“I don’t like you! I don’t love you! You’re a mean mommy!”
“I don’t want to be a part of this family!”
“Why do you look so pretty today? I don’t like when you look pretty.”
“Ick! No, I don’t want a hug or a kiss!”
Why, yes, these are all things my five-year-old daughter has said to me. My FIVE YEAR OLD. (And she just barely turned five, so many of these gems were uttered when she was four.)
Does your child say mean things to you, too?
I’m a little embarrassed to write this. Most of us want people to think our children are sweet, kind, and respectful all the time. And by sharing some of the hard times, we never want people to judge our children based on their actions when they are young and immature.
But the unkind words our daughter utters is something my husband and I have been dealing with for the past year. Strangely, I’m not hurt or devastated by it. I, of course, still adore my little one and have hope for the person she is growing into.
So by sharing what we are learning about how to deal with the mean words our daughter says to us, I hope to help and encourage those of you who might be going through the same thing. Here goes…
Sometimes things are out of our control.
I always knew I wanted to be a mother. For most of my childhood, I grew up in a non-Christian home with a single parent. So once I became a believer, I looked forward to raising my children in a loving, Christ-centered home with a mother and a father who loved God and each other.
When my husband and I got married, we said we wanted to wait five years before having children, and we did—give or take a couple of months. We prayed to have our boy first, and then our girl, and that’s exactly what God gave us. (We even laughed and said number three could be a surprise, and she was!)
Our son had a silly yet easygoing nature. When people told me about the Terrible Two’s and Three’s they were experiencing with their children, I would keep quiet because we honestly did not have that experience with our son. He had an unusual week of testing once, maybe twice, during those young years. I can’t emphasize enough what an easy kid our son was, and we were always very thankful for that.
He was almost three when his first baby sister was born. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I had no idea of the type of sass I was brewing in my belly.
I mean, she was a major pain in my sciatica, but I had no idea that was foreshadowing! (Kidding. Kidding.)
In all seriousness, I was so excited that we were having a little girl. Everything was going according to plan. I’d like to say I imagined what kind of child she would be, but I don’t remember daydreaming about that at all. My mind was open to whatever she was going to look like and whatever her interests might be.
What did not occur to me, however, was the type of personality she would end up with—fiery, strong-willed, mercurial.
Yes, she is sugar and spice and everything nice, but she is also unpredictable. She will melt your heart with sweetness one moment, and then astonish you will anger another moment. Some days, she is loving and kind and we make the mistake of thinking we are out of the woods. And some days, all she wants to do is test and disobey.
It is utterly and completely out of our control. We nurture, guide, discipline and teach. But all the while, we pray for God’s grace to navigate the unpredictable seas of this magical world of parenting. Because He is in control, and we are not.
We can’t take it personally.
If my feelings were hurt every time my daughter disobeyed me or said something unkind to me, I would be a mess! I’m too old to ride a rollercoaster driven by a five-year-old. I’ve found that if I match my daughter’s intensity with intensity, it only adds fuel to the fire. How true are the words of Proverbs 15:1, which say:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
We have to stay calm and consider the maturity level of our children. If my best friend told me she didn’t like me anymore, well then I’d probably be pretty hurt and do some major soul searching. But my daughter is five. Most of her mean words are the result of her anger because she is not getting what she wants. Because we are discipling her. We are doing what parents are supposed to do.
I hope my daughter and I will be best friends some day, but right now, I’m the only mother she’s got. It’s my husband’s and my job to teach her kindness, compassion, consideration, and respect for authority. Otherwise, you, society, will have a spoiled, mean jerk on your hands in about 13-14 years. (You can thank me later, haha!)
Amp up the quality time.
I’ve noticed that when my daughter is particularly testy, an almost immediate cure is spending quality time with her. Now, this of course is not always possible when I’m helping one of my other children or on an important phone call or cooking dinner. But I have been trying to find solid moments of one-on-one time with my daughter and it seems to be helping.
Why? I think because connecting with our children reaffirms our love for them. It shows them they are special and important to us. Oftentimes children act out because they don’t know where their place is; they may feel disconnected and realize they get attention through disobedience and defiance. Like the quality time we long for with our spouse, our children long for quality time with us as well. Again, we need the discipline and consistency too, but like parenting expert Josh McDowell once said, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.”
Teach the power of words.
It may be difficult for young children like mine to understand the gravity of their words, but we can try to teach them through the example we set—the words we use with one another, with strangers and service people. Colossians 4:6 says,
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
I love how Colossians 3:12 puts it, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
I’m working on having a gentler tone with my kids, and my hope and prayer is that it becomes part of the culture of our entire family.
I’ve also been sharing James 1:9 with my daughter, which says:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…
The other night, the babysitter told us that our daughter said to her, “The Bible says to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. My mommy tells me that all the time.” YES! #parentingwin #lol
A few other tips: Try to look for and reward the times your child is playing well with others or using kind, edifying language. Look at the shows they are watching. Are the characters being bossy, snippy, teasing, or unkind to each other? We noticed that the characters on Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony were not speaking to each other in a nice way, so we stopped watching those shows. Lord know I don’t need that kind of drama in my life!
Here is a great little card my husband came up with for the kids in the youth sports ministry he leads. It uses Ephesians 4:29 to illustrate the power of words and has a couple of good questions you can ask your child:
Lastly, if you haven’t seen the story about the little boy whose dad asked him to hammer a nail into a fence every time the boy had an angry outburst you can read it here. And here is a great post about demonstrating the effect of words using a tube of toothpaste.
Hope for the future.
Finally, friends, I want to encourage you to visualize the fruit of your labor. You may not see changes in your child’s behavior today or even next week or next month! But you are doing the hard work of parenting, nurturing a child’s spiritual growth, and shaping his or her character. Anything worth doing does not happen over night. Like a farmer doing the back aching work of digging up soil, planting seeds, and watering, “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.