I HATE YOU!!
Those three words hit you in your core.
They knock you back, take your breath and hit all the wrong spots. With those three simple words, a child can summon your deepest, darkest emotions. Those three simple short words are the three words I think every single parent or teacher dreads. Even the most zen mamas on earth get shaken by these hurtful stinging words.
I know. I've been there.
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Retelling the story, I can't even remember what the argument started over. I remember I did everything "right". I walked over to him. I got down on his level. I told him what I needed from him and attempted to make a plan. Everything was looking smooth and calm. This transition wasn't going to get us this time.
And then... it happened. I asked him to clean up what he was playing with and without a warning or signal...
I HATE YOU!!
My initial reaction was to scream right back at him, "Don't you dare speak to me that way, mister." But I held it back. He said it again.
I HATE YOU!!
This time there was a kick in my direction as I tried to help him clean up. This time the sting was a little stronger and tears started to fill my eyes. "Don't let him see you cry" I thought to myself, but before I could give myself the pep talk I really needed he said it again.
I HATE YOU!! YOU ARE THE WORST!! GO AWAY!!
Three Simple Words that Change Everything
This time it was all arms flailing, blocks flying and legs kicking. He was angry! I was angry! We both needed something. That's when I remembered what I tell my students. How could I have forgotten those three simple words.
So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a brief moment and made a new dialogue in my head. I made it a point to swap his three words with mine every single time he said them... it came down to one tiny yet incredibly powerful word... need.
Now, every time he screamed at me instead of "I hate you", I heard...
I NEED YOU!!
Yes, it really is that simple. Put those three words on repeat in your head and see the magic that happens.
Behavior is Communication...
As a mama bear, it's my instinct to help when my child needs me. This small but powerful word changed absolutely everything. Instead of looking at his behavior and outburst as something that needed punishment, I suddenly saw a child screaming (quite literally) for help.
So often, as parents, we take our children's behaviors as a sign that they need to be punished or we need to take back control and power when really the behavior is simply communication. I can't help but think of this picture of the iceberg, where only 1/6th of what is going on can be seen, while everything else hides under the surface.
In this instance, my son didn't know how to tell me he needed me. He didn't have the emotional regulation skills to recognize what triggered his feelings. He didn't have the words to express his bubbling emotions and worry. He was in the middle of the fight, flight and freeze response and needed help getting to a calm place.
Taking his words personally or hearing them as an attack on me was not going to help. Instead the next time he screamed, this is what I did...
I HATE YOU!!
I closed my eyes, took a breath in through my nose and out through my mouth and muttered these three words... he needs me.
I opened my eyes, got down on his level, and said " I know you feel that way, but I still love you."
I'd like to tell you it magically de-escalated... that would be a lie. However, I had his attention. He let me a little closer and he yelled again.
Once again, I took a breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth and muttered these three words.. he needs me.
I opened my eyes, sat down on my bottom, took a nice scoot backwards and whispered "I know you are angry, but I still love you. I am here."
After a few rounds of this, we were finally at a point where he could get closer to me and I could coach him towards helping me understand what led to his frustrations. In the future, we would work on how to appropriately express that anger. But right now, in this moment, that isn't what either of us needed.
Not only was his brain completely unable to accept and receive logical thought, neither one of us had the emotional energy for a "lesson" right now. What we needed was connection and understanding.
I NEED YOU
If you need more help remaining calm, understanding your child's anger and explosions, or you just need to know you are not alone. You are in the right place. In fact, I have a few resources I think you might find helpful.
Resources for Parenting an Angry Child
18 of the Most Supportive Facebook Groups for Parenting High Needs Children
The Unspoken Casualties of Parenting an Explosive Child
3 Super Simple Steps to Help an Angry Child Recognize Triggers
25 Simple Ways to Remain Calm When Your Child is Melting Down
Everything You Need to Know for Calming Tantrums and Meltdowns
100 Calm Down Tools and Strategies You Can Use Today
I would love to know if this works for you and your family. Once we started using this phrase every time there was a meltdown or every time my son lashed out at me or Mr. Lemon, one of us would remind the other of these three simple words. It was the beginning of our relationship changes and opened the door to allow us to help our son through his emotions instead of shutting down or responding out of anger.
Comment below or share on Facebook how these three words change your perspective when your child says "I hate you."
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