This is letter is in response to a parent looking for some help on dealing with a disrespectful child. For me, there was no bigger step I could have taken than reevaluating my view of my child. That’s what this one letter is about.
Question: My 5 year old daughter disrespects me and doesn’t listen to me. When I ask her to do something, she’ll just look at me and say no. Often she is mean to me and will tell me she hates me or she will hit me. I try to stay calm, but I get angry. I don’t want to get angry. I yell and get negative. I don’t want to be like this. I want to be better for my daughter. Do you have any thoughts?
Here is my response. The parent found it useful, so I thought I would share it.
Thank you for the message. This can be frustrating. You aren’t happy with her treatment of you and you’d also like to respond in a better way. I have some thoughts for you based on my own experience.
This used to be a challenge for me. It can feel like your child is being disrespectful, for sure. I don’t doubt that. Especially with how much you do for her, with how much you love her. The hitting, the hurtful words and the outright defiance are difficult to deal with, I get it.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret though that might help. What if I told you that she is not intending to be disrespectful to you, she is probably not even capable of being disrespectful. In order to be disrespectful, one has to understand that concept of respect and then consciously choose to act counter to it. That is above the understanding of most young children I believe.
When a child acts out, it is about them, not you. Young children are egocentric. Their actions speak about how they are feeling. For example, if a child were to say “I hate you”, that could be hard to deal with. It might sting a bit. It could be tempting to take it personally or to see it as disrespect.
However, I implore you not to take bait. There are subtitles to this that you need to read. You must read between the lines. Does your child really mean that she hates you? Likely not. But there is something to be understood here.
So, what might she actually be saying?
“I don’t like you right now. I am sad. I am frustrated. That’s not fair. I don’t like that. I don’t feel connected to you. I don’t feel heard.”
These type of sentiments I believe are the real messages behind the I hate you words or a child hitting. There is no real malice in her “acting out”. There is only an attempt to communicate.
In this way, behavior is a roadmap to understanding what is going on for her. The behavior, although not desirable to you, points to the fact that she is having a hard time, she’s not really trying to give you a hard time. It’s about her.
The world our little ones are living in can be confusing, frustrating and full of big emotions. Combine that with an evolving sense of self awareness and self control and you are going to see some of the behaviors you mentioned. Yes, our children will learn to self regulate and advocate for themselves in more mature ways as they develop, but we need to have patience with them and model for them the behaviors we want to teach.
Replacing the idea that my child is disrespectful and mean with the idea that my child needs help and guidance was the best thing I ever did as a parent.
This perspective helped me step out of a blaming style of parenting into a more compassionate and problem solving way of being. It helped me be more consistent, less reactive. The more loving, calm, and curious we are during these tough times, the better it is for everyone. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll be doing your daughter a huge favour. For her to witness you being in control and loving… no matter what, will go a long way for her and her development. You’ll be modelling the very behavior you want to teach. And by the way, this is the quickest way out of any “misbehaving” stage…is to not be reactive, but to curious and willing to help.
This likely won’t be the last time you face challenging behavior. So, it helps to understand that when she “acts out”, it is not really about you. However, it’s an opportunity for listening, understanding, being curious, and problem solving together.
For me there was more to becoming a mature and positive parent, but this was a bit part of it.
Once I understood the real intent behind my child’s behavior, it enabled me to not take it so personally (which calmed me down) AND it also gave me a better perspective to help. That felt good. If I knew that my child was sad and disappointed for example, I could address that instead of reacting to perceived rudeness.
Would you be willing to make the shift to see your child’s behavior in this new light?