It is not unusual when children are hurting that they will lash out against those they are closest to. The reality is this: It is so much easier to cause pain than to feel pain..
When a child feels pain, it can be a bewildering and unsettling experience. In the absence of knowing how to manage these feelings, children try to deal with it by attempting to control the situation and the pain they are experiencing..
One of the quickest (but not helpful) ways to do this is to cause someone else to feel pain. This is usually not a purposeful decision on their part, but one born of not having the skills to more effectively manage the pain they are in..
It can be unsettling for a parent to suddenly see their child turn on them, especially when their child’s reaction doesn’t seem to match the situation..
Unfortunately, when faced with this situation, many parents resort to anger and punishment as a way to try to stop their child’s behavior. I understand where this is coming from. They are wanting to teach their child that it is not okay for them to act in a disrespectful or abusive way when they are upset..
In reality, their child often is not able to hear and process what the parents are trying to communicate particularly when the child is in pain. The parent is far better off responding in an empathic manner that seeks to understand why the child may be in such pain. Then after things have settled down, deal with the disrespectful way they treated others..
Helpful response: “I can see that you are upset and likely have something bothering you. Can we take a little break until things settle down and then I would like to talk to you about what’s going on.”.
Unhelpful response: “I am tired of you treating me this way whenever something is bothering you. Grow up!”.
While offering empathy does not always guarantee your child will respond in an appropriate way, it helps set the stage to lower the emotional intensity of the situation and communicates your desire to be helpful to them when they are struggling..
Empathy and connection will provide certainty during the time of pain and uncertainty for your child. Don’t underestimate the value of doing that when your child is hurting..