We thought we’d do an occasional blog called ‘What to do when:…’. Any of you who has worked with us, or done one of our group programmes, will know that the best thing to do always depends on the specific circumstances, and those are never, ever the same twice.
What is actually needed, in any circumstance, is for you to be feeling calm enough to run your mind through all the events, thoughts and feelings that might be affecting your child’s behaviour right now, and all the events, thoughts and feelings that are affecting you. Then you can make a judgement call on how to respond to your child.
Circle of Security calls this being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind – all in the same moment. Our new programme for primary school aged children, Lighthouse Parenting, calls it taking a ‘mentalizing’ stance. Our children benefit enormously from our wish to understand them, and to help them though difficult moments. So here is an opportunity to think about….
‘I HATE YOU MUMMY’
Children are like sponges – they soak up everything that is happening around them and somehow manage to work out the best way to test out these new discoveries.
When they first hear the word ‘hate’ , it is probably said about something benign eg ‘Gee I hate it when people park in the prams only parking and they don’t have kids!’ or ‘Don’t you just hate it when the old lady in the supermarket asks you how breastfeeding is going?’. It might be accompanied by a roll of the eyes, an exasperated gesture, and maybe even a slight smile.
Or they might hear it said with a bit more vehemence, in the context of talking directly to someone – ‘I really hate it when you leave the toilet seat up all the time’. Your voice might be slightly raised, or clipped, and there may also be the accompanying death stare and your hands on your hips.
After that they might hear it at the playground, or daycare, when another child marches up and says ‘ I hate you and I don’t want to be your friend anymore!’, turning their back and walking away, excluding your child from playing with them for the rest of the day.
So gradually, over time, our children begin to develop an understanding of what the word ‘hate’ may mean. It is a strong way of saying ‘I don’t like something’. It is a way of saying ‘I am really cross with you’ – and a way of punishing someone and making them feel rejected.
And then the next obvious step is to try it out. Why not, you never know if you don’t give it a crack.
So, the TV gets turned off just before the end of a really good episode of Horrible Histories or Peppa Pig, her head turns, her eyes are wide, tears are brimming, hands are on her hips, and it comes out…..right there…..right then.
“Mummy, I hate you!”
Followed by stomping off into her room.
So in three little words – a message has been sent. ‘I don’t like that the TV went off, I’m really cross with you and now I’m going to shut off from you”.
But what really is happening is a wave of distressed feelings, confusion about how to manage the way she feels and a counterintuitive isolating move. Which ultimately has the meaning of…
“Mummy, I am feeling upset and am not able to manage it in a useful way right now….”
What happens next depends on which message we have heard. The first results in feelings of rejection and the statement of hate, feelings of irritation at the rude behaviour, or even anger at the lack of control.
If we can hear the latter message, we can know in that moment that our child has become overwhelmed by the feelings and probably needs our support. They may not know this straightaway, but soon there will be a feeling of yearning for your love and help. Of course, in these moments we often need some help too. What we know really helps everyone, is for you to be certain that your child relies on you to know best, and to mean well by him or her. The situation won’t be fixed without your help in sorting out feelings.
This gives the opportunity to reframe what our child has experienced from “I hate you” to “What you did just then made me cross, but I know that you make good decisions for me and this comes from the fact that you love me”.
Fast forward 10 years and that little 4 year old is now a teenager and wants to go to the party all her friends are going to, but it is late, on a school night and you are worried about how well supervised it is.
“I’m sorry but I am not going to let you go to the party”……
The response will certainly be one of anger but not necessarily one of “I hate you”. They may have the ability to calm themselves down and to be able to come back to you and express their disappointment and anger, but accept that you are just doing what you have always done – protecting with love, and that ultimately is exactly what they need.
What happens with your 4 year old – is laying the foundation for the 14 year old to be.