The other evening, my husband pulled into the driveway where my kids were playing after work. My 4-year-old son, who is outrageously attached to his dad and always has been, very typically was over the moon to see him, hopping up and down excitedly.
Not but a minute after Jed distributed hugs and kisses all around, his work phone rang. It was his boss’s boss. He quickly excused himself, dashing inside the house.
My son was crestfallen. Tears soon spilled from his eyes as he looked at the closed door to the house.
In the world of a 4-year-old, there is nothing more essential than spending time with the people you love. The concept of needing to interrupt play time in order to speak to a mysterious person at the other end of the phone is foreign and bewildering.
But in my experience with this child, these tears always give way to sulking. Which is exactly what happened here.
A red-faced Will looked up at me and proclaimed ferociously, “I’m going to take Daddy and throw him in the dog food!”
I felt compelled to quickly whip my head around so as to not let Will see my face transform from the previously sympathetic to suddenly amused. After all, do I truly want my son to think that I am diabolical?
Here he is at his most vulnerable, feeling wounded and rejected (albeit illogical), and I am stifling giggles. Nice goin’, Mama.
This scene that played out is not terribly unusual in the Peterson household, unfortunately.
On so many occasions, my tykes are ticked off at me. 95% of the time or more, I am the object of their fury. Here’s one example of how this plays out (with my daughter Caroline egging my son on):
Will (scornfully): Scary Man’s gonna eat you and put you in the hospital, Mom-MEE!
Caroline (excitedly fueling the fire): Are you mad at ME, Will?
Will (with escalating anger): No!
Caroline (flipping her hands with joy): Who are you mad at, Will?
Will (glaring at me): Mommy!
And so the conversation goes. The vast majority of the time I am bouncing my head back and forth watching the exchange between the children. I’ve learned not respond; after all, a response is exactly what my children want from me. So I just saunter out of the room and wait for the stuff to really hit the fan.
Which leads me to wonder…..am I handling this correctly so as to not inadvertently raise up a serial killer who leaves his victims’ remains in giant bags of dog food?
Holly Bennett authored an article “Discipline Guide: Attitude Adjustment” loaded with great tips for dealing with insults from kids of all ages. http://www.todaysparent.com/kids/preschool/discipline-guide-attitude-adjustment/
I would encourage any parent dealing with disrespectful behavior to read the entire article, but I’ll throw out a few nuggets that I found especially helpful:
- Do not tell your children that they are hurting your feelings. This one sort of knocked me out. Many times I have tried to explain how words can hurt. Psychologist Anthony Wolf'(whose opinions are featured in the article) suggests that this strategy can give too much power to the offending child. A better solution? Respond to the insult in a more objective fashion such as, “What you just said was mean.”
- Disengage. Bingo! Mama’s doing something right! Essentially, announce that you are leaving and why. “‘Consider the difference,’ says Wolf, ‘between giving the message “That is not acceptable, and you have to stop” and the message “That is not acceptable, and I’m not going to allow myself to be subjected to it.” The first throws down the gauntlet for a power struggle. The second puts you in control.'” I love when psychologists validate my parenting techniques…..
- Understand that young kids are “trying out” terms they’ve heard. They’re not judging you as a mom when they throw out insults. Kids being naughty are simply attempting to show their emotions through words rather than less socially acceptable means (yelling and flailing). This information is MOST helpful to remember when trying to keep your cool after a little one calls you a Doo-Doo Head.
It’s really quite simple: Maintain your composure. Be the boss at all times. Do not give a misbehaving child what they want (whether it is a particular item or your attention).
And if all else fails?
It feels really, really cathartic to call your kid a bad name behind a closed door at the end of the day with a big ole glass of wine in your hand.
Have you had to handle insults from your kids? What did you do to straighten their little behinds out?