Communicating Love to Our Children Even When They Are Driving Us Crazy
When my youngest son was three years old and really upset with me he would sometimes tell me, “I don’t like you anymore!” He would stand there with his hands on his hips, his brow furrowed, giving me his best impression of the “evil eye.” He would threaten to stop loving me and wait for my reaction. It took everything I had to not get the giggles (or strangle him, depending on my mood). He could be so intense and yet so transparent, it was almost funny. Unfortunately, my son was already trying to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: emotional blackmail.
Admit it: we have all used this handy little technique when we are trying to get out kids to do what we want. Often it is our first instinct to use a stern look, a loud voice, or maybe we’ll even stomp out of the room or try the silent treatment. Unfortunately, this technique won’t work on all kids (it only really works on kids that are highly invested in parental approval) and in the long run it will do more harm than good.
OK, don’t get me wrong; it is important to express our dissatisfaction and frustration to our children—to a point. It helps them learn right from wrong. However, when we rely too much on our emotional reactions to encourage compliance, we are engaging in a subtle form of emotional blackmail: unless you do what I want, I won’t love you as much.
Your kids know you love them—you express it all the time—so they should be able to handle your dissatisfaction and anger, right? You shower them with gifts of your time and money. You beam with pleasure when they say something sweet. You jump up and down with love and pride when they make their first soccer goal. They must know you love them, right?
But how do express your love for them when they have just crossed every line and pushed every button you didn’t even know you had? Do you beam with unconditional love then? It is pretty hard to feel the love during those times, isn’t it? But it is those moments--when your children have screwed up and they know it--that they need to feel your love the most.
We all like to be told that we are loved. Even in secure relationships it is nice to be reminded how others feel about us: it feels good. But in our worst moments, we don’t just want to feel loved, we NEED to feel loved—particularly children. When young children have lost control and are in a full-blown tantrum, it can be a really scary place for them. We are their source of comfort and we need to reassure them that no matter what they do, we will still love them.
So when your kids are driving you crazy and your first instinct is to let off a little steam to get them to step back into line, here are some things to keep in mind:
So when your child screams at you, “I hate you!” no mater what their age, you can respond with, “Oh, that’s too bad sweetie, good thing I love you enough for both of us!”