Should a 7-year-old be able to hurt my feelings” a parent asked me recently. This mom was questioning the reactions that her young daughter brought out in her and was not feeling very pleased or satisfied with the situation.
I ‘ve had many parents over the years question this turn in their relationship with their child. A dad concerned that his young son of three only wants his mom to comfort him at night – a little girl of two who seems to like her childcare provider better than her parents – at least when they arrive to take her home. Then there are comments from parents whose children never want to be home – always want to be at a friend’s or grandma’s because, as they say, home is boring. There’s the ongoing situation from divorced parents whose feelings are hurt when their child hurls those searing words, “I want to go live with my daddy all the time”, and the five-year-old who, in anger shouts out an “I hate you. I wish you weren’t my mommy”.
All of these instances and so many, many more can certainly dent the emotional armor we develop when raising our children. But the key to dealing with some of these expected situations is to be prepared and to refrain from personalizing the child’s behavior.
Children blurt out what they think, feel, want at the moment without the fine art of examining first what this might mean to another. Kids’ empathy skills are not well-developed for some time. We may be fooled into thinking they are higher than they actually are when we sometimes see them demonstrating sincere empathy while hearing a story or watching a movie or toward a person or an animal in trouble. The stakes are higher, however, when their empathy is called into question on a very personal level that necessitates a change in their own behavior.
Instead of personalizing a child’s behavior, why is she trying to hurt me, try to think first – what does she need from me right now? What is happening here?
Kids watch their parents constantly – it’s their full-time job and they notice alot. Sometimes they want to get back at us for telling them to do something they don’t want to do – sometimes they’re feeling left out, need a dose of one-on-one attention, feel slighted from a too-quick, abrupt order to stop what they might be doing and do what their parent wants.
What makes us respond to this kind of child behavior with such a sinking, diminished spirit? And do our children, excellent observers that they are, sense something in our response that reinforces this behavior and gives them a sense of control over the situation and us.
As parents, we should try our best not to show our children that we’ve taken their behavior so personally. Keep hurt comments from them, write them in a journal or share with a best friend when children are out of hearing range.
Examine what triggers your child’s behavior and your response. Sometimes our reactions can reflect unresolved feelings and insecurities from our own childhood.
In most relationships in which we give so much of ourselves, whether it’s partners, children, parents, even pets, it’s natural to want to always feel as cherished and significant as this special loved one is to you.
But we need to trust in the bond that is between us – and the enormous amount of emotion that teeters on both sides. Be prepared for it to occasionally have a seesaw effect – not always perfectly even or balanced – but always full of harmony, delight and comfort when it is.