“You are just doing this to annoy me”, “Are you trying to make me miserable?”
These are the desperate pleas I heard from a mother recently, as she grappled to keep her toddler in the shopping trolley whilst she finished her mammoth morning of shopping.
When I got in my car I thought about those words. Words that many of us have probably uttered to ourselves before or even yelled at our own child.
When we get to that point of believing our child is out to get us, out to make us miserable or is trying to to hurt us, then obviously, it is a sign that we have been pushed too far.
Because we know that no child, especially one who has only recently learnt to string words together, sets out with the intention of making their parent unhappy, stressed, angry or miserable.
Sometimes our child’s ability to do so many things and to undertake so many tasks with apparent ease, has the effect of masking their emotional maturity. They can count to 100 or navigate an ipad with ease, yet they have not worked out how to process feelings of anger, frustration or fear. Their physical and even cognitive abilities often lull us in to thinking they are capable of so much more advanced emotional intelligence.
But sometimes when we have tried to plea, and cajole, and bribe and threaten and punish and still there is no cooperation, then of course it makes us feel our child must really be ‘out to bring us undone’.
So how do we remind ourselves in these times of stress that our child absolutely and utterly does not want to make us miserable? How do we remind ourselves that it just isn’t in them?
Firstly, we need to change that dialogue within ourselves. If we cannot change that dialogue, we have little hope of understanding and changing our child’s behaviour and the dialogue we have with them.
Instead of “my child is out to make me miserable today”, we need to replace this with “my child has had enough of shopping right now and doesn’t want to be kept still in this uncomfortable trolley any longer. They probably want to run, or play with something new, or sleep”. Or maybe “my child really wants that chocolate bar that is staring at them just out of arms reach whilst I try to unload the groceries on to the scanner. My child loves chocolate, why wouldn’t they want it?”. Or “my child is 2 and I am more than happy for him to munch on these sultanas but I cannot let him have the chocolate bar which in his mind has the same nutritional benefits as the sultanas and the fact that one was brought from home and one cost money has no relevance or context for him so really he is just trying to get it across to me that he would prefer the chocolate bar over the sultanas and I am not sure why mum is not understanding that so I need to yell a little louder to get that point across”.
Now I am not saying here that you give in and let the child run around the shopping centre whilst you try to pay for the shopping. I am not saying you relent and buy the chocolate bar if this isn’t something you want to do. What I am saying is we need to understand the situation from our child’s perspective a little better. When we do that, we help ourselves.
By reminding ourselves that our child is bored, tired, excited or whatever it is they are struggling to verbally communicate to you, then we change our inner dialogue to reflect a much greater truth.
What they really need now is our help. They need us to feel secure and in control if they have any chance of feeling this way themselves. And this is the tricky bit for us the parent. Keeping that control and feeling secure in ourselves at those moments of extreme stress.
So we need to work hard to calm ourselves. We cannot expect our kids to respond in a calm way if we are getting louder and louder, angrier and angrier. When we get involved in an ‘us versus them’ scenario with our kids, we create a situation where each party has to work harder to be heard. And this is when it all comes undone.
Kids throwing tantrums, crying in a supermarket, kicking and crying to avoid being strapped in to their car seat is nothing new and is not going to suddenly stop happening. These are the ways our children have of letting us know how they feel.
What can change however, is our own understanding of what our child is experiencing. Using our own inner dialogue to calm ourselves, rather than ignite our frustration will enable us to look at a situation rationally. Sometimes we can distract with something else, sometimes we can just hold them and try to soothe, sometimes when we no longer have the energy, we buy the chocolate bar and just get home.
What is always important however is to remind yourself that your child does not want to make you miserable. They did not set out today to upset you.
Have a cuddle, hold them tight and try again tomorrow.