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Mean and Hurtful Behavior - Why Do They Do That?

Our kids are often mean or hurtful for the same reasons we are. When we feel huge confusing feelings inside and haven’t yet developed full introspection, we need to elicit those feelings in someone else to watch how they handle them so we can learn how to manage them ourselves. Even adults do this. When we call and vent to our friend about our boss, we are putting our feelings on them so we can see what they look like from the outside and either gain some perspective or justify our anger. Our kids have very limited experience with the wide range of emotions this life has to offer. So they pour them onto us. When they are at their worst, they are trying to get us to understand how hurt they are inside. How scared, confused, and unsafe they feel in their own skin. Sometimes it downright scares us! And guess what, if it scared us, it was terrifying to them too!

When you start looking at their behavior as a plea to be seen, you stop taking it as a personal insult. It isn’t really about YOU the way you think it is. It’s about what is painful inside them and their desperate need to be seen, heard, understood, validated, and loved anyway. They need to be loved at their worst. They need us to be the adult and hold on to our own emotional regulation, or take responsibility for our own emotional regulation enough to go take a break, so they can learn how to regulate themselves as they grow. Sometimes the big tears or the loud shouts ARE them regulating. That’s releasing all of their hurt and angst out of their body. If we allow that and trust that process without trying to shut it down, shove it away, or suppress it, we will see our kids reach equilibrium much quicker.

If we refuse to see them, hear them, or empathize with them, we will see them NEED to get louder, and more desperate to be heard. This is escalation and often results in us getting more desperate to suppress them! Which results in their complete overloaded meltdown. If you’re feeling particularly triggered, go take some space. Let them know you’ll be back soon and that your body is feeling angry too and you need a break. Go take your break. Push your hands together as hard as you can. Butterfly hug yourself and pat your right and left shoulders alternatingly. Scream into a pillow (or the fridge/freezer as I used to do). Sing as loud as you can. Get your own feelings OUT of your body. And then return to be the calm regulating force for your child to draw strength from.

It’s ok that this is hard. It was likely never done for you. Because your own parents didn’t know how. You’re learning something new and that takes lots of practice and effort. That’s ok! It’s worth that effort to raise an emotionally intelligent child who can take responsibility for their feelings and needs and find regulation again when they are angry, sad, or upset.

A theme of respectful, mindful, conscious, positive, gentle, responsive (insert new word here), parenting is this: YOU FIRST. It sucks sometimes. It’s annoying. Your inner child may feel cheated since they were promised they would get to reign supreme once they were the adult. But what that inner child wasn’t told was how much it would cost you for your parents to have that dominion, or what it would cost your children if you took dominion over them. Now, with an adult mind, you realize that you deserved better. And your children deserve better. They are humans too. They deserve to be treated the same way you treat other humans. They deserve respect, compassion, boundaries, kindness, understanding, empathy, space, and autonomy. Just like you. Just like me.

Why would I treat all 7.5 Billion people in the world with kindness and respect and ONLY treat the 3 I created from my own body with disdain and disrespect?

No, I’m here to raise my kids WITHOUT passing on my own childhood trauma. So are you. A small piece of that is learning how to hold space and create a safe container for their big feelings while their development unfolds and they learn from US how to become a self-regulating adult. We can do this!

If you’re struggling with this, please know you’re not alone. I invite you to set up a free call at to understand what’s going on in your child’s brain and see what resources I have that may fit your needs.

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