Tag Archives: Present Moment Parenting

Responding to “I HATE YOU!”

9947161_sFew phrases are more difficult for me to hear as a parent than “I hate you.” Whether one of my boys directs it at me, his brother, or even a toy, hearing “I HATE YOU” always triggers a response.

It’s important to be able to stay in the “parent place” when it happens. Here are some tips and insights that help me.

First, (as always) be self-aware. I use Daniel Siegel’s C.O.AL. acronym for this.

  • Curiosity: What feelings am I having? Why did he say that? Did I ever say that as a kid?
  • Openness: Can I respond with humor, insight, compassion, silence etc.?
  • Acceptance: His emotions are valid. My emotions are valid. I can’t change the past. The future will be fine. Stay in the present moment.
  • Love: Connect with my heart. Follow its lead.

What it feels like “I HATE YOU” means:

  • He hates me.
  • He doesn’t appreciate everything I do for him.
  • He can’t handle his emotions.
  • He’s going to grow up to be a violent kid.
  • Him and his brother will never get along.
  • If he says that here, he’ll probably say it in public.
  • He’s depressed.
  • I’m depressed.
  • The list goes on.

It’s important to note that many of my automatic emotional reactions above are fueled by fear, anger, or sadness.

What “I hate you” REALLY means:

  • I don’t like the boundary you set on my behavior (even though that’s what I thought you’d say).
  • I’m sad (mad, afraid etc.) and don’t have the words to say it another way.
  • I need to save face, so instead of crying I’ll be angry.
  • Will you always love me, even if I say this?
  • Since you can read my mind, I know you’ll understand what I really mean.
  • I feel powerless, and saying “I hate you” gives me the power fix I need right now.
  • I want attention, and this usually gets some.
  • I’m having a testosterone surge and it’s making me crazy.
  • My brain can’t process emotional data fast enough, and I need to say something  NOW.

Responding during the situation:

  • Keep your cool. By keeping my response calm, I stay in the parent role and model for my boys the best way to handle strong emotion and maintain their dignity.
  • Remove energy from “hating.” By responding with as little energy as possible (not yelling, jumping up, making faces etc.) I send a message to my son’s brain that there is no reward for that kind of behavior here. For more info on the energy match, check out Nurtured Heart Approach and Present Moment Parenting.
  • Validate his emotions: “It sounds like your frustrated.” “Is it a tough day?” “I know this is disappointing.” By acknowledging his feelings, I show my son that it’s okay to have emotions and that I have respect for what he’s feeling and processing.
  • Use non-verbals. Observe his body language and subtly mirror it by being calmly present with a similar (appropriate) posture, position, or action. If he needs space, move away, but don’t disconnect.  Give a pat on the back, or just sit. These nonverbal often communicate better than words that I care, I understand, and I’m here for you.
  • Use humor.  No demeaning sarcasm, but don’t miss the chance to lighten the mood if you can. “You hate me? Well I HATE MUSHY PEAS!”
  • Do something unexpected. This is one of my favorite Adlerian Child Guidance Principles. Have fun as you tailor it to your own style and relationship. For instance, I might start singing loudly “I am Henry the Eighth I am. Henry the Eighth I am I am. I got married to the widow…” If he says, “SHUT UP, I HATE THAT SONG,” then I might say “Well, at least you’re not hating me now.” Start throwing popcorn in the air and catching it in your mouth. Do the cinnamon challenge.
  • Delay teaching and lecturing until later. When emotions are high, the lizard brain is in charge. There’s not much higher-level thinking, learning, or emotional processing going on. Wait for calmer times to do your instruction.

