I hate you…

photo by *clairity* via Flickr

There are times when kids say things that seem like they are meant to hurt…and sometimes  it does:

“I wish I were never born!”

“You don’t love me.”

“You love her more than you love me.”

“I wish I had another mother”

Ouch.

There are some things kids say every day that are easy to ignore. But, there are other times when they go for the gusto. They really cut deep with their words and all of a sudden we loose our grasp on reality and react. Your ears get red, your throat swells, or tears start to well up. It is amazing some of the things a 4 year old can say, but it happens.

It is important to think about this when there is no emotion involved, no thought about whether or not your child actually feels that way, and no inner thoughts telling you your kid might be right. It is important to have a plan and an understanding of why they say these things so you don’t end up teaching them to use these words more.

So, if you are in a fresh state of mind, let’s get a few things clear about why they say these things and what you need to do when it happens.

They don’t know these words hurt. They don’t know why. This is not the way they feel.

Understand that first. Repeat it to yourself in times of distress or when you are questioning yourself.

Are you sharpening the tool or making it dull?

Your kids use these words for a reason. The words are tools…a last ditch effort when all else has failed. It is an escalation in most cases, but an immediately strong reaction in others.

It might be a sign that your kid’s “attention cup” is running low. It might be the case they are telling you, “but, I really, really want that Transformer and you don’t seem to care how much I want it.” Either way, you do not need to attend to it when it happens.

If you attend to these statements, you will likely teach your child how powerful these words or statements are. Be very careful.

For example, if you have ignored simple attempts at getting your attention, but then your daughter gets upset and says, “you NEVER play with me” and then you go and play, guess what just happened? Yep…you have taught them a very effective and efficient way to get access to you, NOT in a way you want them to.

It is about timing. If your kid is more able to get your attention after using these words than before they said these words, you are going to be in trouble.

There is a time for everything

And the time to reassure them about your love, affection and care is not when they say these things. It can be once they calm down or once they are reasonable (as reasonable as a 5 year old can be). You can even say something like, “I am glad you are calm now, did you want to read books with me or color in the den with me?”

Of course, and most importantly, if you maintain consistent attention, affection and reinforcement to your kid, you can better be prepared to ignore these statements and move on.

And remember…

Try to anticipate these things as they are likely to happen again and understand you dont want to be in the place again to have to ignore these comments. They are powerful. They hurt. Make sure you do as much as you can to not have to hear these words again.

 

 

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Crying: emotional response or behavioral tool? You decide

           

As parents, we are told to ignore a lot. There are certain things that are no-brainers, but then there are situations that present more difficult choices for parents to make. This is especially true when it seems there is an emotional component to the child’s behavior.

Crying is one of those behaviors.

Trying to figure out when crying is an emotional response vs. a behavioral tool (something your kid uses to get something or to avoid something) can be difficult. We all know our children learn their behaviors can be functional in many ways. It can get them access to things they need, it can get them escape from things they don’t want and it can also communicate a need for nurturing and attention.

This is all very healthy.

But, there are times when you do not want your child to use crying (or other behaviors that will not serve them well in the future) as a do-all tool. Kids crying at the drop of a hat when things don’t go their way. Immediately crying when another kid takes their new Hot Wheels car or doesn’t take turns correctly. We know what these people are like when they grow up and you don’t want your kid to be one.

Try to be aware of the times when your kid is possibly crying as a behavior tool rather than an emotional response to something. Are you teaching them that crying is a functional tool to get something they want? Are you teaching them crying is a way to get out of something they don’t want to do?

Here is a trick: do they stop crying immediately when you do something?

That is a sign the crying was most likely being used as a tool. When was the last time you were able to stop your true emotional crying at the drop of a hat?

True emotional crying takes some recovery time, does it not?

Teach them more functional ways to communicate and respond to when things don’t go their way.

Be compassionate, but be careful. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is make sure the crying (as a behavioral tool) does not work for them.

Separation Anxiety? A “pick-me-up” for school drop-offs

“Separation anxiety,” from a behavioral point of view, is the same as any other behavior in that it is functional…it serves a purpose.  What purpose does it usually serve?  You ready?

I have been unreasonably hesitant to write about “separation anxiety” for some reason.  I openly talk to parents about it without problems, but I know it can encroach on some pretty sensitive grounds.  However, I do feel BehaviorBandAid is missing something if we don’t talk about it.  Here goes.

Lets define it.

For the purposes of this discussion, let me just say I am calling “separation anxiety” the crying, screaming, holding onto your left leg as you struggle (emotionally and physically) to get away behavior.  Your kid is scratching at the window, running out the door, kicking and screaming while the babysitter is wondering what she got herself into.  Misery.  We talked about some of this when we talked about getting your kids to bed.

This can be hard…

First, function

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, even those with the problem.  The function (read: “purpose”) of these behaviors is most likely regained access to you (assuming you are the one dropping them off or leaving them).

You try to leave….he cries…you return

You try to leave again…she screams and runs for you…you stay a little while longer

On top of that, when you return, it is usually a more comforting, nurturing version of you.  An extra few minutes, a few more good-bye kisses, a few more hugs, and a few more steps towards the door.

Take a look at this…

Did you see what just happened above?  Your kid does not want you to leave (a natural emotion) and crying, screaming and throwing a fit got you back to him.  It was FUNCTIONAL.  The emotional outburst was successful in getting him what he did not previously have…you.

For those that really have this problem, these things rarely help.  Your actions might even make it worse.  You know this, you are simply hesitant to do what I am about to tell you to do.

Stop, drop and roll

A teacher friend of mine has a saying about parent drop-off at her school in the morning.  She sees plenty of kids struggling to get out of the car with their parents, and plenty of parents struggling to let their kids go.  Her motto is: stop (your car), drop (off your kids) and roll (the hell out of the parking lot…see you at 3:00).

I’m not going to be that harsh, but she is close…because here is the secret:

Your kid is fine once you leave

Try this first.

If the problem is leaving your kid, create a good-bye routine.  Two high fives, a knuckle-bump and a hug, then you are out.  Practice it at home.  Leave her in her room and play like you are leaving at school or with a babysitter.  Let her know you will be back.  Come back later, but don’t make a huge deal over it…just tell her you will always be back.  Practice this…this is as much for you as it is for your kid.  Do it as much as possible, even at times when you are leaving when she usually does not have the problem.  This is what you do when you leave…every time.

On the way to school remind them of the “good-bye” deal.  Let them know you are into it.  When you get to school, do the good-bye routine and leave.  LEAVE.  Don’t come back.  Please.  Your kids are safe.  If you do not trust your kid’s teacher, you have a bad situation and a bigger problem.  If you do, your kid will be fine.  Leave.

You don’t love your kid less, you are not torturing them, and no, one more hug won’t help.  Put him down and leave…at this point it is about you…not your kid (OK, I said it).

Please understand why I am asking you to do this.  I am asking you to do this so you do not accidentally create a situation where your kid has more and more trouble being away from you and it actually turns into serious and real anxiety.  You are a safe and nurturing place…that is good.  That is the way it is supposed to be.  But, there are problems associated with your kid being dependent only on you for those things.  Her happiness and security relies on you being there.  Thats not good.  It will potentially keep your kids from exploring other things and being able to enjoy times away from you.  It will also exhaust you to the point where that one day, you finally say “thats enough” and you leave them in a complete mess at soccer camp, school or a friend’s house.  Don’t create that moment…prepare your kids for being away from you.  They will need that one day, and so will you.