The 5 most annoying things our kids say – and what we can do about it
Listening to our children chatter often feels like a gift from heaven. Regardless of their age, hearing their voices is almost a divine delight. Whether they are telling us about their day, singing a song to themselves, or playing happily with siblings or friends, those happy precious voices can be bliss.
Every so often, however, our children change their tune. Soft, happy gentle voices become abrasive, acerbic or just plain annoying. When they do, we often struggle to react in helpful ways.
For example, your three-year-old might ask for lollies for breakfast. When you reply with a ‘no’, he bursts into tears, proclaiming, “It’s not fair. You don’t understand!”
Here are 5 things we hate hearing our kids say
Do these sound familiar to you?
“It’s not fair!”
“I’m not your friend anymore.”
“I hate you” or “I hate this family.”
If your family is even close to normal and if your children are older than three, there is every chance that you have heard at least a few of these statements from time to time. (“Whatever” doesn’t usually arrive until the teen years, but when it does, it makes parents’ blood boil.)
How are we supposed to respond when our children say things like this?
The standard approach
Most parents respond to these kinds of big, emotional outbursts from their children in one of two ways.
The first is the ‘tough love’ approach. It goes something like this: “Suck it up, princess. Life isn’t fair and the sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.”
Some parents may adopt a softer version of that statement, but the message is still the same: “Tough luck. That’s life. Get used to it.”
The other common response I hear from parents whose kids are whiny or angry is to adopt a logical approach to the situation. They remain perfectly calm (which is praiseworthy in itself), and they take some time to explain to their child all of the reasons that it is much more fair than the child realises, that it’s fine not to be my friend because I’m the parent, that I’m not being mean at all, and that you don’t really hate me or everyone in this family. Some particularly patient parents even respond to the eye-rolling ‘whatever’ with a level of logic that is almost super-human given the emotions it can create in the rest of us mere mortal parents.
An empathic approach
Neither response is particularly helpful, and neither response brings with it any real respite. This is because at the heart of our children’s (often loud, incorrect and annoying) complaint is an emotion that needs to be recognised in order for the situation to resolve in a positive way. What our children are really looking for is some kind of acknowledgement and validation to their feelings that something is wrong.
Think about how you would like to be responded to when you feel like crying out, “It’s not fair!” Usually you will be feeling frustrated, slighted and helpless. You’re probably looking for someone to listen to you, recognise your feelings and help you find a solution to your perceived injustice.
Being told to deal with it, or having someone sit down and logically explain to you all the ways it is fair, will often only drive your feelings of unfairness deeper.
How do we respond empathically?
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University suggests that empathy can be described in the acronym, RULER . Each letter represents a different emotional skill:
- Recognising an emotion
- Understanding it
- Labelling it
- Expressing it, and
- Regulating that emotion.
- Be aware of the child’s emotion.
- Recognise the emotion as an opportunity for teaching and intimacy.
- Listen empathically and validate the child’s feelings.
- Help the child label emotions.
- Set limits while helping our children problem solve.
“Bah humbug” might be a common response to this seemingly laborious process of dealing with a slighted child. But the research is in, and the results are important. Children with empathic adults around them are less anxious, less depressed, less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs, less likely to bully, and more likely to perform well at school.
Next time your child whines that you’re mean, or that it’s not fair, take a breath and try the emotionally intelligent, empathic response. Look at your child and gently say, “You feel like this isn’t fair at all, don’t you. You wish things were different.”
When they say “Yes!”, validate their feelings. “I know. Sometimes it’s so hard when you have to do those jobs. It feels like there should be more people to help.”
As they calm down, set limits together: “What do you think we should do?”
When they tell you that they should be allowed to watch TV, acknowledge that feeling, and then guide them to a better response: “That would be awesome, wouldn’t it! But we need a better solution than that.”
Being understanding and empathic takes patience and commitment. But when kids feel understood and when their needs feel like they’re being met, they tend to stop feeling as though life isn’t fair or that we are mean. Instead, life makes sense, because we have helped them feel understood.
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This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz