Do you find yourself saying things to your child during an argument without even thinking about it? Let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to be detached or objective when your child is in your face fighting with you. And naturally, it feels like a personal attack when he’s saying rude things or calling you names. During those moments, it’s all too easy to respond with something hurtful. All of a sudden, your feelings take over—your emotions jump into the driver’s seat and your thinking moves into the back seat.
What comes out of your mouth doesn’t always get into your child’s ear the way you want it to.
Almost every parent has gotten mad and said things to their kids they wish they could take back. The trick is to figure out how to remain in control so you don’t end up saying something you’ll regret. Though this is easier said than done, trust me, it is possible—and it’s a skill you can learn, just like anything else.
On the parent coaching line, we hear from people all the time after they’ve had arguments with their kids. They call us to get perspective and to find out ways they can manage their children’s behavior—and their own responses—more effectively. Here are some examples of the types of phrases I believe you should avoid saying to your child during an argument. (Later, I’ll suggest some things you can say—and do—instead.)
If you have a teenager in the house, you’ve probably seen him get upset about issues that seem insignificant or petty. You wonder how he can stomp into his room and slam the door just because his girlfriend didn’t text him back immediately. While his behavior might seem ridiculous by adult standards, try to refrain from invalidating his feelings. Think about a scenario where you’ve been upset and someone has brushed off your emotions. How did that make you feel? When a child believes his thoughts or feelings have been denied, not only does he feel more isolated, he’s liable to get even more angry, frustrated and moody.
So if your child says, “You never take my side; you’re always on my brother’s side,” during an argument, and you reply, “No, that’s not true,” that’s also a form of invalidation. Instead of saying, “That’s not true,” I think you could say, “Well, I see that a little differently. Tell me more about how you see it.” By the way, you wouldn’t want to ask that question during an argument, because it will just draw out the fighting and give your child more ammunition. Do it afterward, when he has calmed down and is ready to talk.
Even though it sounds fairly harmless, this one-two punch knocks down your child and his dad or mom. When Dad is frequently criticized in the home, for example, it’s not a compliment to your child to be compared to his father. And every time his dad is put down in the future, your child will receive two more punches.
It’s uncomfortable for kids to hear their parents saying negative things about each other, and if a child has been labeled as being “just like his dad,” he will feel anger and shame when Dad is criticized. If it’s an ex-spouse your child is being compared to, he may also feel that this is a threatening statement. In other words, if he’s just like his father and his parents are divorced, where does that leave him?
It’s also a mistake to say things like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” This is a pitfall for parents, especially when you have one child who acts out and one who behaves fairly reasonably. When you use this kind of comparison, it’s hurtful and also pits your children against each other—you are tapping directly into sibling rivalry and actually fanning the flames between your kids. Remember, they are unique and each has good qualities.
Being called a screw-up or an idiot is demeaning. These things are said to make people feel shame, or to put them in their place. Though many people think shame is a good way to punish kids, I don’t think it gives children the tools they need to learn new skills. In fact, it will often have the opposite effect because it may cause them to withdraw. In the long run, shame will make your child less capable of making the right decisions.
By the way, shame is different from guilt, which can actually be a healthy emotion. Feeling guilty is not bad because it contains feelings of remorse and accountability. You should feel regret when you do something wrong or hurtful; that’s natural. You want your child to feel some guilt when she borrows her sister’s sweater without asking and then ruins it—and you want her to be accountable for that action. But don’t use shame to try to make your child feel guilty. Shame has the effect of saying, “You’re a worthless person.” When the message is one of embarrassment and humiliation, it doesn’t teach accountability.
We’ve all been fed up with our kids and thrown up our hands, but this phrase makes children feel isolated and should be avoided. “I’m through with you,” is an angry threat often said with the desire to hurt the other person. In the long-term, continuing to say these types of remarks to your child will hurt your relationship.
Think of it this way: A child depends on his parents for survival. Parents provide protection, food, clothing and housing. So if the person who is in charge of nurturing the child makes a statement saying, “I’m cutting you off,” it’s shocking, frightening and can be very wounding.
