“I’m rubber, you’re glue…” Ways of responding to name-calling

Lately my son has been telling me some new things, including…

“I hate you!”, “I hate you both!” (to his dad and me), “You’re making me starve!” (when I won’t cook a second or third dinner) and “You’re a poo-poo head!”

I hadn’t heard these things from him until recently.

Well now, the “poo-poo head” is getting to have her say. Read on.

I have to admit, these new things he’s saying are taking me aback. Mostly I think it’s because there’s a level of directedness toward me that wasn’t there before. It’s hard not to take it personally and react accordingly.

Maybe if he were a real leopard cub, he’d be going “RRAAHHhhrr,” and I’d be extending a big fat mama lion paw in response.

But here in the human world, I found myself stuck. So…

I signed up for a parenting coaching session with Shelly . I was having a hard time putting into practice what we preach talk about here at AwakeParent.com.

She helped me to look at my son not as an adversary, but as someone moving from being a little boy to being a bigger boy—someone who needs my help to do this. She reminded me to tune into with his needs for autonomy and connectedness.

She also reminded me of something I know intellectually but find it hard to remember when a little being is yelling at me and slamming doors…

Assume positive intention, or, as Marshall Rosenberg puts it, “Violence is a tragic expression of unmet needs.”

Everyone, no matter what we’re doing, is always trying to make life go better, however misguided our actions might seem. If nothing else, when I keep this in mind, I’m more likely to feel compassion rather than anger toward my fifty-pound maverick.

Shelly also reminded me that this is my son’s best attempts at meeting his needs.

I prefer this story to “He has it in for me.”

If I remember how lovely it feels to connect with him, and how things can flow when we’re playing together, or even just taking a walk or a drive, I can see that, even in the throes of harsh words and actions, he is doing his best.

Five and a half years is not a very long time to gain a mastery of anything, let alone the art of being human. I have nearly forty years on him, and I can still fill several pages with things I wish I hadn’t said or done.

Finally, when my son is at least calm enough to interact, I can sometimes remember to ask him what he is needing and wanting.

For example, after refusing to pull his shoes onto his feet, and insisting I do it instead, I asked him, “Are you wanting to feel loved and cared for?”, remembering that this has been a need he’s revealed in the past.

When I asked him, he softened.

He still wanted me to put the shoe on for him, but at least I introduced the concept that I can tune into his needs without necessarily agreeing with how he goes about meeting them.

Sometimes, in the past, I have said something like, “I can understand that. I love you and care for you tremendously, and…I am busy with something else right now, so I’m going to let you refill your water glass yourself.”

As Shelly mentioned in her Steps to a happier family post last week, it’s not so much whether our guesses are 100% accurate, but that we care enough to tune in and guess at all. This is what will build connection and trust.

Warmly, Jill

P.S. Have you been feeling challenged with the young ones in your life? We love to hear about it. Share your stories and thoughts below in the comment box…


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Thanks Shelli and Jill for your responses,

Yes, it is tricky indeed! To create a space where your children feel heard, can express themselves clearly, have space for their emotions, while respecting yours and others boundaries, AND you are meeting their needs with out rewarding them for bad behavior; It's definitely a balancing act I have not mastered yet!

While my 2 yr old's needs tend to be more basic/easily identifiable (and met), I have found my fourteen year old's needs are frequently the same (ie: love, attention, some amount of control). HOWEVER when it gets really tricky for me is when she is acting out because she wants to go somewhere or do something - to gain a new privilege/freedom (vs needing a hug, or an ear).

Again, our rules start with respect at home. "If you behave well at home then we will be able to trust you to behave well when not with us" (at least one always hopes!). However I'm seeing an loop being created, and have not yet figured out how to handle it in the big picture approach.

She wants to feel like she is in control of something in her life. And she is feeling frustrated and angry but does not know why, or what to do about it. I can remember feeling that nothing (life, emotions, etc.) made ANY sense at this age...

So my best guess is: In an attempt to have control and make sense of overwhelming feelings of frustration, maybe she acts out. Then she is not allowed to go/do wherever. As a result she has created control by causing/getting a predictable outcome, AND gets to have a direction for her anger/frustrations (me) which now also feels justified, because "My mom so so mean and unfair and never lets me do anything".

I now feel caught in a catch 22 because I know what she wants: love, affection, support, freedom, trust. However don't feel like I can turn around and send the message "I understand that you are being mean to me because you want your freedom, so I will let you go to the movies, even though....". My fear is that I will be rewaring her for her actions and will only see more of the same.

Meeting the needs of a teenager defiantly feels like a whole new balancing act that is more complex, even though most of the actual needs are often still the same... I often find myself feeling stuck and repeating conversations of "You are in control of how your life goes." But I think its not sticking so well! I must be in need of more affective tools!

In any case, I am really looking forward to hearing you expand on distinctions of acting out, Jill, and will be checking out the book you are reading right now Shelli!

Thank you so much for creating this, what a wonderful gift you are to parents and the world!!!!



Hey Jasmine, That sounds really challenging!

