We’ve all heard it. “I hate Jenna!” “I hate this shirt!” “I hate string beans (carrots, broccoli, all forms of meat, and anything even remotely healthy)!”
Many parents bristle at the H-word, responding with a reminder, “We don’t use that word” or even more unhelpful (sorry), “But honey, you played with Jenna/wore that shirt/ate those very same string beans yesterday!”
Meeting the H-word with admonishments or contradictions misses the point, and is likely to result in a child who escalates or retreats into sullen silence.
If the H-word makes your skin crawl, help your child generate a list of alternatives – abhor, despise, loathe, not-my-cup-of-tea – and remind her to use them. Even better, use them yourself, bringing a richer, more varied feelings-vocabulary into your home.
Or shift the focus entirely, away from the H-bomb and onto what your child is really trying to say. So if your 7-year-old wails, “I hate Lego, they’re stupid (uh oh, the S-word)!” try, “It’s really frustrating your spaceship keeps breaking.” Translating what your child is saying into more acceptable language accomplishes 3 important goals:
- It’s empathic, letting your child know you hear him and understand which, by the way, is the surest path to calming him down.
- It provides a different, more acceptable way to express strong feelings.
- It moves you and your child away from complaining and on to more productive problem-solving.
Going from “I hate school!” to “Wow, you sound upset. What happened?” or “You’re worried about that test today.” accomplishes what Tamar Chansky, PhD (author of many wonderful books including Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking) calls specifizing, the process of moving from the unwieldy global to the more manageable specific. Then, true problem-solving can begin.