Wednesday, 8 February 2012

When your child tells you that he hates you

One of the most painful things that a parent can hear from a child is “I hate you.” Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, the words sting our soul. Our children use the expression as a release of ill-feeling when they are frustrated – usually at us – and things are not going well for them.
Our automatic response to hearing “I hate you” is defensiveness. We cringe, feel offended, and may even become angry that our child can be so ungrateful for all we do. Our feelings may be justified, but they are unhelpful.
Haim Ginott, one of the world’s most influential parenting educators, suggests that we help our children recognise that all of their feelings are ok, but certain behaviours are not. This means that if our child is feeling so upset she feels she hates us, that’s ok. The feeling is normal. Our child should not be shamed for having a strong emotion, and if we respond the right way, that emotion will go away far more quickly than if we respond the wrong way. It can also become an opportunity for us to teach our child, and grow closer to her.
How to respond
1.       Accept the fact that children will sometimes be overcome with negative emotion, and that those emotions are ok.
2.       Guide children through the emotion by showing that you understand how they feel, and why they feel it.
3.       Allow them the time and space to work through their emotion.
4.       Model loving behaviour – always. Even when you feel like you hate your child. Never say it yourself. (Your feelings are ok, and they are real. But your behaviour should be kind).
Here are some examples:
After your child becomes angry with you because you will not allow him to do what he wants, he screams, “I hate you.”
As the mature adult, you can respond kindly and gently by accepting the emotion and showing understanding. Get down on your child’s level, look him in the eyes, and offer understanding.
You might say something like:
“You feel angry about this don’t you. You feel really, really angry.”
“You wish mummy wouldn’t stop you doing that.”
“It’s ok to be upset. I know how badly you want to do what you want.”
 “Sometimes I can’t have what I want either, and it makes me angry too.”
These responses show your child you understand. He may remain upset, but showing understanding will typically reduce his anger anywhere from a moment to a minute in most cases.
After showing that you understand, don’t try to fix things. Allow your child space to work through the emotion. You might ask him if he wants a hug or if he wants to be left alone. Honour that preference.
Once he has calmed down, we can begin to guide our child towards better ways to act. (If you try to do this too soon, he will resist. Emotions will still be too high. Teaching is ineffective when people are experiencing big emotions.)
“It’s ok to be angry when things don’t go the way we want.
“How do you think I feel when you tell me you hate me? It makes me sad.
“What could you say to me instead?”
By accepting our children’s emotions, giving them time to work through them, and asking our child to think through the situation at a later, less emotional time, we can teach good ways to act. Through having our children begin to take our perspective, and gently guiding them to more appropriate ways of expressing their emotions (even while allowing the feelings to exist), we can reduce the likelihood that our children will tell us that they hate us.

PS – If our children hear us speak unkindly towards them, they are more likely to do the same. Children are remarkable mimics. (This also goes for what they see on tv and in the environment more generally, so if your children are consistently saying they hate you, it may be because they’re hearing it from you or from others nearby).

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How You Can Have MORE Influence By Being Less In Control

Last year I posted a version of this article at I've re-written the article and posted it again because of the large volume of questions and responses the article received. I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts.
Whether you’re a parent, a school-teacher, or a workplace supervisor or manager, chances are you are required to influence people. As the ‘responsible adult’ you have a house, classroom, or business to run, and you need children (or adults) to do basic things to make it work.
What is your standard method of getting those results?
There are generally two ways that most people try to get others to do what needs to be done.
1.      Incentives, Rewards, Promises, and Praise
In many cases, we use a sugar-coated version of influence where we promise goodies like gold stars, financial incentives, praise, or other rewards for getting people to do the things you want them to do. Kind of like: “If you do this, you’ll get that.”
We can see this in almost every home, where star-charts dominate the fridge door, or compete for space on the cork board on the dining room wall. “Get enough stars and you’ll get a treat.”
The same goes in classrooms around the country, where too many stressed out teachers bribe students to behave in a manner consistent with the teacher’s need for control, and then offer early marks, class parties, and treats for kids’ compliance.
And around the nation, managers are consistently turning their workplaces into game shows in order to ‘influence’ staff to achieve sales targets and increase performance on a range of measures.
2.      Threats and Punishments
Then there’s the negative influence. We use threats, punishment, time-out, or aggression to demand compliance. Kind of like: “If you do this, you’ll get that.”
In parenting, I use the term ‘puffer-fish parenting’ to describe the way we blow ourselves up to scare our children into submission. We threaten to remove privileges, cancel play-dates, or hit our children when they fail to ‘be influenced’ by our requests.
In classrooms, teachers shout, or use ‘writing out lines’ or detention as a deterrent against deviation from prescribed rules.
The workplace can be similarly punitive, with various disciplinary strategies in place to keep employees compliant with policy, and in line with objectives.
The problem with power-based influence
The trouble is, the negative and positive versions of influence are the same thing – using our power to ‘influence’ (read: make someone comply with our wishes). In one case, we say “do this and you’ll get that” and we do it with a smile on our face. In the other case, we make the same statement – “do this and you’ll get that” – but it’s menacing.
Trouble is, you don’t like being told what to do, no matter how good and worthwhile it may be. And neither do those you have influence over, whether they are your children, students in a classroom, or your entire staff. The law of physics applies in relationships too – Force creates resistance.
How it works at home
Say, for example, a mother wants her child to learn the piano. The child starts lessons enthusiastically, but within a month or two the daily practice routine overrides the initial enthusiasm. The child refuses to practise. Predictably, the mother starts to use power to ‘influence’ (i.e., bribe, demand, threaten), and ultimately forces the child to do something he or she simply does not want to do!
The harder we push someone to do something they don’t want to do, the more likely it is that they’ll push back and insist that you can’t make them do anything. Invariably this leads to problems such as:
  • The person will only act the ‘right’ way when the person who holds the power is in the room.
  • An inability to regulate and control emotions (in children).
  • Self esteem/Self worth issues.
  • Bullying others. (Children whose parents use power-based strategies at home to force compliance are much more likely to be bullies, using these same strategies to force compliance in the schoolyard).
When we use ‘controlling’ techniques we do things to people to make them do what we want. But when someone makes you do something, do you feel good about it? Is there anything inside you that makes you feel like you’re on track? In most cases, the answer is no. We prefer to use our autonomy to make our own decisions about what we will do and when we will do it. We like to decide what needs to be done, rather than be dictated to.
The alternative to power-based influence
The alternative is to work with people by trying to understand their motivation and then explaining why we’re asking for a change – and leaving it up to their good judgement to make that change.
For example, my 12 year-old daughter was recently listening to a song that contained material my wife and I found highly objectionable.  
What were my alternatives?
If I were to use power-based influence to prevent her listening to that song I would have bribed or threatened her. Coercion is the language of power. My demands that she not listen to that music would have been met with resistance or it would have pushed the music listening ‘underground’. My threatening “don’t you ever let me hear you playing that song again” would have been met with “don’t worry dad, you won’t ever catch me listening to it.”
Power-based influence would be ineffective. It would be a quick-fix patch that never really addressed the underlying reasons for my objections.
Influence through understanding
Instead we talked about the song, why she liked it (catchy tune, all her friends sing it) and its content. My wife and I agreed that it was a terrific ‘sound’, and we could see how it was so popular.
Then we discussed values that mattered to all of us as a family. We asked lots of questions about what the song (and other songs) were about, and what messages they promoted. We asked how that made our daughter feel.
At the conclusion of our discussion our daughter said, “I’m going to have to delete lots of songs from my playlist.”
At no time was she asked to do that. She chose to do it autonomously. My wife and I had listened to her, we explained our reasons and she made the decision.
What the research says
Decades of research shows that if the relationship matters more than the outcome, the use of ‘control’ (whether negative or positive) is far less effective than autonomy supportive practices.
In spite of the research, many parents, bosses, and teachers feel like if they don’t remain in control it will all fall apart. But forcing people to do things creates resistance and leads to anger and deception. It ignores the person’s personal values and desires and it explicitly or implicitly threatens punishment. Even greater than that: it jeopardises relationships.
Certainly food for thought when you want to be an influence for good.