Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"You a bad mommy" What's behind the words?

Today my sweet Monkey looked at me and said, "You a bad mommy".



No.  I am not.  Monkey was looking for a way to tell me that I had made a mistake.  He was not angry with me as far as I could tell, but startled a little and trying to make sense of what he had just witnessed.

You should know that spills happen at our house.  We have a 2 year old and a 3 year old.  We don't make a big deal about spills, but Monkey gets kind of panicked about them.  We have never figured out why he gets worked up about spills, but it's a reality with him.  Spills upset him.

Today while making lunch I was digging through a cabinet to find some pasta.  (I was certain that we had some but we rarely use it to it took some work).  The boys came in to watch me prepare lunch.  These guys are kind of funny, they love to watch and help in the kitchen.  While pulling things out of the cabinet, I knocked down a glass bottle of balsamic vinegar.  It made a big mess - vinegar everywhere.

Monkey looked at me and said, "You a bad mommy."  I (again) told him that sometimes people spill and that is okay.  I cleaned it up and went on with my day.

BUT - sometimes say things like this when they ARE angry.  Sometimes they say things like, "I hate you" or "You're ruining my life."  It is easy to take that personally.  Shoot, a lot of times it is MEANT personally.  Do you remember being upset with your parents when something happened that made you feel like life was unjust?  How did you respond?  When young children say these things they are looking for a way to express a feeling.  They are repeating something they have heard.  They might even be trying to find a way to make you feel the way they do so you can understand them.

So how do we help the child that hurts our feelings with what he says?

First, evaluate the situation.  Are you making a decision that leads the child to feel threatened?  Are you making rules about safety, social order, family health?  What is upsetting the child?

Then, try to put words to the feelings.  "Monkey, you were scared when the bottle fell."  or "You get very angry when you have to go to bed before the end of the show."  Help him connect words and feelings.  This will help you be more understanding and help your child learn his or her emotions.

Next, try to help the child solve the problem if at all possible.  "Monkey, you were scared when the bottle fell, weren't you?  Can we work together to clean it up?"  or "You get very angry when you have to go to bed before the end of the show, do you think we can finish it in the morning?"  Very young children will need you to help solve it.  As they get older you can begin to give them more freedom to come up with the solution on their own.  "What can we do to work on this together?"  or "How can we do it differently next time?"  (Please note that the question is related to WE, not pointing at the child.  Learning how to deal with emotions is a group task.  Blaming the child for having feelings is hurtful and unproductive).

Be flexible if you can.  "You are angry when you have to go to bed before the end of the show.  Why don't we watch ten more minutes?"  Not only does this show some willingness on your part to work with him, it also gives him some warning about what to expect.

Try to work on feeling words when children are feeling calm and collected.  No one wants a lecture when they're upset.  You can play games that focus on understanding feelings; or talk about what feelings look like.  You can take pictures of your child making facial expressions for different feelings.  You can also talk about a situation that occurred in the past, as preparation for future events, "Who can think of 3 things to do when you are angry that someone broke your toys?"

Truth?  I strongly believe that learning to understand our own emotions and deal with them in a productive manner is the foundation for teaching our children how to manage their emotions, and their behaviors.  I believe that a child who is able to identify and express his emotions is likely to be in better health and uphold better behavior than one who is incapable of doing these things.

It starts with me.

How about you? How do you deal with mean words from your children?  Do you teach emotions?  What are you teaching? 


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