“Oftentimes we can’t connect with our kids because we’re being mean and angry at times they need the most love and support.” — Marlene Dillon Empowerment Specialist
Look deeper. On the surface, what looks like laziness and disrespect is often layers of fears, sadness, and hurtful experiences. When they aren’t listening, often they have so much going on in their minds, as they replay experiences and attempt to strategize solutions. When they’re expecting to finally have a break from the stress (and yes kids have stress) of their day, and we come piling on new demands, of course they get frustrated. Imagine you make it to the end of your work shift and right as you’re ready to relax, your boss comes and hands you more work to do, or asks you to stick around and clean your office, take out the trash, mop the floors. It sounds outrageous, but we have to learn to empathize with our children, if we want to have a good relationship with them.
If all we do is make judgments, without trying to put ourselves in their position, we won’t connect with them. And empathy means you put yourself in their shoes, not that you stand in your adult space looking at all the benefits you miss from childhood. What sucked about childhood? What was scary about school? What made you sad? What part of the day was the worst for you? What year did you begin to experience self-doubt? When was the first time you were hurt by a friend? or a crush? Get out of that adult mindset and really remember what that age was like. What mattered most? What did people get teased for? What determined if you had friends, popularity, or that you didn’t get picked on? What subjects were hard? What teachers were mean? Were there bullies or mean kids? What were they like?
When our children change, we need to pay attention to that. Often there are stories behind that change that our children have not shared with us. And why haven’t they shared? Because sharing doesn’t feel safe. Why don’t they tell us? Because they know we’re going to jump to conclusions. Why don’t share with us? Because they’re embarrassed. Why don’t they talk to us? Because they expect us to overreact, not understand, or have a response that makes an already bad situation worse.
Far too often, we react to their behavior but don’t look at ourselves. If our kids don’t talk to us, how can we adjust to make them feel their words and thoughts are safe? This is not about blame. We are doing our best, but if the relationship is not working, we cannot put all the responsibility for that onto our child. We have to be willing to take responsibility for what IS within our control.
We can acknowledge changes in our children, and choose to think the best of them, rather than the worst. In any relationship, that is key. When a person is acting out of character, if we love them, our first thought will be toward them not against them. If my child is uncharacteristically unkind, yes, initially my feelings will be hurt. However, it takes maturity to not immediately snap back and react. Maturity allows me to condition myself to pause and think before I speak (what we expect our kids to do). I could take it personally, or I could get curious and wonder what must be going on within her that would cause her to behave in this way. So many of us are conditioned to parent by pride, rather than love. If we feel disrespected, we have to immediately assert dominance, like we’re two bucks in the wild. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not gonna tolerate disrespect, but I handle it differently now that I’ve taken time to think. Now, I may respond with, “Excuse me?” and then take a minute to breathe. I may even walk away and give her space to gather herself. What I won’t do now, is start a whole argument, going off on her, labeling her as “rude,” “disrespectful,” etc. I know that my words can last a lifetime so I’m careful with them.
What I know now is that most of the times our kids’ behavior is rarely about what we think it is. Especially in the tween and teen years, they have so much going on that we don’t even know about. We are just background noise to the narratives going on in their heads. So when we are consistently annoyed, frustrated, disappointed and “fussing” at them, we just add to that noise.
I hear a lot of parents complain about how their kids never talk to them, and how they are just moody and rude, and when they try to find out what’s going on they never want to talk. We rarely look at ourselves and how we react and respond to them every day, and see they have good reason to go straight to their rooms and shut the door. We don’t think about the insults we spit at them when we get offended because we misread their behavior. We don’t consider that the reason their room isn’t clean is because they are possibly depressed, rather than lazy. We don’t consider that they maybe they listen to their music so loudly to drown out anxious thoughts. We forget that school isn’t one big amusement park. It’s the place where most people picked up their doubts about who they are, who they can be, if they’re successful, if they’ll be liked or loved, where we picked up many of our insecurities about how we look, how smart we are, and who wins in life and who loses. We don’t see that our kids are humans like us, who when they are away from us are navigating a whole separate world, and now with social media, that world follows them home. There are no breaks.
We expect that they are going to respond to life at 13, the way they did at 8. They are growing up. They are different. They are increasingly autonomous. They are becoming independent. They are changing their likes and dislikes. They are navigating social pressure. They are navigating academic pressure. They are navigating a friggin’ pandemic, that saddly most adults haven’t taken the time to process with them…..
Sidebar: I am still in shock that it wasn’t automatic that before returning to regular classroom activities for admins, teachers, school counselors, somebody to facilitate a sincere talk with students to allow kids them to first acknowledge and process the transition. How is that not something we talk about? Do we really think this was not traumatic for our kids? I digress…. Breathe, Marlene….
The point of this post is to shine light on the fact that our kids’ behavior is often more related to what is going on within them than about rudeness, laziness, or the other conclusions we draw. Our kids are often dealing with things we don’t know about and even if we think we have a great open relationship with them, sometimes what they are going through feels embarrassing and they don’t want to share it. Sometimes because of how we carry ourselves, they worry that we’ll be disappointed. (Sidebar: one of the worst responses to a child’s behavior is to tell them you’re disappointed. If you do that regularly, I highly recommend you choose a different word. I explain this more in my course.) Other times they don’t share because we have proven to them that we don’t know how to handle things gracefully.
We make so much about us, when most of it IS NOT ABOUT US. They are navigating and processing friendships, insecurities, acceptance, isolation, academics, world news, AND for our tweens and teens, they are recognizing for the first time in their lives their actions have real consequences that impact their futures. They are processing changes in their bodies, changes in their social life, changes in their perception of themselves. They have just crossed out of a season where everyone feels pretty much the same and acceptance is automatic to being judged, scrutinized, and defined as a part of the community or the one that is left out.
We think our kids are being rude and moody because they don’t want to talk, rather than realize they are typically so busy processing life that they aren’t even thinking about us. They are often navigating life solo because all we do is meet them with anger, disappointment, and hurtful assumptions so they can’t even turn to us.
I wrote this because I get that the moods and behavior can really be frustrating, and reacting to that can be automatic, but I know that is not an effective way to reconnect with your child. If your goal is merely to assert dominance, then yelling, shaming, blaming, and punishing your child should keep you busy. However, if you actually want a relationship with your child, stepping back to pause your offense long enough to look at the bigger picture is more effective.
An injured animal will react to protect itself when it’s hurting. It takes tenderness and kind intentions to get them to trust you. Same with other living beings… like our kids for example. They may come off like a rabid, feral creature when they are hurting. We have to have the compassion to recognize that their behavior is not personal. They are not trying to hurt us, they are often nursing their own wounds. Much of the behavior we see as laziness and disrespect is actually sadness and fear, and sometimes signs of varying levels of depression and anxiety.
When we view our children through the eyes of compassion, rather than pride and offense, we can meet them with love and support rather than anger and meanness. We can see their behavior as symptoms of pain and emotional distress, and are moved to support them in ways we never would have considered. We can drop our ego and see that most times they just need us to see them and know that they are doing their best, even when it doesn’t look like it. When we see that they are hurting we stop yelling about that undone chore and start saying things like, “I see you’ve been struggling to clean your room, and I’d like to help. Let’s work on it together this weekend.” And it’s in those moments that the wall comes down and we hear the truth of what’s on their hearts because we finally met them with compassion, rather than judgment.
** If you gained clarity from this post and would like to learn more ways to improve your relationship with your child through supportive communication, you’re going to love my course Healing Our Families: Healing the Parent-Child Relationship. Enroll, today!
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