I think you're really on to something when you say, "She wants to be mad. But I think she doesn’t have an explanation or understanding for what or why she’s feeling the way she is, and enviably I will be the target. Often she is just angry, hormonal and confused, and its “my fault”."

In his book, "Nonviolent Communication", Marshall Rosenberg addresses just this sort of confusion. His theory is that all our uncomfortable emotions like anger, frustration, or annoyance (among MANY other) stem from an unmet need.

It's not easy to recognize the needs underneath your daughter's feelings, but I've found that when I can identify those needs and offer empathy, I get a much better response from the upset person.

I wonder how things might have gone if you'd asked, "Wow, it sounds like you're feeling really annoyed! Is there anything specific that you're needing or wanting?". In this way you can teach your daughter to look within for the cause of her unpleasant emotions, rather than blaming others.

I don't have much time right now, but I'm feeling so grateful for your comment. And I'm really appreciating your clarity about the boundary you have for your family regarding speaking to each other with respect.

I'm reading a FANTASTIC book right now, based on Marshall Rosenberg's work, but with a parenting twist. It's called "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to turn family conflict into co-operation. It's by Sura Hart and Victorial Kindle Hodson.

I hope to see you back here again soon! Warmly, Shelly


Interesting. Somethings never change no matter what the age (fumbled attempts to feel heard and loved), and at some point I do wonder where we need to draw the line and simply require that our children speak to us with respect and not pamper them at every outburst. I realize 2, 5, 14 all have different dynamics and needs but often my response is similar. "We don't call names, and our family loves each other very much so lets please speak to each other with love. I will be ready to talk to you and be with you when you are ready to be nice and respectful to mommy (or who ever)." THEN "What/Why is going on that you are reacting this way?"

When I got in my car today and My 14 year old daughter says, "Your hair looks bad, you just look bad today." and I respond with "wow, that was a really unkind thing to say. I know you say you really want me to be nice to you, then why would you speak to me like that? Whats going on?" and get the response " you just annoy me sometimes". I say "What is it that I've done that's annoying you so much, you feel you need to treat me in this way" she says "well it's not today, but other days". There was more to it, but the feeling was I was under attack for no reason, other than she just felt like it, but she felt justified none the less. She wanted to pick a fight no matter what I said, but I was not enrolled.

Even though neither her father or I allow being treated or spoken to in a disrespectful way, I am the one who gets the brunt of the attitude. She wants to be mad. But I think she doesn't have an explanation or understanding for what or why she's feeling the way she is, and enviably I will be the target. Often she is just angry, hormonal and confused, and its "my fault". Regardless of what I say or do I am the bad guy. It is hard to remember that it is not personal. Regardless, in our house it is a rule that we all speak to each other with respect.

Today's conversation ended with "when you say and do things like that, you are the one you are hurting. Your privileges suffer because if you are not respectful at home we dont know that you will be respectful else where."

But it has me wonder; at what point to we stop reacting to "I'm going to have a fit and therefore get my emotional needs met" and just draw the line and simply say "this is not OK and you will not get what you want at this point" because 5 becomes 14 really fast, and I want my daughter to learn to be responsible for her emotions and actions.

Over all shes a very good kid, but obviously is frustrated. Too bad I lost my instruction manual!!!.....


Love your site...great post...can't say that I am there yet..my son just turned two last week but I know one day this will happen as I have heard this from a lot of parents. So I will archive this for future use but I like the way you handled it and hope that I will have enough confidence in myself to look at my son and not take it personally...tune in with him and how he is feeling. It is hard when most of us humans have a hurt little child within us who wants to just give back to our child what they have given us but here is where the parent must override this little childish voice and maybe one day heal that part of us as we love our child.


Hi, Jasmine--thank you for your thoughtful response. Boy, are you sure you weren't in my house last week speaking through my mouth? The conversation you described sounds awfully similar. I have the exact same struggle--I also want peace, and harmony in my home. I want to know that my child will treat others well, be treated well and have friends who want to stick around (though reports back say he is completely charming with all others--sigh). I have a lot of trouble managing my own reactions, which often drive me to want to figure out the quickest way to shut him up, just so I can hear myself think. Aargh--not the kind of parent I want to be.

And, like you, I want to get the behavior under wraps before addressing the cause. I find it tricky, because I do notice an important distinction (at least between two KINDS of "acting out." Yes, of course there are many, but one distinction is springing to mind that you've now inspired me to write about. THat, plus bringing forth our own emotions in a vulnerable way, and making a jointly agreed on plan when neither of you is feeling triggered). Hmm, maybe that's more than one entry...thank you! I'll expand more on this shortly.



Nicole, thank you for this! I think you are exactly right--in our CD we just recorded, "Perspectives on Feelings" (available soon), I talk about how we are like those nested Russian dolls, with every age layered inside us. I do indeed want to pout, run away, and sometimes lash out. I'm still surprised at the strength of those feelings that get activated sometimes! There's always the chance that your child will find ways to express him or herself that don't trigger you as much as mine does me. And if he or she does, well...you're getting equipped now. Hang in there.