Ouch: When Your Kids Treat You Like Dirt

If you’ve never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.
—Bette Davis, American actress

“I hate you!” The first time your child says this to you, you’ll be shocked. As your child gets older, you’ll continue to be stunned by how much your child can hurt you—and treat you like dirt. Although all kids have a mean side, that doesn’t mean you become a silent floor for them to walk over. Take these moments (once you soothe the sting) as times to teach your child a number of important skills.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Your child is going to hurt you. That is a fact. As kids grow, they’re going to get mad and frustrated and take it out on you. This actually is a good sign (even though it hurts you). This means that they feel safe enough to show you all parts of themselves—including the parts you’d rather not see.
    • Be honest about how your child’s comment affects you—without shaming your child. For example say, “Ouch. That really hurt me when you said you hated me. I can tell you’re angry, but let’s figure out a better way to express it without hurting someone.”
    • Get to know other parents. As you go deeper with your relationships, talk about the tough parts of parenting. Figure out ways to support each other and solve problems.
    • Be sensitive to what’s going on with your child. Sometimes your child can lash out at you after a hard day. Once you both recover from the outburst, explore what’s really going on.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • It’s always wonderful to hear your child learn new words, until those words turn on you. Preschoolers can yell, swear, and say the meanest things. When they do, help them calm down. (Take a break if you need to.) Then show them better ways to respond when they’re upset.
    • Keep perspective. All relationships have ups and downs, and this is definitely a hard time. For asset-building ideas on how to respond to preschoolers’ tantrums, read the section on Hate-You Outbursts in Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose.
    • Try to become calmer as your child gets more upset. Even though this is hard to do, your child will only get more wound up the more you get caught up in his outburst.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Learn to negotiate with your child. Most parents wish for the days when they could pick up a screaming child and put her to bed. Now your child is too big for that. Instead, focus first on calming your child down. Then work on negotiating with your child.
    • Pay attention to your child’s eating habits, sleeping habits, and moods. Your child is more prone to have outbursts and lash out at you when he is hungry, exhausted, or upset about something else.
    • Continue to teach your child how to express anger in more appropriate ways. Instead of threatening people (or outright attacking them), teach her to calm down first, clarify her position, and talk about what she needs.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • With puberty, some kids who had a relatively smooth childhood can become angry, sullen, and downright mean. Be sensitive to what’s going on in their lives, but continue to remind them how to interact in effective ways with others.
    • Examine how you act when you’re upset. Do you yell? Do you withdraw? Do you swear? Do you abuse drugs or alcohol? Find more positive coping methods, such as going jogging, hitting a punching bag, or journaling. Your kids are always watching and learning from you.
    • Monitor your child’s activity level. Some become mean when they’re bored. Others push your buttons when they’re overwhelmed and overscheduled. Find a routine that works best for your child.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Frustrations mount when older teenagers go after a goal they’ve always dreamed of and then don’t reach it. Be sensitive to their loss, but stand up for yourself if they take it out on you.
    • By this age, teenagers should have positive coping skills. If you’re still struggling with outbursts from your teenager, consider asking for outside help from a school counselor or another professional.
  • Identify tough times. If someone in your family has died or has suffered a great loss, it’s going to put extra stress on your family. They may be more prone to outbursts. When you’re going through a hard time, name it. Ask how everyone can work together to get through this tough time together. For more ideas on dealing with tough times, read the short article Hard Times: How to Help Teens Bounce Back.

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