When kids say hurtful things to us, all our common-sense can fly out of the window as we’re overwhelmed with shock, hurt, guilt and self-questioning. Either that, or rage. We may forget that even adults, when upset, will say cruel and hurtful things in the moment, which they don’t mean.
When we have calmed down we might be filled with regret, admit that what we said was unfair and apologise. ‘I didn’t mean it’ we’ll say, wishing we hadn’t said something quite so hurtful. As we get older we may get better at expressing ourselves when we’re really angry and upset, but children are children; they haven’t reached that stage yet.
Children are living more in the primitive brain than we are, so their words will more often come out direct from source, raw and unadulterated by any executive control. The primitive brain is really not very clever with words; all it wants to do is express a feeling as strongly as possible, accuracy be damned![bctt tweet=”When kids say hurtful things to us, all our common-sense can fly out of the window.”]
Although we know that this can happen even with adults, we still may automatically assume that children’s angry words are unfailingly true, accurate and meant, especially when the comments are directed at us. We may believe that there must be a history of great unhappiness behind their words, otherwise they would never say anything like that, right?
Well it’s true there may be a serious message behind a child’s outburst, but there may not be. Knowing whether the message indicates a real problem or not depends on the circumstances and the personality of the child, but if we always interpret what children say literally we won’t uncover the true message behind the words.
When kids say hurtful things like this:
‘You’re the worst parent in the world!’
‘I wish you and daddy were dead!’
‘I hate you!’
‘I wish I’d never been born!’
The true meaning behind the words might be something like this:
‘You don’t listen to me’
‘I don’t like it when you and daddy argue’
‘You didn’t do what I wanted’
‘You don’t let me get my own way’
If the circumstances fit, the answers might be something like: ‘I need to listen a bit more’ or ‘We need to stop arguing in front of the kids.’
If it’s a typical parenting scenario though – like, we’ve just said ‘no’ – we’d be better to hold fast, don’t take it personally and don’t give it too much attention. If we give in to a child out of feelings of guilt, children learn that saying something dramatic, exaggerated, or hurtful is a sure-fire way of manipulating us into giving them what they want. We really don’t want to teach them that.
The question we have to ask ourselves basically is ‘Has she got a point or is she just being a spoiled brat?’ (The expression ‘spoiled brat’ is frowned upon these days as a way of interpreting a child’s behaviour, but it hasn’t really been replaced with anything we all understand, so it will have to do).
Either way, if we instantly take what children say at face value we’ll probably over-react, and in doing so we may never find out what they were really intending to say when they get to the ‘I didn’t mean it’ stage. Which, of course, they eventually will.