Child Says Hurtful Things

Posted by on Nov 22, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

Get your parenting advice questions answered at Annie´s Advice Column
Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Would you like to know what to do when your child says hurtful things?

Words can be hurtful and none so more than when you’re called mean or kids say they hate you.  So if any parent says their child says hurtful things, here’s my advice on how to save their feelings and stop the behaviour in its tracks.  

Hi Annie,

My child says hurtful things. I have a son who is going to be five next month and I really struggle with him. When he doesn’t get his way, he will cross his arms and pout and tell me he’s not happy or he’s going to be sad ALL day. He then runs to his room and tells me how much he hates me and doesn’t want me to be his mommy anymore because I’m ‘mean.’ I understand kids don’t mean things like that but it really hurts to hear it. I usually give him some time to calm down in his room and then we talk about it. I tell him it isn’t nice to say things like that and it hurts my feelings but it keeps happening. He throws tantrums, stomps etc. I do try and get him to help me but I believe he has undiagnosed ADHD and although I’d never give him drugs, I do think there’s a different approach you need to take with ADHD kids. Can you help?

Thanks, Becky

Hi Becky,

my child says hurtful thingsI totally understand how difficult it is for you when your son says unkind things and how much it bothers you. Every parent I’ve ever met is always trying their best and comments like that hurt. The trouble is just as we know it hurts, so does he. He is more than aware how upsetting his comments are so it’s worth asking what compels him to act like that?

Ask yourself what he’s getting from the behaviour

Children do things for attention and knowing that is key here. Look at what happens every time he says something mean. First there’s likely a reaction on your part which you may not even realize you’re offering. You probably look upset, perhaps your face goes red or you raise your voice. He goes to his room to calm down, which is fine but then you go in to talk to him about how unkind his comments were. Oops, more attention and just in case he didn’t know how much it bothers you, you’ve just reiterated it again and again. Look at it for a moment from his point of view. He wants to get back at you and it’s working!

ADHD kids don’t need a different approach

But there’s something else at play here too. There’s the ADHD, his tantrums and his general attitude. You’ve mentioned that you think ADHD kids should be handled differently. I would disagree and in my view, ADHD kids need exactly the same approach. In fact, I’d argue whereas you can get away with quite a lot with a kid that’s laid back, you can get away with far less with a challenging child or ADHD child.

Now I’m happy you don’t want to turn to drugs, but I’m sure you’d agree like any child, an ADHD child needs learn to control their own behaviour. Learning self control means learning to regulate their own emotions and that starts by you explaining the bounds of his behaviour so that later on, he can regulate it himself.  

You are letting him manipulate you

The trouble is he’s having trouble doing that so next we have to ask why? Part of the problem is that he is still effectively running you, maybe not day to day but certainly in the fact that you are allowing him to manipulate your emotions and from that he gains emotional control. When your child says hurtful things it can be very hard to stop this cycle of behaviour and your reaction to it, so I would encourage you to look in to a professional behavioural intervention, which can help you with the ‘how to’s of altering your reaction consistently and for the long term.

No child will stop a behaviour if they are getting something very compelling from it and that’s what he’s getting from you. He is getting emotional control over the very person he looks up to for direction. And when he’s leading instead of you, he will be compelled to show his discomfort with the arrangement through his behaviour. That’s what you are seeing in the stomps and tantrums and his general demeanour.

Let me show you how this behaviour develops

Think of it like this. What if you took a long walk in woods you knew well with a whole bunch of other people. Because you knew the woods so well, you offered to be the leader. Half way in to the walk, one of the participants makes an off hand comment because their legs are getting sore and says to another person that she’s worried they’ll never get back.  Maybe they’re lost, she implies.  You keep walking but you can hear a few minor grumbles at the edge of the group. You start questioning yourself. What if you are lost?  Did you take the correct turn back there? Even though you’re sure you’re on the right path, you start to glance backwards more often and your body loses the confident stride it had earlier. You look down more and retrace your steps several times at junctions looking confused. Now you can feel a strange feeling, a sort of burgeoning wall of distrust growing from the other participants. As you walk on looking scared, the grumbling grows and as a result you feel hurt.

Parenting is all about leadership

You stop the group and ask why they are being so difficult? You look confused and worried. Why are they being so mean? What have you done to generate such discontent? The walk continues but they are suspicious and you are clearly uncomfortable. The grumbling grows and the whole walk turned from a pleasant enterprise in to something that was very stressful and which you couldn’t wait to be done with.

So what does my little story have to do with you and your son? Well, because on the pretend walk you let your insecurity show. Even though you were confident at the beginning you let some minor grumbles turn in to a major show down on your abilities because you showed a lack of confidence in yourself.

Confidence in leadership is everything

Now I doubt groups of grown ups would act like that on a walk but children are more visceral and don’t hide their emotions behind a polite mask. You are your son’s leader but you are showing the same worry as you did on our pretend walk. He is looking for confidence. He wants you to know you are his rock and that you can handle anything he throws at you. Yet you are giving him undue power and to be the leader, you have to act as if these comments are not hurting you, even if they are. When he makes them don’t look upset, change the subject or make a joke. Anything but let them get to you.

If he calls you ‘mean,’ do something silly and run around the parking lot singing, ‘I’m so mean’ and have a good laugh while you’re doing it. As soon as it fails to make an impression he’ll stop or he’ll just join in on the joke and forget his manipulations. Either way, it’ll work.

Keep the explanation simple and non personal

Later, when he has stopped the behaviour for sometime you can explain how comments like that are hurtful, but you need to disentangle your feelings and use an example of other people’s feelings, not your own. The best time to have conversations like this are when you are doing something together, like cleaning up or making dinner. That’s when the lines of communication open best, when you are focused on something else together. Last but not least, working on leadership across the board will help you understand the extent of his potential ADHD and narrow down the areas to work on.  At least in the meantime, he’ll stop saying hurtful things.  For more help with your parenting please, check out my services.

All the best to you,

Annie

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