Hearing these words for the first time from your sweet, innocent ‘baby’ is pretty gutting really.
I had asked my 7-year-old to start tidying away the Lego as it was bedtime soon, and he replied, “No Mummy, I’m still building this.” I could hear he was fairly cross and passionate, and so thinking I was being quite reasonable, I said, “Okay, five minutes then, shall I put the timer on?”
But instead of a nice rational “Okay Mummy” (ever hopeful I am!) or even a reluctant grunt of assent, I got a “No Mummy, not FIVE MINUTES. That’s NOT ENOUGH. I want MORE than that, I HAATE YOU MUMMYYY!”
It sounds a bit dramatic, but I was so surprised I did a kind of cartoon-style, slow motion recoil and stifled gasp of horror, and felt my heart inwardly freeze as though I’d been struck by Elsa’s ice powers. (If this last bit makes no sense, consider yourself extraordinarily blessed).
But on some level, I recognised that a reaction of this intensity couldn’t be related solely to this specific interaction (i.e. there was other stuff going on for him) and so I was able to pause and just about gather myself.
Although not before ALL of the following ran through my head in a high-speed, back-to-back, potentially crazy-making loop:
‘How dare he say that to me, that is not how you talk to your parents.’
‘I would never have said that to my parents, jeez I’ve totally lost control and messed up this discipline thing.’
‘Shit, he’s never said that before, where did he get that from??’
‘Hmmm, weird. He’s been playing happily all afternoon, where has this come from, what did I do/not do to get to this all of a sudden.’
‘Oh God, maybe it’s because I’ve been letting him watch and read things too advanced for his age and this is where he’s got it from.’
‘That’s it, all this connection, respectful, peaceful parenting malarkey is all a load of old tosh and clearly does NOT work.’
‘Oh shite, I think I just started too late with him, all this changing around of parenting style I’ve been doing has just totally screwed him up.’
‘Oh no, he actually hates me and I’ve totally failed as a parent.’
‘What if he hates me forever and grows up never wanting to speak to me and thinks I’m the worst parent in the world.’
‘Er, shit, he’s looking at me, I can see he’s waiting for a response, er, what do I say to this??’
‘And his siblings are watching too, this is an important, teachable moment that will set a precedent for years to come…aaargh..’
So, what did I do??
A great big choking sort of half-laugh, half-snort.
A pretty unhelpful nervous reaction, release-my-own-tension thing that I have a terrible habit of doing in these sorts of moments.
Quite obviously, this was not a good move. To him it came across as disrespectful, patronising and invalidating the strength of his feelings. I was inadvertently doing what Daniel Siegal describes as ‘poking the lizard’; enraging the primitive part of his brain such that the connections to his logic and rational thinking were even further lost.
Instantly recognising this and feeling a bit sheepish, I attempted to backtrack. Something along the lines of “Eeek, you sound so mad! You must be feeling so angry in there to say that to me.” And then, having learned that, for him, it’s best not to talk or say too much when he’s feeling overwhelmed, I mainly just stayed near and listened whilst he shouted and raged and kicked at things. He then started to run away, slam doors and tell me he wanted to be left alone (not true). I backed away a little but stayed close enough that he knew I was still there.
Fortunately, I had the time and head space to let his feelings run their course. After ten minutes or so (sounds short, feels like a life time) he stopped yelling, and sat looking glum. I opened my arms to invite him for a cuddle but he shook his head. We sat there for a few more minutes and then he picked something up he’d made earlier and began to explain what it did. The storm had passed, just like that.
We never got to the bottom of why my simple request triggered such vitriol, but it really doesn’t matter. It helped him to clear something, unload something. Whether that was just scratching the surface of a big emotional project or it was the more superficial gunk of the days residues was also hard to tell. But no matter. Afterwards, you could see a weight had been lifted and he looked visibly happier. He was also pretty cuddly, which I interpreted as reparation for his apparent earlier dislike of me 😉 . It possibly wasn’t but hey, just humour me on this one 😉
So maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t punish him, yell back, or at least admonish him for unacceptably disrespectful behaviour??
Find out here by downloading my FREE ebook “8 Steps For Handling Tantrums and Emotional Outbursts”.
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HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR
I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.
I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.
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