"If you keep whining and having that behavior, you're not going to be able to do computer today."
She throws herself on the floor and starts to whine again.
"Okay. You just lost your computer time for the day."
My 4-year-old starts crying and rushes to her room, slamming the door behind her. Then I hear her open it back up, take a step out into the hall, and say, "I hate you, Mom! You're stupid! I hate my stupid Mom! I don't love my stupid, stupid Mom anymore!!"
Part of me couldn't help but laugh (quietly in the kitchen, so she didn't hear or see me) at the drama of it all. But part of me had my feelings hurt a little bit. I don't think hearing your child say, "I hate you" will ever get easier.
My 4-year-old is my spirited, fiery, passionate daughter. And she's been a challenge to parent. She pushes all your buttons, and fights back when she feels she's been wronged. She tests every limit you give her. And at times, I have felt clueless about how to handle her.
So lately, my parenting motto has simply been to love her through it.
She will often run to her room when she's upset. And if anyone tries to go in, she yells at them and says she needs alone time. Even after she yelled those terrible things at me yesterday, I didn't run back there to spank her, or yell at her, or get onto her about her bad behavior. I let her be.
After about 10 minutes of screaming and crying, her door opened again and I prepared myself for the next assault. But to my surprise, she said, "I'm sorry for whining and yelling, Mom! I'm so, so, so sorry!" And she closed the door again. When it sounded like she had quit crying, I quietly walked back to her room and gently knocked on the door.
When she opened it, I held up my arms and asked if she needed a hug. She broke into tears again and rushed into my arms. I picked her up, just hugging her for a minute, and then sat down with her on my bed. I told her that she had really hurt my feelings for saying those things, and she teared up as she apologized again. I reassured her that I loved her no matter what - when she's angry, when she has bad behavior, when she's good, and when she has good behavior.
Then we talked for a minute about why she had gotten in trouble in the first place. The poor girl told me that it was too hard for her to quit whining, and that she just couldn't stop. So I reassured her that I would help her learn to quit, and that her Daddy and I would always be there to help her learn better behavior. Then we hugged again, she told me how much she loved me, and asked if she could just sit with me for a few minutes.
She wasn't in a fabulous mood after that, but our day started to return to normal.
I am not a parenting guru, and I daily feel like I'm searching for the answers to the next parenting dilemma. But what most of my parenting decisions come back to is the very simple desire for my children to feel loved and accepted, unconditionally.
Sure, my daughter will probably have a similar outburst in the near future. I haven't "solved" that problem for her. But when she's having those overwhelming emotions - anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment - I want her to learn these things:
- That the things she says and does will have natural consequences. People will not want to be around her if she is being mean to them (being sent to her room when she wants to yell). She will hurt people's feelings (admitting to her that she hurt mine). Once she has calmed down, she almost always feels bad about these things, and apologizes.
- That the feelings will pass. Ignoring those feelings, covering them up, or demanding that they go away (don't we, as parents, often demand this from our kids?) won't work very well. It's okay to feel them and to give yourself some space to process them. It's not our feelings, but our behaviors that we have the most control over.
- That she should not be afraid of her father and I. We are not there to punish, shame, belittle, or judge her. If she's not afraid of our response, I hope she'll be more likely to come to us when she is having trouble navigating a tough situation. We will always be on her side.
- That no matter what, her father and I will love her. We are human too, and we make our own mistakes. Her behavior has no effect on her worth, or her right to be loved. I may not stick around if she wants to yell at me, but I'll be waiting with a hug when she's ready to make amends.
When I fight back against my daughter, when I try to prove that I know best (and that, by God, she'll do what I say because I'm bigger than her), its usually more difficult and more exhausting for us to come back together, reconnect, and find peace again.
But when I give her some space - when I stop trying to control - and I love her through it, the situation diffuses more easily. We reconnect, we hug, we tell each other we love each other, and our day resumes. Our goal as parents should not be to control our children's behavior, because we won't always be around to do that for them. Our goal should be to help them learn to control themselves. And most importantly, to learn that their parents will always be a place from which to draw strength, wisdom, and love.
So if you're feeling overwhelmed and don't know what to do, try loving them through it. It will be easier on both of you.