It’s a Monday morning, everyone is grumpy, and your child does not want to get out of bed.
“You’re so mean!” your child shouts as you tell her it’s time to get up.
“I hate you!”
These words seem made to rile a frazzled parent. We spend so much of our life-giving for our kids and loving hard on them. How can a child even think these things, let alone scream them out?
Mother of three and Hand in Hand Instructor Irina Nichifiriuc hears words like this often. “What helps me is that I try and remember that this is not my final evaluation as a mother. Because my child perceives me to be mean, it doesn’t mean that I am mean, or that it will be her final thought forever about me.”
Irina views outbursts like these more like venting. She looks for the causes behind the words, rather than the words themselves. Her daughter may be tired, or stressed about something entirely different, and pins those frustrations on someone who cares enough to hear them: Her mom.
“It can be confusing hearing those words,” Irina says, because they really are a signal that a child would like your closeness and guidance to help them through whatever is making them feel bad. But it’s a brash way to get the attention they need, and that can feel tough.
Looking Beyond “Mean Mom”
In this script, Irina shares how she responds to her daughter’s grumpiness and mean words empathetically. Her goal is to listen to the feelings her child has without reacting harshly to them. Afterall, most of us, at some point, have not wanted to get up and deal with the day ahead, and children are no different.
As she sets the limit to get up, her daughter keeps coming with the angry words and upset. Irina holds that space for her until the rigid behavior begins to soften and her daughter feels more playful. The more a child can laugh when he or she feels tense, the more tension she can release, so towards the end of the interchange, Irina starts playing around to try and get laughter happening.
It’s important to listen to the feelings for a while before moving to play, to help a child clear them and move past.
Working Through Angry Words: A Script for Grumpy Mornings
Mom: “Ok, time to wake up!”
“I'm sure you don't want to get up.”
“I want to sleep. You're so mean for waking me up. I don't want to go to school.”
“Oh, you don’t want to get up today.”
“No! Leave me alone.”
“I’m not going anywhere, sweetie, I'm here to get you up.”
“No! No! You are the meanest mom ever, you always wake me up when I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, you’re not ready to get up yet, I know.”
“I don’t want to. I don’t. Go away! I don’t like you.”
“I’m not going.”
“OK, but I won’t get my dress on.”
“You don’t want to get my dress on?”
“No! Not my dress.”
“You need to get your dress on now.”
“Not that one. I don’t like that dress.”
“You’ll do fine with this dress.”
“No. No. No. I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to get dressed?”
“No. I don’t want to. That is an ugly dress, and I want another one. You’re mean.”
“This dress is just fine. We are going to get dressed.”
(Picks up the dress and gives it a voice) “I want to play! I’m looking for a little girl to wear me. (Asks a nearby toy) “Are you a little girl?”
(Mom mimics toy voice) “I’m not a little girl.”
(Mom, speaking as the dress) “Well, I need a little girl.”
(Child) “She’s not a little girl, I'm a little girl. Give it to me. I want to wear this dress.”
(Mom, using toy voice) “Will you wear me?” “Will you wear me?”
Girl is ready to get dressed.
(Mom) “Ok! Hand’s up!”
“Then let’s have some breakfast mom. I’ll race you down the stairs.”
“Ok,” (playfully) “but I'll win.”
“NO! I’ll win. I’m the fastest ever!”
We can see here that Irina listened first. She kept her limit of her daughter getting up, but she didn’t force it or get angry. After a while, she moved to involve the toys nearby and turned getting dressed into a game. Sometimes a child will need to cry and offload a little more, but here we see Irina’s daughter get interested in the play proposition, and then get involved. By the time she is dressed, her anger is gone and she is ready to race down for breakfast. She is much happier about waking up and getting on with her day!
But Why Am I A Mean Mom?
When something is bothering a child or has recently bothered them, they can attach feelings through words like “I hate you,” or “I hate school” or “You are such a mean mom,” to help them get those feelings out. Although it does sound personal, it isn’t.
“If you think about you when you are having an argument with your partner you probably vent and say all kinds of things to them that when you are calm you don’t really mean,” says Roma Norriss. This is a similar situation. As individuals, we all need space to vent. Including you.
Find Someone To Vent To Too
When parents feel calm and rested (we know that’s a rarity) it’s easier to be playful in situations like these. But when we are stressed, or repeated name-calling or behaviors have built up over time and become a pain point it’s harder to get so creative.
Having someone to vent to about parenting challenges that angered, hurt or upset you are vital. Just as your child turns to you as a safe space to let his or her feelings out, you can go to a listening partner for your turn. And just as your child feels better soon after a big rant, so you will too. You can find more out about Listening Partnerships here.
For more on Playlistening ideas read Playlistening with Whining Changes Everything!
Understand what causes tantrums and how you can respond in this free booklet on Transforming Tantrums.
Work with Irina!
Join Irina's Starter Class for parents and deepen your knowledge of the Hand in Hand approach. Irina leads parents through Hand in Hand Parenting's five listening tools working week-by-week to address particular issues you and your family are facing. Get more details about Irina's Starter Class in Romanian.