“I don’t need you anymore.”

Last week I was absentmindedly helping Julia put on her shoes when she pushed my hand away and said, “I don’t need you anymore.” Initially I was shocked (she’s 2!), and then I felt hurt. Then I understood that she didn’t mean that she will never need me for anything ever again.

Afterward I thought about how silly it is that such a small sentence could send me into an emotional tailspin, especially when it came out of the mouth of a two year old. I mean, I’m supposed to be the adult and she’s the child!

But that’s parenthood, right? Maintaining composure with friends, colleagues, co-workers and other family members is a breeze compared to keeping our center when our beloved child says something unexpectedly hurtful. We know they don’t INTEND to be hurtful, and even if they do, it’s just their way of exploring boundaries and understanding emotional experiences.

I know that by maintaining composure and sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings from a grounded place, I can help my daughter develop empathy and become more emotionally intelligent.

But it hurts like hell to have your child say something like, “I hate you,” or “Go away, don’t touch me!” So how can we maintain calm composure when our children are spewing their most powerful poison at us?

First we have to remember that they are children. That doesn’t mean that their words are meaningless or that we shouldn’t take them seriously. It means that they aren’t fully aware of the effect their words can have yet and they’re still exploring concepts of power, empathy, and their impact on others.

The problem with breaking down in the face of our children’s attempts to explore their power is that it can actually be scary for them to realize that they can cause emotional upset in us. What children most want is a strong and compassionate parent who can hear the message underneath their hurtful words.

So, next we could translate their words into the underlying feelings and needs they’re trying to express. For instance, when Julia said, “I don’t need you anymore.” I could have thought, “Oh, she’s feeling frustrated because she needs autonomy and accomplishment.” What a difference a little bit of interpretation can make!

Or if a child is saying, “I hate you! Go away!” they may need reassurance that we love them no matter what. They could also need some space, but many times when children push us away with their irritating, or hurtful behavior it’s precisely because they’re testing our resolve to stay and love them no matter what they say or do. If I were able to stay composed in this scenario I might say something like, “I hear you. It sounds like you’re feeling angry, and that’s OK. I love you no matter what and I’m going to stay right here in case you need a hug.”

On the other hand, if I sense that a child really does just want some alone time, I’m happy to offer that too. It’s really just a matter of interpreting what we think the underlying feelings and needs probably are in this particular instance.

Think back to a time in the past few weeks when you’ve lost your cool with your kiddos. Can you identify their underlying feelings and needs? Can you identify your own? How might you have handled the situation differently if you were able to maintain relaxed composure?

I do think it’s important to process emotional content after the heat of the emotion has passed. During an upset, no one is able to learn from the experience. But afterward, by playing games, getting curious, and doing some role-play, we can often turn the most upsetting experiences into opportunities to learn and grow.

I would love to hear about your own moments of emotional turmoil when something unexpected comes out of your child’s mouth. Please share your story with us by leaving a comment below!

And have a lovely week, Shelly

6 comments
JM_Cook
JM_Cook

Shelly, "I don't need you" isn't a hurtful phrase. It's an affirmation of you as a parent.

 

The most difficult things about being a parent is that the goal is not to raise a dependent child but an independent adult who will one day walk out the door and stand on her own. That process starts as soon as she is born and never ends.

 

Take pride when she "doesn't need you", be there when she does and maybe cry a little occasionally because the big wins in parenting can make you proud and break your heart at the same time.

connieripleylujan
connieripleylujan

Hi Shelley ... very important message for parents: "compassionate parent who can hear the message underneath their hurtful words". It is also important when one's teenager says the same words - can get scary!  Thanks for sharing your hard times and wisdom.  Connie.

Hails
Hails

You are right, they only want to be able to do things themselves. That is part of being a parent, helping them to become independent. At age 2-2 1/2 development wise, they want to try and do things on their own, also to make you feel proud of them. I would say she just meant the shoes she didn't need your help with any more, not in life or in general. They have limited vocab usually at that age. (Have a look at Eric Erickson theory about development through the lifespan, and it will show what she is trying to do is normal, and part of development) :)

 

All the best.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @JM_Cook Yes, I know it wasn't intended to hurt, that's why I was so surprised by my emotional response. I am super proud of how independent and capable she is already and this part of your comment really touched me "the big wins in parenting can make you proud and break your heart at the same time." So so so true. I never knew. Thanks for being such a great parent and example. I love you.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @connieripleylujan You're so welcome Connie! Thank you for being here and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate you!

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

 @Hails Yes, it's true that it's developmentally appropriate. I was just surprised how much my feelings were hurt, even though I knew she didn't mean to be hurtful! Thanks so much for your comment. :)