Dear Dr. Meeker,
We have a five-year-old son who is bright, active, creative and happy. Recently he has started making comments when we correct his behavior. These behaviors are not major, mainly just simple things any parent of a five-year-old boy would address. His comments are “I know, you hate me.” “You think I’m stupid.” And even, “you wish I was dead.” Each time we have simply stated we love you very much and have shared that as parents it’s our job to teach him right from wrong. Any suggestions? It breaks this mother’s heart to hear him say this and worry that he thinks we don’t love him. I want to add he is adopted from S. Korea and came home at 14 months. He bonded very well with us and these comments are only made when we correct behaviors.
Dear Worried Mom,
You are like many other very sweet mothers who feel pained when your child says these things. Let’s put his words in perspective and see what your son is really saying. First of all, he is trying to get your attention and it’s working. He’s 5 years old and knows exactly how to get you to stop disciplining him. When he sees the look of horror on your face when he says these, he knows he’s got you. That’s what smart kids do. He’s not saying he really hates you and he doesn’t believe you want him dead. He’s not thinking as deeply as you are. He’s playing a game to get into your head so that you will stop telling him what to do. That’s all.
Sensitive parents overthink many things because they want to understand their children well. Sometimes, however, this makes parents understand them less. This is the case with your son’s behavior now. You are taking him too literally and overthinking his intentions.
So the next time he tells you that he hates you, look him in the eyes and tell him that he’s not allowed to say that to you anymore. You don’t hate him and you don’t want to hear it anymore. Period. Then correct his behavior the way it needs to be corrected.
And put a smile on your face so that he knows he can’t yank you around anymore.