Dear Dr. Meg,
I need suggestions on how to bond with my son. I tend to focus on the negative, and get highly annoyed by any little thing he does. I just bought your book, Strong Mothers Strong Sons and Boys Should Be Boys. I have started reading Strong Mothers Strong Sons. I had a rude awakening today when my son revealed to me that he told his PSR teacher that I have said he’s a jerk. I did say this to very insolent & disobedient behavior, but it seems like this behavior never stops. He’s 4, almost 5 and is adopted. We got him at 15-months with his little sister who was 3-months. I’m sad by both our behaviors. Help!
Here’s the good news: you recognize that you have a problem with your tongue and this is huge. Really, all mothers get frustrated with their children but many never recognize that they need to change. You are right. You must change the way you speak to your son. There is no excuse for calling him a jerk (or any other mean name)- ever. I know that you meant to refer to his behavior, but what your son heard from you was that in your heart, you feel that he is a really bad boy. That hurts him deeply. I suspect that maybe your anger and frustration toward him doesn’t really come from his behavior. He’s only four. Could the feelings that you are expressing to him be meant for someone else? Is there a possibility that subconsciously he reminds you of another male that you have unresolved anger toward? Whenever our anger toward a small child is out of proportion to what they did, that anger is meant for someone else. So ask yourself if you are really mad at your son or someone else in your life.
Now, regardless where your anger comes from, you need to control the way you talk and show it because it will have painful consequences for your son. If you are explosive- yelling, calling names or hitting him- you need to get help ASAP from your doctor, a counselor or your pastor. If, however, your anger comes out in speaking badly to him, then you need a plan on how you will stop this. I would do something like this.
1. Challenge yourself to recognize when your anger is building and when it does, remove your self from him. Go to your bedroom or even the bathroom and have a good talk with yourself.
2. When you have removed yourself, tell yourself that he’s only a child and his moods, behaviors can not have that much power over you. When you allow him to make you this angry, you are giving the power of a 4 year old over your emotional state. You can stop that.
3. Tell a close friend that you are struggling and ask if she will touch base with you once a week when you can tell her how your anger is doing. Bringing your anger out in the open has a beautiful way of diffusing its power and intensity. Tell her exactly what you say, how you feel and how you want to change it. Ask her to help you.
4. Pray. The power of prayer is extraordinary. Ask God to help you control your tongue toward your son. Also ask God to show you who you are really mad at. Ask him why you are so mad. Then wait. I promise, he will.
Tanya, you sound like a terrific mother. Work these suggestions over and over and be patient with yourself. When you mess up and say something mean to your son, go to him immediately and ask his forgiveness. This will mean a lot to him. Remember that changing our behavior takes time so expect results in weeks and months, not days.