Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally (It’s Not About You)

I was driving 70 mph down Florida’s Turnpike and belting out songs from “Barney's Greatest Hits: The Early Years,” when my then 20-month old Marissa shouted something that stopped me dead in my tracks:

 

“Mommy! Stop singing!”

 

Self-disclosure time: I love to sing. I studied musical theatre, had the lead in a high school musical, and sang in a college band. But while I enjoy singing and several loved ones (and even some complete strangers) say they like my voice, I’m still pretty self-conscious about it.

 

The first time Marissa asked me to – no, demanded that — I stop singing, I felt criticized and insulted. I was too hurt to even say anything at the time. I just sulked to myself in the front seat.

 

Days later when it happened again, I attacked back with shame as my weapon: “Don’t talk to me that way! That’s not a nice thing to say. Mommy enjoys singing. How would you like it if I told you to stop doing something that makes you happy?”

 

When that didn’t work, I taught her to ask in a more polite way. “Mommy, could you please stop singing?” That seemed like a decent compromise that felt more considerate and sensitive to me, and she caught on pretty quickly.

 

There were other instances when I took her behavior personally, too. Like the times I prepared meals for her that she refused to eat. I thought, “Why doesn’t she appreciate the time, effort, and money that went into this meal?” Or when she said she wanted to spend time with Gavin instead of with me. Ouch.

 

On each of these occasions, it only took a split second for my mind to make outrageous assumptions and project into the future. I thought, “She hates my singing.” “I don't know how to cook for my own child.” “She loves Gavin more.” “If I don’t nip this behavior in the bud, she’ll grow up to be defiant and rebellious. Selfish and rude. What kind of relationship will we have?” And the worst: “I'm a horrible mom.”

 

Yes, all of those thoughts, though unconscious at the time, were running through my head.

 

Obviously, I was too caught up in my own feelings to realize the absurdity of expecting a one year old to ask politely, appreciate my cooking, or consider my feelings. I didn’t realize at the time that each one of those experiences triggered issues from my past, such as my need for approval, feeling rejected, or believing that I wasn't good enough. I also reacted out of anger because as a child, I was taught that “disrespectful” behavior was unacceptable.

 

I assumed that Marissa’s behavior was all about me and how it made me feel. But you know what they say about the word “assume” – and it definitely made an ass out of me!

 

Fast forward a couple of years. I began to notice how Marissa took Dalia's innocent behavior personally and I watched her react defensively, just as I had done with her.  I immediately recognized myself in her and realized the lesson I needed to learn.

 

When I stop and take Marissa’s feelings into account and try to see things from her perspective, I can look at each situation more objectively. Perhaps she wanted me to stop singing so she could hear Barney’s voice better. Maybe she just wasn’t hungry for dinner. And who could blame her for wanting to spend time with Gavin? It wasn’t about me. It was never about me.

 

We’re all so used to seeing things from our own perspective that we come to believe our vantage point is the only valid one. I’ve been told by many of the parents in my classes that one of the most powerful and helpful sessions is the one in which they’re asked to imagine a day in the life of their child from their child’s point of view.

 

When my child doesn’t do something I’ve asked her to do, it isn’t that she’s defying me or trying to make me crazy.  She isn’t doing anything TO ME. She’s got her own agenda, needs, interests, and priorities. When she behaves “inappropriately,” she’s not trying to embarrass or anger me. Even if she were to try, I'm the one who chooses how I feel. She can't make me feel or do anything.

 

Now, when one of my daughters throws a tantrum, says something disrespectful, or cries, “I want Daddy!” it doesn't ruffle my feathers like it used to. I try to see the situation from her perspective and understand that she's entitled to her own feelings and thoughts about a situation. She's responsible for her behavior and I'm responsible for mine – staying calm, setting firm limits, letting her know the consequences of her behavior, and following through. I'm a much more effective mama with a lot less drama.

 

If you ever find yourself thinking or saying to your child, “How could you do this TO ME?” or “Don’t ever do that TO ME again!” it's a clue that you’re taking your child’s behavior personally.

 

Ask yourself: Why am I taking this personally? What feelings or memories are being triggered? How can I look at the situation from a different point of view?

 

If you've never left a comment on the blog or haven't done so in a while, please let me know what you think of today's post. I'd love to hear from you.

 

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Until next Tuesday…

Showing 19 comments
  • Danielle
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this post! I definitely struggle with this and have had a hard time thinking through the reasons why I take things so personally with my oldest daughter. It happens mostly when my daughter turns toward my hubby and (seems to) reject me. Any ideas for a good affirmation to say to myself for this particular situation?

    (Like you, I also noticed my oldest reacts the same way I do when her little sister doesn’t feel like playing with her! I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree)

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hey Danielle! Here are some thoughts for you to try out:

      – My daughter is turning toward my hubby and that’s ok.
      – This isn’t about me. It’s about my daughter and her thoughts right now.
      – I choose to feel love for my daughter no matter what.
      – Just because my daughter turns toward my hubby doesn’t mean anything about me.