Responding after the situation:

  • Especially for boys, set up teaching moments in the right container. Doing some kind of physical activity, eating, or driving often works well. Barry MacDonald has great resources on Action Talk.
  • Teach feelings language. For boys in particular, avoiding phrases like “I hate you,” requires that they be given the right words to use. Help them think about what their feelings really were and what shades of emotion best describe it.
  • Make a plan. Think together of a couple different ways he could respond to the things that stress him into hating. Give him some of the basic strategies like deep breaths (for younger kids I use snake breaths), positive self-talk, or taking a break. If I don’t use these techniques often enough myself, I start modeling them.
  • Practice other responses. Actually play out a situation or two and have him practice the new response. It’s amazing how powerful and effective this is. This can even be done with older youth, especially if points 5 and 6 from above are used.
  • Try using the Incredible Five-Point Scale. Talk about what it looks and feels like when emotions are at a 5. What it looks and feels like when they are at a 4, 3, 2, 1. Collect ideas about how to move down a step.  Then, during heightened moments say, “It feels like a 5 right now, and I’m going to bring myself down to a 3.”
  • Provide healthy opportunities for power. If “I hate you” gets an angry response, it’s a real power trip for him or her. Learning to get power in healthier ways reduces the need to automatically to hating.  (See the Adlerian Mistaken Goals Chart for specific ideas on this).
  • Provide healthy opportunities for attention. Similarly to the above point if the mistaken goal of saying “I hate you” is attention, consider healthier ways to meet the need for attention.
  • Give energy to success. Whenever I see my son managing emotions, I always recognize it and let him know he’s using his skills. In fact, even if I know he’s likely going to need to manage emotions, I try to set him up for success by reminding him of how much I appreciate it when he uses his skills. This is a proactive approach from the Nurtured Heart Approach and Present Moment Parenting. After all, why should negative behaviors have all the fun! Right?

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Parenting Across the Ages from Core Parenting

The link above is to a great blog post about fundamentals of good parenting that hold true across the ages and stages. An excerpt is below.

Fundamentals that hold true across the ages and stages:

For our kids, these writers encourage us to:

  • Support their emotions
  • Respect their space/bodies
  • Trust their intentions /ideas/abilities
  • Let them climb, let them fall
  • Share their journey
  • Maintain expectations (boundaries) with love and support

And similarly, for ourselves, they encourage us to:

  • Be aware of our own emotions
  • Respect our own space/body
  • Trust our own intentions/ideas/abilities
  • Take some risks, understand that sometimes we will fall
  • Know that this is our journey, too
  • Accept and honor our own expectations
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Present Moment Parenting


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Modern Parenting’s Contemplative Roots

250_New-Fiddlehouse-SigI was reading Richard Rohr’s Saturday meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation today and was impressed by how well it complimented what we know to be the best of “current” parenting. Should I be surprised by this? I suppose not since over and over again I’ve found the parallel between the ancient and timeless contemplative wisdom and what we think of as the “new best practices.”

In his reflection “Moralism Instead of Mysticism” Fr. Richard points out that moralism tells us we need to change and “do things right” in order to be loved and accepted. Many of us were parented this way and heard this message in church, school etc. It’s easy for our own children to get this message from us (even if we don’t mean to send it) and the world in which we live, work, and learn.

The contemplative perspective is inspired by the mystics who tell us that “what empowers change, what makes you desirous of change, is the experience of love and acceptance itself. This is the engine of change.” Fr. Richard continues, “when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change.”

It’s not much of a stretch to paraphrase the message above and hear the voice of what I’ve come to call contemplative parenting.  When we immerse our children in generous acceptance, love, and encouragement, they gain capacity to change, grow, thrive and overcome all of the challenges they face. To use the language of the Nurtured Heart Approach, we nurture their greatness. Present Moment Parenting would say we are downloading positives into their heart. The foundation of the parent coaching I offer, both of these approaches are INCREDIBLY effective with challenging behaviors, including ADHD.

Even parenting approaches that emphasize natural and logical consequences, boundaries, and an authoritative stance are most effective with a foundation of unconditional love, acceptance, and positive regard.

Get in touch if you’re interested in more information about personal or parent coaching.

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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Present Moment Parenting


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Reggio Reflections from The Hundred Languages of Children

The child has

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent

a hundred worlds

to dream.

–Loris Malaguzzi, from No way. The Hundred is There.

     My brother-in-law,Ryan, tosses scoops of sand into a mound at the wooded patch we call a beach on the shore of a small lake in Northern Wisconsin. It’s an overcast day at the cabin. Occasional raindrops dot my page, and when they hit the water they make patterns that remind me of solar systems with concentric orbits expanding from the center. It may not seem like an ideal beach day at the cabin, but the water feels warmer than the air, which makes it perfect for digging, packing, building in the sand with our four kids: my two boys, three and five-years old, and their two cousins, girls, also three and five.

