I've been taking part in a few forums and parenting advice columns over the past months, and I thought I would post some of my answers as blog posts.
The following one is regarding badly behaved children.
My four year old son's behaviour is out of control. Whenever I tell him to do something he always talks back calling me a name and say's he hates me. On the playground he calls other kids names that really hurt and then he throws things at other kids. What do I do about this?
First, you have to ask yourself a hard question. Is the way your son talking coming from things he hears around home? Does he hear a lot of angry vocabulary and is it a regular habit of people to shout that they hate something? Don’t shirk away at the answer. It’s not irreversible. But admit it if it’s the truth as it will lead to a different way of dealing with it. For instance, you can start to tell him “I’ve decided our house is too angry lately, I’m going to start telling people I love them more and really focus on the good things in our life.” If you feel that he’s been picking it up at home. If you know for a fact this behaviour isn’t coming from you, than ask your son where he hears it from and what he thinks about it.
When you’re child screams at you and says he hates you, first stop everything and calmly ask, “really? That’s strange because I REALLY LOVE you.” Then ask him what the matter is and why he’s feeling so angry. Children need to give their feelings labels so they can recognize where they are emotionally and where they want to be. We all need to learn how to shift our feeling places, but from a young age children can learn to look for ways of feeling better. What a tool for life! So when your son tells you he HATES YOU, after asking why he feels that way, listen well to his replies. Stop the rhythm of a fight, and calmly say “you seem so angry and frustrated, I hate that feeling. Are you okay? Can I help you feel better?” Chances are when he sees your open arms he’ll cuddle up, if he doesn’t then just tell him you are always there to help him feel better, he just has to ask. Don’t get offended by what he says to you. Any meaning only goes skin deep. It’s just that he’s got some feeling of frustration or anger within him which needs to be addressed. Don’t let your hurt feelings cloud the issue. Give him lots of love at this point, even if he’s driving you up a wall. Hug him if he lets you, tell him you love him and praise him whenever you see him do something well. In fact focus on things he does well and praise him for them constantly. The point you are trying to get across to your child is that you understand he’s going through something, you are his parent in order to help and you want to help him feel better. But even at 4 he has to be willing to feel better and you are there to help him find a way to do this. Distract him from his own misery and bring him to a place of joy. He’ll snap out of his anger for a bit, which gives you the chance to then talk about what happened briefly.
The “I have control” route in parenting can seem like the easy solution. However, didn’t we all hate it when our parents took this upper hand? It doesn’t actually provide any tools for our children. Rather it just builds up rebellion. It is so tempting to tell our child to just do what we tell them, but in the long run this creates more stress for us when they don’t listen and more frustration in them as they feel their ideas don’t count for anything. Rather than telling yourself you have a bratty kid, tell yourself you have an opportunity. A chance to teach your child about emotion, the importance of recognizing how they are feeling and in doing so working step by step to feeling better, and how to deal with how they are feeling without hurting those around them. Yes, you have a great opportunity here, and perhaps, your child’s behaviour is an indicator to the fact that he wants you to help him find a way to let go of his anger and resentment.
When your child is feeling a little better it’s a good time to introduce the Golden Rule in order to deal with his treatment of other people. I find that spieling off “Do unto Others as you would have others do to you” is too much of a mouthful, it flies over little ones heads. Therefore I always say it as “treat people as you would want them to treat you.” I stress the WANT and point out its not, as they DO treat you. When I’m asked why, I simply answer “because, no matter what, you get what you give.”
The introduction to The Golden Rule can provide a great vantage point for you in dealing with your child’s behaviour with other children. When you see him hurting someone else, quietly pull him aside and gently remind him of it by asking “Is this how you want people to treat you?” and then add “remember, you get what you give.”
Relax in this, and know that it’s not a thing to get right, just something to challenge you both to feel better. So remember the little things that make you glow about your child, separate it from the part that drives you crazy, see him as who you dream he can be and treat him as that rather than a bad kid, and he may well surprise you.
And by the way, he doesn’t hate you. He just wants to let you know there’s work to be done and he wants to do it together.