girl friend over coffee are things that help me deal with hurt and grief.
Posted 3/13/07 See Disclaimer at the bottom of this page