First of all, I want to say that you’re not a monster if you’ve felt this way. We are all capable of feeling negative things at certain times. After a difficult day or a crushing argument with your child, you might think, “Sometimes I wish I never had children,” because you’re exhausted, drained and upset. It’s important to understand that this feeling is “of the moment,” and is not your overall emotion.
When you’re feeling this way, I recommend that you bite your tongue and take some time to yourself to decompress and get back on track. Using these words to make your child feel badly for something he’s done will usually only serve to make your relationship with him more volatile. If your child thinks he has nothing to lose—including your affection—he will often act out more.
When you say, “I hate you, too,” to win an argument with your child, you’ve already lost. You’re not your child’s peer and you’re not in a competition with him. By saying “I hate you,” you’ve just brought yourself down to your child’s level of maturity and left him thinking, “If my parent finds me repulsive, then I must be.”
If you do say this to your child in the heat of an argument, it’s important to go back later and say, “Listen, I realize that I said, ‘I hate you, too,’ and I want to apologize. It was wrong to say that to you. I am going to try to do a better job with my anger in the future.” Keep it about your issues; you don’t have to give your child a long explanation.
Parents wield a lot of psychological power over their kids. We tend to forget that sometimes—especially when our children are making us crazy. This happens to every parent, but we have to remember to hold back our emotions and our words and only say the things that are going to help teach the lessons we want our kids to learn.
If you’re in that moment of extreme anger and frustration with your child here are several things you can do.
Take a deep breath: Take a deep breath when you’re upset. This will make you feel less tense and the pause will give you time to stop yourself from saying those hurtful words. Remember, as James Lehman says, “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.” Look at it this way: what happens when one side lets go of the rope in tug-of-war? The line goes slack and the other side has nothing to struggle against anymore. Take a deep breath and let go of that rope. This will give you time to calm down and regroup.
Refocus: Learn how to refocus your child on the task at hand. If you’re trying to get your 12-year-old to do their homework and he gets angry and says, “I hate you,” I suggest you respond with, “We’re not talking about whether you love or hate me right now. What we’re talking about is you doing your math. Let’s focus on that.” Kids will sometimes try to manipulate parents into a power struggle in order to avoid doing something they don’t want to do. Try to focus on what needs to be done—and don’t let their words derail you or bring you down to their maturity level.
Replace your words with an action: Recognize that if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re about to blurt something out that you may regret, it’s a sign that you should leave the argument altogether. Again, you don’t have to attend that fight. What you need in this situation is an exit strategy. Simply state, “I don’t want to talk about this right now. We’ll talk later when things are calmer.” Then leave the room.
Resolve to stop: Sometimes people call parent coaching and say, “I don’t know how to stop saying these things to my child.” It sounds simple, but part of how you stop is by making up your mind to quit. Tell yourself that you won’t allow yourself to say those things anymore; they are no longer an option. When you take that possibility off the table, you will then be able to do something different.
Try to think about what you want your relationship with your kids to look like ten or twenty years from now; don’t simply focus on this moment of tension when your frustration is really high.
As a parent, there are days when you open your mouth and hear your own mother’s or father’s words coming out—good and bad. I believe that parents usually don’t mean it when they say hurtful things to their kids. But remember, what you say—and what you mean—isn’t always what your child hears. As James Lehman says, “It’s important to realize that what comes out of your mouth doesn’t always get into your child’s ear the way you want it to.”
In any close relationship, people are going to bump into each other now and again. Unfortunately, people say hurtful things—we’ve all done it. But honestly, if a parent can go back to their child and say, “I’m sorry that I said this to you, I realize that it was wrong,” that’s usually enough. Most children are very forgiving; they love their parents and want to get along with them. They may still remember what you said, but they’ll also remember the apology. That’s good role modeling for any relationship, because you’re saying, “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I’m going to try not to do this anymore. And I love you.”
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Carole Banks, LCSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 16 years, and is a former online parent coach for Empowering Parents. She is also the mother of three grown children and grandmother of six.
