”You’re making me crazy!” When You’re at the End of Your Parenting Rope

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Parent going crazy in front of daughter
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Parent: “OK, time to turn off the video games and go clean your room.”
Child: “That’s not fair! I don’t want to clean my room! That’s boring and stupid!”
Parent: “Why do you always do this to me? You’re making me crazy!!!”

When parents say things like, “Why are you doing this to me? You’re making me crazy,” to their children, it’s a signal to me that they’re personalizing their kids’ behavior. In other words, what you’re really doing is taking your child’s behavior and viewing it as a personal attack upon you. In my experience, parents often say things like this when they’re at the end of their ropes, emotionally.

But I think parents make a major mistake when they personalize their children’s behavior. Remember that misbehavior and inappropriate language often come from a child’s low tolerance for frustration, fear and anger, and then is combined with their poor problem-solving skills in emotional situations. When parents personalize the inappropriate behavior directed at them, this often leads to fighting with their children, with really nothing to be gained. Remember, we want to avoid power struggles and fights whenever we can.

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From a parent’s perspective, when you finally yell in exasperation, “Why are you doing this to me,” what you’re saying is, “Can’t you see you’re hurting me? Can’t you see you’re making me angry?”

Of course, the truth is that your child can’t see that they’re hurting you, because children and adolescents generally have very poorly developed empathy skills. So even if your child feels empathy toward a person or an animal, they haven’t always developed the skills necessary to show their empathy by changing their behavior. And empathy itself doesn’t seem to develop at the same pace in everyone.

This means that often, when you put your child or adolescent in a position where you’re trying to engage their empathy by saying, “You’re hurting me,” it doesn’t go in their ears the same way it comes out of your mouth. Also you have to consider the fact that empathy is very often not the issue. The issue is that they  want to get back at you for telling them to do something they don’t want to do. And if they know what buttons to push to make you frustrated or angry, they’re going to push them because it gives them a sense of power or control over the situation.

It’s also important to realize that when you ask, “Why do you want to hurt me,” you’re giving your child or adolescent information about how to hurt you later. So the next time there’s a disagreement or you’re locked in a power struggle, your child will use that knowledge to hurt you in order to get you to back off. So when you use a phrase like, “You’re making me crazy,” what your child hears you saying is, “You have tremendous power over me. Oh, your muscles are so big and strong, please don’t hurt me.”

By saying this, you’re not engaging your child’s empathy; you’re engaging your kid’s urge to use domination and control as a problem-solving tool. And those tools aren’t effective. They may solve your child’s problems with frustration or anger in the short term, but in the long run, as everyone knows, they don’t work.

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So instead of personalizing your child’s behavior by thinking, “Why is he doing this to me,” try to think, “What does he need from me right now?” In some cases, your child may need you to listen to him or her and process whatever they’re going through. In my experience, very often what your child really needs is for you to give clear instruction and set firmer limits: They need you to follow through and be consistent. Don’t show them that you’ve taken what they’ve said personally—keep your comments about feeling attacked to yourself, your partner or a supportive group of friends.

Personalizing kids’ behavior is just not helpful. It won’t lead to solving the real problem for you or your child. And remember, teaching your child problem-solving skills is one of the most important goals you can achieve as a parent.

Related Content:
Challenging Parenting Issues: 5 of the Hardest Things Parents Face
The 3 Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior

About

James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (4)
  • HeidiHi
    I love reading a whole article about what NOT to do and all the things I am doing wrong - said no parent ever! So what did the parent say and do that made the child clean his/her room without an epic battle? Listen to the child? Find outMore what they need? Ok then I'll clean his/her room for them because their "favourite" cartoon (1 of 70) is on right now and they can't miss it. Thanks.
  • LLook1
    I am currently dealing with these exact issues with my almost 9 year old daughter. I run a daycare and everyday is a challenge with her. By the end of the day I cannot wait to run errands to just get away. I know deep down she is a veryMore kind and respectful child, but there is not one day that goes by when she doesn't feel the need to try to push me to a breaking point. She does not do it to her father or any other adult, only me. When her father is home she does not act up near as bad. I just wanted to thank you for this post. It was assuring to find out these problems do go on in other households.
  • Mamagoat
    So, what if you're 16 month old just wants your undivided attention 100% of the time and you are a single, work-from-home parent that can't afford a nanny? My son has a wonderful disposition but he wants to be in my face as I work. It is becoming near impossibleMore to accomplish anything. I realize he is curious. I used to teach and taught children from the age of kindergarten up through high school for 9 years. I have had thousands of students. I know that he is bright, sweet and that engagement is the best discipline but I cannot engage him as much as he wants/needs. I am only one person. It does drive me nuts when II have just finished cleaning and organizing and he comes behind me, like a hurricane, and "explores" (destroys) everything I just did. He dumps the trash, the clean laundry, clears the bookshelves in one fell swoop, gets into my drawers and takes everything out....he can reach every counter and table. he can climb everything and even dodge his baby gate. He is so smart. He figures everything out, which is a blessing. How can I baby proof more? I feel like he would figure out how to escape a padded room....houdini...
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Mamagoat 

      It sounds like you have your hands full right now with both

      your son and your work needing your attention.  As I’m sure you recognize

      with your background and experience, it is normal for your son to want 100%

      attention, 100% of the time due to where he is in his development, as well as

      his lack of understanding your need to complete your work or empathy for all

      that you do for him.  I also recognize that this does not make those

      moments any less frustrating!  One suggestion is to build your support

      system, and to use available help, so that you are able to meet your own needs

      as well as your son’s.  That might mean anything from reaching out to

      friends and family in your community to help you with your son to looking into

      more structured supports available in your community.  For available

      resources in your community, try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222.  Thank you for writing in; take care.

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