"You're mean!" "I hate you!" Being a parent is tough sometimes, isn't it? Yes, you know in your head that your sweet, loving preschooler doesn't really hate you. But when he utters those words it's as if he is nailing a scarlet letter to your head with a tinker toy. The words are "child's play" but the effect sure does feel real. At this age, children don't have the subtle language to beat around the bush. When they're angry, they show it.
If you don't give them their way, they're going to let you know about their frustration. It's normal. It just doesn't feel like it when it happens to you.
What should you do? (1) Uncover the issue behind the harsh words: Your child does not always have the language to explain his frustration. When your child says "I hate you," he might be having difficultly with a task, attaining something he wants, or expressing an emotion like fear. As parents, we must become a detective and figure out what our children are really trying to relay. (2) Give him the ways to recognize his anger: If your child can recognize when he is feeling angry, he will have an easier time expressing and coping with the feeling rather than lashing out. Take time to ask your child, "when you're feeling angry, what does your body feel like?" Help him to name it while it's happening, "I can tell by your face and body that you are angry. You're having trouble putting the wheel back on your truck.
That is very frustrating!" By putting words to the emotion he's feeling, you are validating his anger and letting him know you understand. (3) Give your child the right words: When your child is calm, talk about what happened. Remind him of when he was feeling angry earlier in the day and what he said. Let him know that when he says "I hate you," it hurts your feelings.
Then ask him, "What can you say instead?" If he is unsure, give him the right words. "Instead of telling me 'I hate you' when you're feeling angry inside, tell me, 'I'm feeling angry, please help me." Help him to practice expressing his feelings so that when he is angry again, he can call on these skills.
(4) Provide calming techniques: We all get angry. Helping your child deal with anger in a constructive way will be a gift that he can use for the rest of his life. Introduce and practice some techniques when your child is open to listening (not when in the heat of battle!).
Counting to 10, singing a song, and talking to oneself, are some simple ways to calm down when angry. One of my favorite techniques is to "smell the roses and blow away the clouds." This is a powerful way to teach children to take a few deep breaths.
(5) Teach problem solving techniques: Let your child know that there are lots of ways to solve problems. If something isn't working, try something else! You can say to your child, "Ask me; can you help me with this wheel, please?" or "this isn't working right-- can we play something else." Help your child think about solutions that are safe, fair, and likely to be successful. (6) Watch your own language: Regrettably, in this case, "monkey see, monkey do." If you use harsh language in anger or you typically say "I hate" towards objects (i.e.
I hate doing laundry; I hate when the phone rings during your nap time), your child will pick up on it and use it himself. At times, if you're not careful, you might here these very same words coming right back at you! Perhaps the most important thing for you to keep in mind while all this is happening is that your child doesn't really hate you. So take a deep breath. Sometimes parents, too, need to remember to smell the flowers and blow away the clouds. After all, it's likely that clear skies are on the horizon.
Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child development specialist, success coach, and parenting expert. Known as "The Character Queen," she's the creator of the Powerful Words Character Toolkit, a character-building program for children's activity centers and families. For more information, or to contact Dr. Robyn, please visit http://www.DrRobynSilverman.com or to take part in her Powerful Parenting Blog, visit http://www.DrRobynsBlog.com