You cuddle your new baby, breathing in the perfume that is unique to an infant, reveling in the silky down on their cheeks, the perfectly formed lips and the miniscule eyebrows. You feel a loving connection with this helpless bundle lying in your arms, knowing you would die for this incredible human being you have only recently met.
Fast-forward a few years and a couple a kids, and you get this:
How???? How did you go from overwhelming love and devotion to having your little darling slam the door while screaming, “I HATE YOUUUUUU!” because you got upset with her for trying to use the baby as catapult fodder.
Many parents are devastated the first time this happens. They strained mushed peas for this little ingrate! They sourced organic cotton sheets, made them sensory boxes and took them to Mommy and Me classes, along with spending hours reading and playing with them and listening to lullabies in lieu of real music. How did they become the bad guy?!
Good news – This means your kid is testing you, and trusts you.
Wait, WHAT? My kid gets angry at me, for whatever reason, lashes out and this is a sign of trust? Here’s how it works – you’ve always been there. You stuck around for the diapering era, you braved through learning to walk and other death-defying skills, you were there for potty training and you’re always the first to give a kiss, a cuddle or a hug when something goes wrong. You’re safety. So when kiddo gets upset at you, they know that you will be there, and that they can vent and lash out. However, they also want to see how far they can go (no, this isn’t a well-thought out nefarious plan by the kindergarten crew for the downfall of parents, they’re just programmed to do stuff like this). By lashing out, they’re testing boundaries and by lashing out at YOU, they’re testing in a safe environment.
Now that we’ve verified you’re public enemy #1, what do you do? Here are a few steps to help you find perspective:
1) It’s not about you – remind yourself that when your kid tells you they hate you, it’s because they are lashing out. It’s not personal, it’s business.
2)They’re angry/hurt/upset and focusing on what they believe is the cause, and because the “cause” is one they can safely get upset with. It’s coming from a place of pain or anger and even if they’re upset that they were punished or given a boundary, those emotions can be overwhelming for a child. What can be frustrating for us can be agonizing for them, so try to use a little empathy.
3) Keep your response neutral or delay it. If your child is still in the room, use a response such as, “I’m sorry to hear that.” If they storm out, aside from verifying that they’re safe (no running away) give them a few minutes to cool down and feel sorry for themselves.
4) Show me some love! Make sure your child hears that you love them, regardless. Unconditional love is one of the most vital things a parent can give a child, and if your child hears that you love them, even if they behave like a little @#$%, then that creates a sense of security. Do not attach “I love you” to receiving an apology, but you can use it in your initial response.
And if all else fails, there’s always Chardonnay.