Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why does my child say hurtful things to me?

If your children can talk there is a chance they have said something to you that has hurt your feelings.  It could be as simple and innocent as a toddler telling you they think you have a “big tummy” or as intentional and mean spirited as your 14 year old telling you she wishes she belonged to a different family. 
 
There are a lot of reasons our children say these things.  Often time’s children don’t understand social cues and politeness, as in the case with the toddler telling you your “tummy” is big.  He honestly did not know adults don’t like to be told they are big.  Adults are always telling children they are “so big” so it seems like a compliment to him.  In this case a non-judging explanation of why mommies don’t like to be called “big” should do the trick.  At least until the next social cue gets messed up. 

But what about the 2 – 6 year old that tell you they don’t love you anymore.  What is going on with him?  I always like to start with us – the parents.  Examine your own speech around your child.  Maybe you talk to a spouse a lot like your child is talking to you.  Maybe you talk to other people or even to your child in that way.  You cannot expect your child to use nice words when he hears the mean words from the people closest to him. 

Beyond the words we use, there are two possible reasons for a child’s use of hurtful phrases.  One reason could be that there is “hurt” in him that needs to come out. The second could be that there is a need; physical or emotional that is not being met. 

First let’s talk about the “hurt” that could be inside your child.  Children (and adults) have a certain capacity to deal with painful events.  A child's capacity is much smaller.  So when a child feels emotionally or physically hurt it has to go somewhere.  A great outlet for this pain to go is to the people he loves the most – lucky parents.  In order to help your child with this you need to know that he needs help letting out the pain.  Talk with him in a loving way; don’t disrupt the frustration he feels.  Allow him to cry about things that upset him and validate his feelings.  Don’t repay his anger for your anger but use your words to show him how he should talk.   

Next is the physical or emotional need that is not being met. Now I don’t want parents to think I am suggesting you are willingly withholding something your child needs.  When it comes to the emotional needs of both toddlers and teenagers it can be like putting a 1000 piece puzzle together when you are missing half the pieces. 

Look to see if there are physical issues at hand.  Is the child over-tired, over-stimulated, over-scheduled, hungry or thirsty?  Next you look to the emotional needs.  Have there been any changes recently in your child’s life; new school, caregiver, mom or dad away more or even a big change coming up?  Have you been able to spend less one on one time with your child lately?  Has there been inconsistency?  These could point to an emotional need that is not being filled.  Work to fill that need and you just might hear fewer mean words directed toward you. 

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you will never understand the feelings of your 3 year old, and I can guarantee you will never fully understand what is going on the head of your 14 year old.  But as their parents, it is our responsibility to try.  Sometimes that is all that they really need; someone trying to listen and understand what their needs are. 

7 comments:

lisawoody said...

I think too much focus is placed on "why" the child is acting in a hurtful way. The child is hardly ever blamed for his or her behavior anymore. It's as if the need is to blame for misbehavior, or the person(s) who didn't meet the need. Saying, "I hate you!" should not be tolerated, regardless of why she's saying it. It's disrespectful and supremely selfish. A child who says that may have needs, but should be expected to have enough self-control and respect for others (especially a parent) to refrain from hurting others just because he's hurt. There are more constructive ways of dealing with hurt.

Marcia Hall said...

While I agree that children should be taught that words matter and the words you use need to be said with respect, I still believe that the responsibility for teaching children those rules rests squarely with the adults the child is most around. The first step to teaching is always modeling. If you want your child to show respect, you need to show your child respect. Part of respect is considering the other persons feelings.

riak83 said...

My daughter is constantly battling with me if she perceives that she is getting anything someone else isnt. So she was punished for screaming at me and saying "I can't find my IPOD cord but you dont see me yelling about it?!" when I had yelled for her because she takes my phone charger. The yelling shouldn't have happened, the context of the conversation wasnt what I was upset about but her response and her attitude is. She looks at me like she would set my soul on fire if she had the power. Then she says that she is treated unfairly. I bend over backward trying to make her happy and still last night she says to me that I never spend time with her to get to know her. Which isn't true from my perspective or my husbands. How is this behavior stopped? And When its happening, how do you respond in the moment without giving in to her newfound tantrum and without feeling like she stabbed me in the heart?

Marcia Hall said...

riak83, I am sorry you are struggling with your daughter, who I am assuming is in her teen or pre-teen years. During these years children are struggling to figure out how to gain their independence. This often comes means that they push boundaries with parents and say things that are hurtful. They do this both because they know it pushes our buttons and because they truly are just trying to figure out how to be an adult. The best advice I can give without more information is to stay as calm as you can. When you yell, it will send the message that it is ok for adults to yell, which will mean that because she is trying to be an "adult" she can yell too. Love her and let her know you are doing the best you can. But also let her know that though you want her to have more independence, you won't let her do things that hurt you or others. But most of all, try hard to not take the comments personally. That is so much harder to do than to say, but so important. Remind yourself that she is still growing and trying to figure out who she is.

Christina Roldan said...

My 4 year old tells me repeatedly she doesn't love me or that I don't love her and it is so painful to hear that everything I've been through with her father. We are no longer together and every weekend she sees him and comes back to me different with a I don't wanna be with mommy attitude. She will than be disrespectful and refuse to listen for the night and sometimes next day. I try and give her as much attention as possible by watching her favorite movies with her taking her to the pool, playing in the park, painting any activity I can while still caring for my 5 month old. I don't know how to respond when she says these mean things or when she tells me she wants to go daddys house and not mommy's or when she says daddy loves her and I don't. While still teaching her the ways of the world and being strict when she doesn't listen or talks back. How do I show her I love her if telling her every night and hugging and kissing doesn't seem to be doing it?

Marcia Hall said...

Christina
I feel your pain. My 5 year old girl routinely says similar things to me when I am strict with the boundaries I have set. Clearly your daughter is confused about the situation with her dad and has found saying those things to be a defense mechanism. As hard as it is (and trust me I know it is hard) you need to try to not take those words personally. Remember that they are coming from a hurt and confused heart. When my daughter tells me that she does not love me or accuses me of not loving her I try to stay calm and say "I am sad you feel that I don't love you, however enforcing this rule to keep you safe and healthy is the most loving thing I can do. I hope that some day you see that. Until they, you can be made at me. I will still love you no matter what."
I hope that things get better for you!

Sian said...

Hi Christina, thank you for writing a blog on your situation, I have a very similar problem with my 4yr old son. Often when I have gone out of my way to go the extra mile as a parent and show hima good time I get "I can do without you mummy I didn't need to see you again all I need is my daddy I want to live with him now". This comes out of the blue and not in a moment of anger. Frustratingly his father seems to be happy to do his own thing has him for two nights a week where he fills him up n sweets, McDonald's and gives him new toys. Then my son comes home to me and its like the devil has possessed him. He won't listen tears around the house is as naughty as he can be and has often had a great time with his father who has done a half day fun daddy routine leaving me to be the disciplinarian.mit really pisses me off. Ive got to the stage where I'm so resentful to have given up my career to look after this ungratfeul chld I wan to bail out of parenthood altogether and let the pair of them get on with it! We hear about men doing it all the time but if a women leaves a child she's a terrible human being. I love my son to bits just wish he felt the same. Then I feel ridiculous for letting a 4yr old exert such power over me, because surely he's not mature enough to fully nderstand how hurtful he is? I had no idea what challenges would be in store for me as a parent!!