Would you like to know what to do when your child says hurtful things?
One mom below contacted me to tell me that her child says hurtful things. Words can be hurtful, and none more so than when you’re called mean or kids say they hate you. So, if any parent reports that their child is saying hurtful things, here’s my advice on how to save their feelings and put a stop to the behaviour.
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?
I 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 of 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!
My child says hurtful things: 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 that 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 an ADHD child.
Now, I’m happy you don’t want to turn to drugs, but I’m sure you’d agree that, like any child, an ADHD child needs to learn to control their own behaviour. Learning self-control means learning to regulate their own emotions, and that starts with 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, perhaps not on a daily basis, but certainly by manipulating your emotions and gaining emotional control. When your child says hurtful things, it can be difficult to break the cycle of behaviour and your reaction to it, so I would recommend that you look into a professional behavioural intervention that can teach you the “how to” of changing your reaction consistently and permanently.
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 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.
My child says hurtful things: Let me show you how this behaviour develops
Think of it like this: What if you took a long walk in the woods you knew well with a whole bunch of other people? Because you knew the woods so well, you offered to be the leader. Halfway through the walk, one of the participants makes an offhand comment because their legs are getting sore and says to another person that she’s worried they’ll never get back. She implies that maybe they’re lost. 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 backward 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.
My child says hurtful things: 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 muttering intensifies, and the walk transforms from a pleasurable experience to something you can’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 into a major showdown on your abilities because you showed a lack of confidence in yourself.
Confidence in leadership is everything
Now, I doubt groups of grownups 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 either stop or 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 a while, 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 is when you are doing something together, like cleaning up or making dinner. That’s when the lines of communication are open the 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,
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