There are some clumps of grass in the mound of sand, and my oldest is patting it with a short canoe paddle. “What are you making?” I ask.

“A castle.”

“Tell me about your castle.”

“It’s an underground castle ’cause, see, it has grass on it.”

“Wow! I want to hear more about the underground castle.”

“They’re really, like, strong because they are underground. Underground castles are really important because they can’t get broken easy. Water and force fields protect them.”

“Who lives in underground castles?”

“Water people,” he says pointing to the puddles seeping up to fill the bottom of the trench Ryan is digging.

Turning to my son’s oldest cousin I ask her what she thinks about the castle. She tells me that she was thinking it could be a castle for Barbie and Ken and Jasmine and Ariel (you know that Ken, he’s such a lady’s man). As they played, they worked out the dynamics of melding Anya’s ideas with Braden’s. It became a castle that worked for both of them.

I’ll wrap this up with the words of Jerome Bruner taken from the preface of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation.

     Here we were not dealing with individual imaginations working separately. We were collectively involved in what is probably the most human thing about human beings, what psychologists and primate experts now like to call intersubjectivity, which means arriving at a mutual understanding of what others have in mind. It is probably the extreme flowering of our evolution as humanoids, without which our human culture could not have developed, and without which all our intentional attempt at teaching something would fail.

     To cultivate it requires an atmosphere of reciprocal respect and support, the type of respect that distinguishes schools that achieve success–like the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia.


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Pre-K graduation: no drumming or fire dancing

ImageI attended my son Braden’s Pre-K graduation on Thursday. Some of you are probably saying, “What! a Pre-K graduation!.” I suppose I would have been saying the same thing not too long ago. Events like Pre-K graduation, Kindergarten graduations, and 5th grade graduations are often considered “cute” or “fun” at best and may get filed as an inconvenient waste of time at worst. After all, they’re not a REAL graduation, right?

Of course, that begs the question: “What’s a REAL graduation?” I think that the traditional high school and college graduations often get credited as authentic because in the past they meant that school was over. Done. No more classes. Time to get on with REAL life. Get a REAL job. However, nowadays we know that it’s frequently not the case that school ends with graduation and that the REAL job doesn’t always come when we hope it will. In fact, career development experts these days will tell you that to remain competitive you’ll probably change careers several times and go back to school for retraining, continuing ed, or a complete switch at least once if not more.

These changes in the career landscape have actually helped highlight the nature of graduations as a rite of passage, which is really what they were all along. Rites of passage help us mark the moving from one stage in life to another. They’re important for cultures, families and individuals. In fact, psychology and traditional medicine have realized the negative consequences of missing these passages which can manifest in people feeling lost, drifting, and without a grounded sense of identity. Sometimes people don’t feel like they can truly enter in and be successful where they are at because they haven’t felt that sense of passage from a previous identity or stage into the next. Usually we aren’t conscious of how this works for us, but the very fact that humans have ALWAYS throughout history celebrated and ritualized passage should give us a clue that it’s very important.

Which brings us to the Pre-K graduation. The teachers at Lake Ridge Childcare did a wonderful job of making a fun program in which each child was honored, got to show off a little bit, be on stage, wear a special Pre-K graduate T-shirt and black mortarboard with tassel, have some food (traditional Minnesota pot-luck style) and be recognized by their community and families. It had all of the elements of a well designed traditional rite of passage and many of the families invited extended family to participate. In our case, it occurred to me that we had aunties, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family as well as grandparents, which made it a truly multi-generational crowd.

Since I’ve seen and experienced how rites of passage and lack thereof can get stamped into our psyche and DNA, I have no doubt that this was significant for Braden and will help him to move on from “little kid” to the “school-age” stage of his journey. I made sure to intentionally identify this for him with a “Dad Talk.” We didn’t mark it with any ritual wounding or by giving him a tattoo (although he probably would have loved it if we had inked the Autobots symbol on his forehead), but we did give him gifts of big-boy toys: superhero Lego sets. No more Duplos, those are for little kids.

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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Present Moment Parenting


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