Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
Everyone would agree that loving our children is one of the most important things a parent can do.
But sometimes expressing that love isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sarafina wrote about a breakthrough she had in learning to connect with an extremely angry child:
“I hate you!” There are certainly plenty of parents who have heard those disrespectful words.
Some parents are deeply hurt (“I can’t believe you would say that, after all I do…”) while others get intensely angry (“It’s not okay to talk to me like that!”). Parents often feel attacked and unsure about how to respond.
A popular parenting approach suggests when a child says “I hate you” or a similar comment, that parents respond with “Aren’t you glad I don’t believe that?” At first glance this may seem like a clever, calm way to respond, but it also is pretty condescending, communicating a message that, “When you’re upset, you are a liar” or “Your thoughts and feelings are unimportant, even invalid to me.”
So how can we really get to the root of the issue when our kids yell that they hate us?
One of the biggest deterrents to effective discipline is that parents get upset. They then use their big upset emotions to push outcomes.
The younger kids are, the more this works to manage behavior. But over time, as kids tire of this pushing, they either start pushing back, or they tire of trying and learn to comply to get on with life – not because they value right behavior, but because they don’t want to get in trouble.
When we talk about the difficulty of connection with our children, one of the factors that can contribute is a sense of disappointment or resentment.
Some parents experience deep disappointment with their child — that he or she is not the excellent student, athlete, or social butterfly for whom they had hoped.
Other parents simply dream of having a reasonably compliant child instead of the challenging behavior they often deal with. While parents of children with obvious handicaps usually receive sympathy and support, an intense or behaviorally challenging child is likely to elicit criticism from others, which adds to more guilt and stress for the parent. Parents may deeply resent their challenging child because of the public embarrassment he or she brings.
Disappointment with, or resentment toward, a particularly challenging child may cause parents to not even want to be around the child, let alone to express unconditional love and affection. When this happens, parents are continually frustrated that children won’t change in response to their diligent parenting efforts. Why are they like this? Why won’t they change?
In our kitchen, there is a huge dent in the floor. I see it every day. It is a reminder to me of the day in which I learned something important about myself when it comes to discipline. It was a day when I saw myself in my son’s eyes and saw what I was communicating to him in a very tense moment. When I look at that big gouge, I can feel my emotions rising, and I feel… love? Yes, love. Here’s the story.
For years I have struggled with the mess that our lively, spontaneous, creative, frequently disorganized children made at high speed. I used to call it “Trash and Dash.”
Since their father has somewhat more “relaxed” standards of housekeeping than I do, household messes were a constant battle in which I felt hurt, alone, and resentful.
There are many ways in which parents intentionally or unintentionally model positive character qualities: self-control, caring, diligence, faithfulness, etc.
But we can also model negative character qualities, especially when we’re not thoughtful!
When our eldest son Daniel and I got into power struggles, I was keenly aware of how disrespectful he was! But I was usually oblivious to my own angry, shaming words and tone.
With a scowl, pointed finger, and strong tone I would grandly announce,
“It is NOT OK to talk like that!”
My condescending proclamations were an attempt to feel in charge, but did nothing to calm the conflict.
In my role as a parenting speaker I do a lot of role plays with people in the audience. Though I had seen a lot of yelling, whining, and laughter from these role plays, I had never seen tears — but recently that changed.
During the very difficult years of early parenting, I would go through long times of despair, as well as periods of dislike for one or more of my children.
I felt horribly guilty as well as angry with my family and myself. I was frustrated because I couldn’t find methods and answers to fix my extremely lively, strong-willed, struggling kids.
I remember one of those dreadful nights: Jim was working. The youngest child was sick, and the other two were overwhelmed with homework. As they continued to ask for me all at the same time, I grew more and more frustrated, resentful, and harsh. Kids fought, whined, criticized dinner, and frequently disobeyed me. I felt like I was ready to pull my hair out — but I was too frazzled to figure out what was really happening.