I was listening to a mother tell me how much of a “jerk” her five-year-old was. She explained that he was “out to get her,” and “trying to make her life miserable.” With a deep sigh, she told me she didn’t want to be with her son, which made her very sad. “I mean, I love him, but I can’t stand him right now.”
After listening more to her situation, I discovered that both this mom and her husband often spent their time correcting their son’s behaviour. The bulk of their interaction was that the boy would “misbehave,” which his parents then yelled at him for. This is often the dynamic, which causes parents to start to dislike their own child.
If this is starting to happen, I invite you to consider these eight steps to repairing the relationship with your child:
1. Change the way you see your “problem” child.
Stop labelling your child or dramatizing his behaviour—children are not “monsters” who “push buttons” or “manipulate” adults. This is an interpretation adults make based on concepts only they understand. Your child is not out to get you.
Begin by looking at your child as the little one you love who is having trouble expressing his needs, rather than someone who is a troublemaker.
2. Remind yourself of what you love about him.
Some days when the relationship with one of my children is heading south, I look at baby pictures (with him) and explain what was happening in those moments. Find a characteristic you love to remind you of all the good your child has inside him. That good might just be having trouble getting out sometimes.
3. Find at least one thing to be thankful for about your child.
For those who have toddlers, do any of you look at your child with anger after enduring a sleepless night of yelling, wake-ups, and wet beds? I certainly did.
On those nights, when I crawled back into bed at 3am crying, I’d force myself to stop the “I’ve had enough of this sh*t” from coming out, and make myself say, “I am thankful I have this little guy waking me up at night.” After having two miscarriages as my age approached forty, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be a mother. That moment of thankfulness is enough to keep my negative self-talk at bay.
What can you remember to be thankful for instead of telling yourself how much you hate or dislike your child?
4. Put your detective hat on.
Look at misbehaviour as communication gone sideways. Consider what is happening in your child’s world that might be causing distress, sadness, or anger. A child acts out when he is experiencing an overwhelming situation and/or overwhelming feelings and doesn’t have the skills to handle it and calm down on his own.
Ask yourself this question—“Why might my child be driven to ________ (ignore/shout at/be rude to/flip out on) me?”
Also, look at the relationship your child has with other people. Is there someone else he might feel anger toward or sadness about? Has your partner been hard on him? Is there a teacher embarrassing him in front of the class? Is a Coach belittling him in front of the team? All of these are potentially damaging to a child’s core beliefs, and need to be addressed.
If misbehaviour is really a call for help, what does your child need help with?
5. Remove harsh language and discipline.
Children might obey strict or harsh discipline out of fear, but this type of discipline does not grow rational thought, it grows defenses, deceit, sneakiness, and intense emotions. Think of what kind of treatment from another person makes you want to lash out at that person. Do you like to be told what to do? Yelled at? Made fun of? Reminded of your shortcomings? Children certainly don’t.
When a person treats us harshly, the usual emotion that gets stirred is anger. It is hard for a child to follow instructions or be friendly with an adult who is not friendly, himself.
6. Use positive discipline techniques.
Removing harsh discipline does not mean becoming a parenting doormat. It means using firm and friendly practices to teach and guide your children. Children need to be taught calm-down strategies, straightforward communication, emotional awareness, empathy, routines, and how to manage frustration.
If you would like more information on how to teach and guide your child with positive discipline, I invite you over to my Facebook page where I continually post free parenting information, or check out any of the POSITIVE DISCIPLINE books by Jane Nelsen, PhD.
7. Turn toward him, not away from him.
It can be very easy to get into a pattern of disliking your child, reminding yourself of all that isn’t going well. Instead of spending time away from your child as you are going through the repair process and really understanding what is wrong in his world, turn toward your child. Spend more time with him. If he doesn’t want to be with you, start by just being in the same room—read close by while he does his homework. Use baby steps until he trusts you have good intentions.
Let him know you’ve made some parenting mistakes and are making changes for the positive—let him know that he is important to you and righting your relationship sail is a priority for you. If your child is old enough, you can even discuss your parenting goals and ask him for feedback.
Turn toward your child by filling his attachment tank. If he isn’t receiving the attention and your attunement well, I invite you to enlist the help of a professional. The longer a sour relationship is left, the wider the separation divide can grow. Ask for support from a trusted mental health professional.
8. Get enough rest.
Parents who are rested and meeting their own basic needs have an easier time meeting the needs of their children. If you are feeling tired, weepy, or overwhelmed, consider how you could get more rest. I did that by letting go of projects I really wanted to do for the time being, and enlisting the help of neighbours, friends, and family members to hang out with my kids for a little while.
If you liked this, you might also like 8 Ways To Reduce The Stress Of Parenting A Toddler and The F-ing Fours.