“I HATE YOU!” my daughter yelled, as she wound up her arm and threw a block at me.
She’s four. And I’m a parenting coach.
Helping other parents with this type of behaviour is what I do. And yet, my kids misbehave and I’m a normal mom trying to cope.
From my profession, I know that all behavior is the result of miscommunication. Knowing what’s going on under the surface helps me conjure my patience in these trying moments and shift through the million strategies I have in my head to find the appropriate one.
During this particular fight, my daughter really wants to squirt water all over the living room with her new fire truck. I tell her no. Her newfound vocabulary has her yelling that she hates me in addition to physically throwing toys (a practice she takes up in her most heated moments).
She knows toys are for playing, not hurting.
She knows to use kind words.
And yet, in this moment she can’t help herself.
All she knows in this moment is that she’s hurting really bad and she wants me to hurt as much as she’s hurting.
I’m talking about revenge, a common “goal” of misbehavior. It’s not sinister or calculated. It just means “I’m hurt and I want you to hurt like I am.”
So, if I can stay in my rational thinking brain and not get triggered by her words or actions, I can see clearly that she needs my help. She needs me to help her process her emotions and relieve the pain she feels inside.
She doesn’t need me to yell.
She doesn’t need me to put her in the corner or take away her toys.
She doesn’t need a lecture telling her not to throw blocks or use those words.
Now is not the time. In her blind rage, she won’t hear anything I say. The correcting part is best left for when everyone is calm.
Instead, I say “Wow, you must be really hurting to say that to me. It would be so much fun to shoot water from the fire truck and you don’t like Mommy telling you no. You just want to do it.” And then I sit with her and listen to her rage and tears. I don’t try to correct her or tell her she loves me or doesn’t mean what she’s saying.
I listen, both to her word and her actions. I validate her feelings as they come up, but mostly I listen and stay physically present with her. I don’t abandon her with these tough emotions.
Sometimes this process takes a few minutes. Other times, it takes an hour.
As much as I’m able, I take the time to be with her through these difficult emotions. I don’t want her to bottle them up. I don’t want her to feel like her feelings don’t matter. And I want her to know that I love her as she is, even with these ugly feelings.
It’s important that these emotions come out because they won’t go away on their own. They’ll just fester and wait for another time where they’ll come out as hitting her brother, or refusing to put her coat on, or in any number of other ways.
Feelings need to be felt. Feelings are the root cause of the behavior, so that’s what we work on first.
The actions can be dealt with later, because they are only a side effect of the emotion.
If we treat the root cause, the side effects will go away.