Mom is hurt when child says she doesn't love her

Child Life

March 17, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My 4-year-old daughter says things like she's not going to be my friend and she doesn't love me. Sometimes I can deal with it, but sometimes I lose my temper because she's using words that hurt. What would be a good way to handle this?

Elizabeth Windell Los Angeles, Calif.

What young children say isn't always what they mean, and this is the time to show your child unconditional love.

It's a rare parent who hasn't heard those words from a young child. The child is simply matching a newly acquired vocabulary with a growing sense of autonomy.

Along with the reassurances of love, parents should calmly acknowledge why their child is upset, advises Leslie Rescorla, a child-development specialist who is chairman of the psychology department at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Young children will often say, 'I hate you,' when they want to do something and the parent says no.

One mother from Minneapolis heard 'I hate you' from her son after telling him to clean up his room when he'd rather go outside.

"I try to help him clarify what he is upset about," Ruth Hovland wrote. "She might say: 'You are angry because you need to clean up your room before you can go outside."

But empathizing doesn't mean giving in, parents and experts agree. An "OK, you can play a little longer" will only teach the child that manipulation works, Dr. Rescorla says.

"Parents want to convey the idea that they are the authority but that they understand and are sympathetic to their feelings," she says.

Another reason children will say this to their parents is because they hear it constantly from their playmates, explains Phyllis Cohen, a psychologist and professor of child development at the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University in Connecticut.

"That's the way they talk to each other: 'I'm not going to play with you anymore, so there,' " Dr. Cohen says. She advises parents who are stung by these words to toughen up and not take it personally.

Karen Daniels, a mother from Buffalo, N.Y., agrees: "Stay cool and don't react emotionally to the things your child says. Remember, we're the adults. We can't overreact like the kids."

Here are more ideas:

Cuddle up with your child and read Margaret Wise Brown's "Runaway Bunny," suggests Becky Billingsley, a parent from Angier, N.C. The classic story of a mother bunny's steadfast love will undoubtedly bring comfort.

Occasionally talk to your child about hurt feelings. Laura Johnson of Lacey, Wash., explained to her daughter: "You are hitting with your words, and hitting hurts." Dr. Cohen cautions against emphasizing hurt feelings too much. Talking it over later is not as valuable, Dr. Cohen says, as showing her right then that you still love her by hugging her and taking her by the hand and starting a new activity.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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