How Do Kids Feel When We're Mad at Them?

My son is five and he will sometimes get into this funk where he’s very negative.  In these moments, he “hates” almost everything, and most things are “stupid” and “boring.”  He’ll say, “I don’t want to play with Legos, they’re stupid!  I hate Legos!” And for some reason this negativity really gets to me.  In these moments, all I can think is, “How can I stop this?”  I try to convince him that Legos aren’t stupid, that he actually loves them, and you can probably guess that this line doesn’t work.  It just makes him more negative. 

So the harder I try to get him out of this funk, the worse the funk gets, and the more annoyed and angry I get.  Until one day, we are eating lunch, and he says he hates eggs.  This is a kid who usually scarfs down scrambled eggs like candy.  So, I launch into, “You love eggs! What are you talking about?” but then I stop.  I look at his face, and I can see how I am affecting him.   Something in me says, “Corey, you’re really upset with him right now, and he can feel that, and it’s not helping.”  I stop talking, close my eyes, and take some deep breaths.  I need a different approach. 

I work with lots of parents, and what was happening for me is really common for parents with kids of all ages.  Your child does something you really don’t like and you try different strategies to change it.  Sometimes your attempts work, and things get better.  But sometimes they don’t, and no matter what you try, it doesn’t seem to get better.  It could be your four-year-old won’t brush her teeth or your fourteen-year-old won’t do his homework. 

It’s times when you’re really trying to change a behavior or attitude, but your kid just won’t budge.  You feel stuck, and you start to dread certain times of day or certain situations.  You need a different approach, but you’re not sure what to do. 

Well, there is a different approach, one that has helped lots of parents (myself included) get out of feeling stuck, and it starts by making a pretty big shift.  That is shifting the focus away from your child and onto yourself.  And it starts with a simple question, “How do I feel toward my child right now?”   This doesn’t seem like the most important thing to focus on when you’re feeling stuck, but after over a decade working with kids and families, I believe it is.  And I’ve put together six articles that I’ll send out weekly that will explore this approach. 

Let’s go back to my son and me at lunch.  I had tried lots of strategies to stop his negativity…none were working.  It seemed like the harder I tried, the more negative he got.  I was feeling really annoyed and angry with him, and even though I thought I was hiding those feelings, they were having a big impact. 

We have to remember that most of our communication is nonverbal.  And kids are extra sensitive to the nonverbal signals of their parents.   So no matter how nice or patient we act, if underneath we feel angry or annoyed, they can feel it.  I was trying to be patient with my son, but my anger toward him was coming out in my facial expression, tone of voice, and body language.  So my son could feel, deep down, that I was angry with him in that moment, and the deepest parts of his brain registered that as rejection.  And when kids feel rejection, they usually act out.  (This applies to grown-ups too). 

So when I asked myself that question, “How do I feel toward him now?” it helped me shift my approach, and I began to feel unstuck.  And next week, we’ll talk about how you can feel unstuck with your kid. 

Your kid did not come with an owner’s manual.  Parenting is really hard.  You love your kids, but you’re a human, and sometimes you feel upset with them.  Want help with that from a parent who won’t judge you or make you feel like you’re totally messing up? Reach out for a free 30-minute consultation. 

Also, Check out my podcast, The Teen Mind, on your podcast app.