This is letter is in response to a parent looking for some help on dealing with a disrespectful child. It’s short and sweet, and to the point. Yes, there are other steps and strategies one could adopt to help with this challenging time. I’ve talked before about some of those strategies, the importance of self care, and counselling. But for me, there was no bigger step I could have taken than reevaluating my view of my child. That’s what this one letter is about.
Question: My daughter disrespects me and doesn’t listen to me. When I ask her to do something, she’ll just look at me and say no. Often she is mean to me and will hit me. I try to stay calm, but I get angry. I don’t want to get angry. I lash out, yell and get negative. I don’t want to be like this. I want to be better for my daughter. What should I do?
Here is my response. The parent found it very useful, so I thought I would share it.
It can feel like your daughter is disrespectful, for sure. I don’t doubt that. Especially with how much you do for her, with how much you love her. The hitting, the not listening and the outright defiance are difficult to deal with, I get it. When your child says “no” right to your face, it makes your blood boil a bit. I’ve been there.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret though that might help. What if I told you that she does not really have the capacity to be mean. She does not truly understand the real implications of her behaviour. Although it looks like it, she doesn’t fully understand what she is doing. It’s similar to someone else who lacks cognitive ability/capacity. If someone else who lacked full mental development or social awareness acted in a similar manner, you wouldn’t take it that personally. You wouldn’t get so angered. Sure, you might get annoyed, you might establish boundaries, and protect yourself if need be. But your reaction likely would be more balanced. You would not be so personally hurt or triggered by it. You would understand that it really wasn’t about you. It’s more about the person who is having the hard time processing things and controlling him/herself.
Well, the same goes for your little child. This is the world our little ones are living in. They are not fully developed, not by a long-shot. Things are confusing, emotions are big, and self-control doesn’t come easily. So, replacing the idea that your child is disrespectful and mean with the idea that your child needs help and guidance is the best thing you can do. This will not be the last time she hits, misbehaves or has a tantrum. In order to have the relationship that you want, and to create the kind environment you want, you need to believe in her goodness. When she “acts out”, you now know that it is not really about you. Understanding that kids are like this allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not a desire to mess with you that is leading her to act like this. It’s her biology, her lack of development. Breathe into that, because it’s true.
Another way that we can be comforted is knowing that these stages will not last forever and that we can help our kids through difficult times by empathizing with what they are experiencing. You can actually help your kids grow out of difficult stages by listening to them, helping them reflect, and empower them with new and better strategies. Their brains are developing and growing at this time, so the environment is critical. However, difficult stages can drag out and become magnified as well, if not dealt with properly. We all long to be heard and understood. The misbehaviour that you’re witnessing might just be a protest, a plea, to be heard and understood.
Surely, this knowledge compels us to step out of a blaming style of parenting into a more consistent and compassionate way of being. The more loving and consistent we are during these tough times, the better it is for everyone. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll be doing your daughter a huge favour. For her to witness you being in control and loving… no matter what will go a long way for her and her development. You’ll be modelling the very behaviour you want to teach. And by the way, this is the quickest way out of any “misbehaving” stage.
She wants to learn about how she should deal with stress and confusion. Here is your chance to teach her.
Yes you can have rules and boundaries, for sure. But there is certainly no need to be negative about it. Negativity doesn’t not confer any advantage with regard to learning. In fact, it gets in the way of neural processing and takes away from the lesson to be learned. I used to get stern and harsh (negative), because I thought that disobedience was “unacceptable”. I felt like I needed to convey the seriousness of it. But guess what, bringing negativity into the equation didn’t do squat. Actually it did…it made things worse. It muddied the waters, escalated the misbehaviour, and dragged these stages out. If we deal with our kids negatively, we teach them to be negative. That is the truth.
For me, one of the most important lessons/skills/ways of being that I would like to pass on to my kids is positive resilience. When things get hard, what do we do? Do we blame, shame and dive into negative thought patterns. Or, do we breathe, feel into what’s happening, and look for positive solutions.
Breathe into the fact that your daughter is truly good, she can’t really hurt you. You are the big one, you too are good, and you are her model.
All the best, and hope this helps.