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I am 100 empathetic to your cause, and we will never stop being tested as parents and as people with a full range of emotions. The important thing was the regret and the apology, and this will allow for better moments going forward. As a child, I moved on from instances where my parents apologized to me and showed grief and affection after something that went sideways. In my case, I have a 4 1/2 year old child who has a very domineering personality (not unlike Jimmie Dean) and boundaries are always being tested. A lot of time it feels like a hockey game, but at bedtime there is the hug and kiss goodnight with no hard feelings. Kids respect contrition but also shows of strength and anger from parents when it is called for. As a layperson, I offer you that much having seen it all in the "theater", as it were. As well, I would also suggest not abiding by any kind of boilerplate template to deal with any unfolding situation, as they are all fluid and different in their own way. Remember that you are the "expert" in training and many people who offer advice do not have kids of their own.
I validate your journey as a parent and a human and wish you the very best. I have done my share of grieving and crying as a father. It comes with it all, the unglamorous duty of a parent. Stay strong!
Maybe i should let my mom read this cause today she said she wouldn't care if i was dying
oh my dad also told me that maybe i would get a boyfriend if i started going to the gym more
Hi, I am a child with Adhd and I have a toxic relationship with my mother. This morning as soon as I got up(yes it took awhile) my mother started reprimanding me for everything she could think of. This includes saying that "at least I can do my job". This is literally what I got about 3 minutes after waking up. I was taken aback at how rude she was and when I tried to get ready for school she kept moving into the most inconvenient of place which cause me to have to say 'excuse me' and try to gently push past her more than a dozen times. By the time I got on the bus I was almost in tears. WHat am I supposed to do in this situation?
I did what i was told to and got yelled at for ignoring her!
( my main anger is her ignorance as to my anger mainly towards her judgement in boyfriends, as he is literally 6 years older than me)
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the issues you are having with
your mother.Because we are a website
aimed at helping people become more effective parents, we are limited in the
advice and suggestions we can give to those outside of a direct parenting
role.Another resource which might be
more useful to you is the Boys Town National Hotline, which you can reach by calling
1-800-448-3000, 24/7. They have trained counselors who talk with kids, teens
and young adults everyday about issues they are facing, and they can help you
to look at your options and come up with a plan.They also have options to communicate via text,
email, and live chat which you can find on their website, http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/ We wish you
the best going forward. Take care.
I’m so sorry to hear about your situation with your
son. It can be really difficult when things are taken out of context, and
lead to misunderstandings. At this point, it’s going to be most effective
to focus on where you have control, which is over your own responses and
actions. While you cannot make your son talk to you, you can do what you
can to keep communication between you. For example, you might call, text,
email or otherwise reach out to your son, and apologize for any
misunderstanding for what he read. I recognize how challenging this must
be for you, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the way that your family members
are treating you. Because we are a website aimed at helping people become
more effective parents, we are limited in the advice and suggestions we can
give to those outside of a direct parenting role. Another resource which
might be more useful to you is the Boys Town National Hotline, which you can
reach by calling 1-800-448-3000, 24/7. They have trained counselors who talk
with kids, teens and young adults everyday about issues they are facing, and
they can help you to look at your options and come up with a plan. They
also have options to communicate via text, email, and live chat which you can
find on their website, http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/
We wish you the best going forward. Take care.
I've been told most of the things on this list and they seem didn't regret telling me that all the time. Instead they ask me to do something about it myself.
(1) When I was upset about something that looks ridiculous to them, instead of trying to understand my way of thinking, they're just gonna push me into thinking their ways and adding "why can't you see it our ways?" without even trying to really LISTEN to me.
(2) My mom used to tell that my dad was not good enough and when she's mad at me sometimes she said that I'm just like my father and that really upset me and make me hated my father even though my father was not at fault. I don't like being compared to (who doesn't) because it means my mom didn't want to see me as who I am but wishing me to be more like someone else. That is an indirect way of saying she doesn't love me as who I am, that (maybe) she will love me more if I was more like A, B, C. She even said that my little sister was better than me, that if I want to be treated as equal, I need to CHANGE to be more like my sister, otherwise she's not gonna change her behavior towards me. It's always the judgement and I was always the one at fault, I am the one who needs to be 'repaired', that I am the bad one.
