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Taking Children at their Word–part one

Parents of young children often share their concerns with me that their kids say things to them like “I hate you” or “You’re the worst mom in the world,” or even the milder but still related: “I’m not going to do that!”  It’s these “strong statements” that often leave parents feeling guilty or worried or challenged by seeming defiance. 

Here’s the problem–adults mostly* communicate through the spoken word.  Generally, when I tell someone: “I’m not going to do that,” I’m not going to do that thing!  If an adult saw fit to say “I hate you,” they would probably be describing the feelings they had towards the other.  “You’re the worst ____ in the world” would be an evaluative comment that reflected our assessment of their quality!  Therefore, when our children use the spoken word with us, we tend to take their comments literally. 

So this is where I encourage parents to try to look behind the literal meaning of their child’s words.  “I hate you” might be your child’s (imperfect) way of expressing their frustration with the limit you just set.  “You’re the worst mom in the world” could be an expression of their disappointment over not getting something they really wanted. “I’m not going to do that” can just mean “I really, really don’t want to and you’ll have to help me.” 

If you can look behind your child’s strong statements, you’ve already won half the battle, because you won’t react to those strong statements.  (HUGE!!) 

 (stay tuned, because my next post is a followup to this one–where I explain how I encourage parents to ‘take it up a notch’ once they have this down.)

 

* Note:  Okay, actually, honestly– even grownups don’t say what we mean all the time.  We often say “I hate that” when we really mean that it annoys us or we’re tired of it, and “I’m not going to do that means “I’m unlikely to do that unless you sweeten the pot or unless I change my mind or or or…”  etc etc.  But oddly we grownups still take each other at our words–it would behoove us to think about where the other adult (!) is coming from more often, too.  Remember the phrase “It’s not about you”?