When our child yells “I hate you!” or “I want a new family!” it can be understandably triggering and painful for us as parents. In this episode, Dr. Emily and I respond to a mom who is asking for help figuring out what to do when her child uses this type of hurtful language. We’ll cover how parents can reframe their own perceptions and approach, what might be going on in your child’s brain and body when they talk like this, and the concrete steps parents can take to address the issue without adding fuel to the fire. Plus we’ll share our own personal experiences with similar situations and review how everyone can create their own appropriate coping strategies for their unique family.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR PARENTING STRUGGLES
- Sometimes the struggles we face are made exponentially harder because we feel like we’re the only ones experiencing them, but in truth so many other families are dealing with the same exact things
MEET DR. EMILY UPSHUR
- Emily is a clinical psychologist and the co-founder of our joint practice Upshur Bren Psychology Group in Westchester, NY
- She previously worked as Clinical Director of the Center for Trauma and Resilience at Mount Sinai Beth Israel and has worked as supervising psychologist at The Motherhood Center in NYC
- And she’s a mom of 3
EMILY IS THE ONE WHO INSPIRED SARAH TO TRANSITION FROM WORKING WITH ADULT TO KIDS
- Within a developmentally appropriate range, children are still whole people
- We’re relationship people. We talk about how to have healthy relationships.
SARAH AND EMILY WILL BE TACKLING VIEWER QUESTIONS THROUGH THE LENS OF MOMS AS WELL AS PSYCHOLOGISTS
- Helping you understand what is going on under the hood
A REAL MOM’S QUESTION
- “My 5 year-old son’s new thing when he gets mad or something doesn’t go his way, he immediately lashes out and says “I don’t like you” or “I hate you” or “I want a new family” or “I want a new mommy and daddy”. How am I supposed to react to this? I don’t like it and I was really hoping you could give me some tips because now my younger child who copies everything he does and says is starting to do the same.”
WE’VE ALL HAD THESE MOMENTS AND WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THEM A LOT
– The first step is to catch ourselves in our feelings – frustrated, upset, angry
– Now we need to decide how to move forward
– It’s ok to say – this is really challenging and frustrating to receive this anger from my child
WE HAVE 2 DOORS – HOW DO WE FEEL AND HOW DO WE ACT
- Slow down in the moment and figure out the best way to proceed instead of just reacting
THIS APPLIES TO ANYTHING A CHILD DOES THAT FEELS DELIBERATE AND PROVOCATIVE
- When Sarah can acknowledge she is initially interpreting her child’s actions as a deliberate button-pushing act, she can make herself slow down then ask herself “what else could it be?” and is then better able to see the situation in a new light
- If we can zoom out and look at the whole child, we may find they are feeling out of control and dysregulated in these moments (instead of trying to be mean or hurtful)
AS PARENTS, TRY THINKING ABOUT WHAT ELSE YOUR CHILD MIGHT BE TRYING TO EXPRESS
- See their actions as them trying to tell you something
- Take “I hate you” and try hearing that your child is looking for reassurance – if I get really mad will you still love me?
- Realize your child doesn’t actually hate you
- Use your older, more regulated brain to respond calmly and compassionately
- If they had said “I’m so frustrated. I don’t like it when you tell me no” you would react very differently – try hearing this even when they aren’t using these words
IN THE MOMENT, HEARING “I HATE YOU” CAN BE VERY TRIGGERING FOR PARENTS AND THEY CAN GO STRAIGHT INTO THEIR OWN FIGHT OR FLIGHT
- Try slowing yourself down!
- Challenge your first thought – does my kid really hate me? Of course not, my kid loves me.
PARENTS MAY WORRY THAT THEIR KID WILL BE THE “MEAN KID” IF HE TALKS THIS WAY
- This feels like big stakes, but that’s likely not an accurate interpretation
- Your kid can still make friends and be a kind person
- This is not a window into your child’s true self, this is a window into their amygdala and their fight or flight system
WE DON’T WANT TO COLLUDE WITH OUR KID’S PANIC
- Take a step back and calmly regulate yourself so you can help your child calm down
HOW DO WE HELP OUR KIDS CALM DOWN AFTER WE’VE RECOGNIZED THEY’RE DYSREGULATED?
- Start by labeling the emotion (you’re really upset with Mommy!”)
- Let them know it’s not scary for you that they have a strong feeling and just sit with it
- Validate and sit with them in their feeling and don’t instruct or teach in that moment
- After they’ve connected to the feeling we can work on helping them cope
- By naming their feeling you’re also helping them make a connection and internalize those so over time they will begin to understand the language
“Our goal is to communicate the boundary and hold the boundary. Our goal isn’t to have our child say “ok, that sounds fine with me.”
IT’S OK TO HAVE BOUNDARIES
- Maintain boundary and hold firm
- Focus on the proper goal and don’t be distracted by their rejection of the boundary and get derailed by trying to convince them this is an acceptable boundary
- It’s our job to hold the boundary and they don’t need to be emotionally accepting of it
- If they accepted it you wouldn’t need to set the boundary in the first place
TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO TOLERATE DISCOMFORT
- You are going to have a boundary that you don’t have to like, and you are going to have to tolerate that feeling of not liking something
- This is part of how resilience is built
NAME THE FEELING, VALIDATE THE FEELING, GIVE THEM CONTEXT, SET AND HOLD THE LIMIT, VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT LIMIT BEING SET – AND THEN WE’RE DONE
- Don’t go into fix-it mode
REMIND YOUR CHILD OF THE THINGS THEY CAN DO TO HELP THEM LEARN APPROPRIATE COPING SKILLS
- Decide what is socially appropriate for your family
- Yelling in a pillow
- Stomping your feet
- It’s empowering for them to have a personal toolbox they can pull from and eventually after hearing things over and over, they’ll start doing these things on their own
YOU WILL HAVE TO REPEAT YOURSELF A LOT
- This doesn’t mean it’s not working
- Even if responses don’t yield a different outcome right away, that is normal
- You may feel like a broken record and that can be frustrating, but it’s part of the process
WHEN PARENTS ASK ABOUT TANTRUMS THEY ARE ASKING, “HOW DO I GET THIS TO STOP?” BUT, REALLY IT’S ABOUT TRYING TO EBB AND CONTROL THEIR DYSREGULATION.
- You’ll need to be doing these things over and over again – with children of all ages
- Our goal is to have a way that we can stay calm and respond to it effectively on repeat
- It takes a lot of time and repetition to learn to self regulate
IF WE CAN REFRAME TANTRUMS OR DYSREGULATED BEHAVIOR TO BE SEEN AS GREAT OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE TEACHING OUR KIDS HOW TO REGULATE, THAT CAN BE VERY HELPFUL
- It is healthy for us and for them to practice this
- It can be hard work
LET US KNOW THE QUESTIONS YOU WANT US TO ANSWER ON THE SHOW
- Send us your questions!
IF YOU WANT TO SHARE A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE YOU HAD OR SIMPLY WANT TO OFFER THIS MOM SOME WORDS OF SUPPORT, COMMENT ON THE SHOW POST ON @SECURELYATTACHEDPODCAST ON INSTAGRAM
- And check out my website for more parenting resources
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