      What are you making it mean about you that she turns toward him? How do you want to show up as a mom when she does that?

      • Danielle
        Reply

        Pam, thank you for responding!

        My thoughts will be…’She doesn’t love me’ ‘She loves him more than me’ ‘I must be doing something wrong’…terrible thoughts I know!

        I want to be the kind of Mom that is constant for her no matter what and feel secure in my role as her mother.

  • Jennifer
    Reply

    Wow, so glad I found this article. Thought I was the only one feeling so hurt by my 2.5 year old’s comments lately…saying things like ‘go away’ first thing in the morning..wanting daddy more than mommy…sometimes feels I’m in over my head and not a capable parent, but need to try and remember not to take it so personally…sigh..thanks again.

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      I’m so glad you found it, too! You’re definitely not the only one feeling this way… and learning not to take things personally and seeing things from your child’s perspective can completely change the way you parent! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jennifer!

  • Colleen
    Reply

    I have had a few instances this past week where I have taken someone’s words personally. It has really hit me hard, a reality check…really. I feel awful & know this is why I am struggling with moving forward. I have realized this is a trait that I need to change.

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Colleen, it’s great that you’re even aware of this. That’s the first step in changing any behavior or thought pattern! Congrats!

  • Tracy greninger
    Reply

    This one had my name written all over it

    Thanks

  • Jana
    Reply

    Great post!

    This resonated with me as I take my kids behaviour as a reflection on me. So when they have bad table manners, sometimes (if I don’t check myself) I’ll go into the whole drama of begin a crappy parent because I haven’t taught my kids to eat properly… Or when they’re rude, I take that as a reflection of me… I take it personally.

    So nice reminder!

    Love Jana xx

  • Clare Greig
    Reply

    What a brilliant blog. I am SOO with you on this. I am a singer and muso and my little boy (4 years old) gets really cross with me when I sing. Now here is the funny thing. I remember being in the car with my mum and we were both listening to a song on the radio or I would start singing a song and then she would get all into it and start singing really loudly and full welly over the top. It use to annoy the shit out of me. And now I do it to my little boy.
    It was always because I didn’t want to hear her voice I wanted to hear the music or my own voice instead of being drowned out.
    Brilliant!
    Clare

  • Adi Maor Siso
    Reply

    Thanks for the reminder.
    I know it’s not about me, but how easy it is to forget…
    Next time I’ll see it’s coming, I’m definitely going to look at things differently.
    I’m not fond of the impatience me.

    Thanks again.
    xx, Adi

    • Colleen
      Reply

      Hugs to you Adi. I am totally with you. I have 6 yr old & 4 yr old girls. My oldest is so easily distracted that I get so exhausted & use words I regret later…especially at bedtime when we are all exhausted.

  • Kelly - Project Me
    Reply

    This is so good! I know in my heart that ‘no one can MAKE me feel anything and I CHOOSE my own feelings’, yet it’s so much easier said than done.

    Rather than throw in towel and say “I’m hopeless”, I just need these constant, gentle reminders (over and over again…) to help keep me on track. I’m getting so much better and THAT’s what counts, right? ;

    I’m going to share this great post with our readers over at Project Me for Busy Mothers. Thank you xx

  • Ashley
    Reply

    Oh Man! This resonates on all levers and I just love the title!!! It’s so true! Everything you said, I’ve been there. Specifically with the singing. It’s hard to remember that it’s not about me but when I remember that it’s there little life that they are living I’m able to be a much better mommy! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      You’re welcome, Ashley. So glad you enjoyed it and could relate. What’s up with kids not wanting to hear their moms sing?!

  • Beth
    Reply

    Just had to leave a note to say that I really needed this right now. It’s not just little kids, of course, that engender these feelings in their parents. It must be training for when they’re teens. “She’s testing me,” “He’s driving me crazy,” “He’s defiant!” It’s good to have the reminder that it’s not about me, it’s teens trying things, doing them their own way, figuring themselves out. Inhale…exhale…it’s not about me. Ohm…

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Beth! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad my message came at a time when you needed it. Namaste!

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  • […] That was 18 years ago, and we have a great relationship now, in part because I realize that his behavior had more to do with him than it did with me. I’ve grown to understand that people sometimes use sarcasm as a passive-aggressive style of communication, or because they experienced contempt in their own childhoods. So ultimately, I did lighten up and stopped taking his jokes personally. […]

  • […] Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally (It’s Not About You … – Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally (It’s Not About You). I was driving 70 mph down Florida’s Turnpike and belting out songs from “Barney’s Greatest Hits: The Early Years,” when my then 20-month old Marissa … […]

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