(3) "Why can't you do things right?" is what my mom always told me when I do something that's not enough for her. He expect me to do it her ways but when I can't fulfill her expectation it's like I'm a disappointment for her. It's really a downer when you've did your BEST to do sth and then being told it's not enough good.
I just ...
I speak with many
parents who feel similar frustration with a child’s lack of motivation; you are
not alone! As James Lehman mentions in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/motivating-underachievers-part-i-when-your-child-says-i-dont-care/, it is
impossible to completely lack motivation. Instead, your son may be
motivated to resist you, as “I don’t care” gives him a lot of power.
While you cannot make your son care, or feel a certain way about his tasks, you
can https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/teflon-kids-why-children-avoid-responsibility-and-how-to-hold-them-accountable/ for completing them. Please let us know if you have
This sounds like a tough situation. I’m sorry you and your
sister have had to move in with other family members. We are limited in the
advice we are able to offer you in this situation. There is a website that may
be able to offer you some help and support though. Your Life Your Voice is
website aimed at helping kids, teens, and young adults find answers to some of the more challenging issues they may
be facing. They offer many different types of support, such as an online forum,
call in and text support, as well as e-mail help. You can find them online at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org. I hope
you find the site helpful. Good luck to you and your sister moving forward.
One of the basic tenets in the study of interpersonal
communication is that the message that is sent is not always the message that
is received. While most people making this type of statement do not
intend to follow through on it, that doesn’t always mean that it is taken that
way. For more information to help you answer your question, you might
consider contacting your local law enforcement agency on their non-emergency
line and asking them. You could also call the http://www.childhelp.org/ at
1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453) for more information. I appreciate your
question, and I hope you find the answer you seek through one of these other
resources. Take care.
Thank you for writing in; you ask some
great questions! Many parents struggle with how to most effectively
address a child’s acting-out, abusive behavior, so you are not alone
there. We speak with a lot of parents who feel powerless when a child
walks away from an argument. From our perspective, this can actually be a
good thing! We recommend that both parents and kids take a break when a
power struggle is happening, in order to prevent any further escalation.
This doesn’t mean that the original issue is ignored, however. Once
things are relatively calm again, we recommend having a http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php with your child about how she can more appropriately handle a
similar situation in the future. We also recommend setting clear limits
around http://www.empoweringparents.com/when-Kids-Get-Violent.php, and developing effective ways to address this type of behavior so
that you are neither retaliating nor tolerating it. From our perspective,
we find that using physical forms of discipline (such as spanking) is
ineffective because it doesn’t teach your child more effective means of solving
a problem, as well as modeling the message that aggression is OK. We
realize that this is a tough time to raise kids, and we appreciate you using us
as resource to become a more effective parent. Please let us know if you
have any additional questions; take care.
iffath khanam DeniseR_ParentalSupport
I can only imagine how upsetting it must be to hear your mom
make such statements. It can be difficult to know how to respond to such
negative self talk, especially from someone you love. While we are unable to
offer much guidance or support in this situation, there is aMore website you may
find helpful. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/SitePages/Home.as... is a website aimed at helping teens
and young adults deal with challenges they may be facing in various areas of
their lives. They offer many types of support, from an online forum, a call in
service, as well as support via text, online chat or e-mail. They also have a
series of tips and suggestions for steps you can take when confronted with
troubling circumstances. One tip in particular you may find helpful is http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/sitepages/tips/ti.... I encourage you to check
out the site and see what else they have to offer. Good luck to you and your
family moving forward. Take care.
I am sorry your father said something so upsetting to you. I
imagine it must have hurt your feelings to hear that. Because we are a
website aimed at helping people develop more effective parenting strategies, we
are limited in the help or coaching we could offer you in this situation. It
may be helpful to look into local resources, such as a support groups,
counselors, and other support services. The 211 Helpline can give you
information on resources available in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24
hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222 or visiting them online at http://www.211.org/. We appreciate you reaching out to Empowering
Parents and wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take care.