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But You Hurt Me


by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

Bonnie is unwilling to follow the rules at home. She argues constantly with her parents, refuses to complete her homework, resists going places with the family, and has been caught sneaking out of the house at night. Her parents take privileges away from her, yell and fight with her, and eventually ground her to her room. Bonnie responds by throwing things from her room and screaming that she hates everyone.

Bonnie’s parents are beside themselves on what else to do. They believe they have tried everything. Her mother says, “We gave her every chance. She is so belligerent to us.” Her father says, “I don’t even want to be around her. She is just horrible to be around.” The parents are even considering sending Bonnie away to a camp for misfit children. Will that even help, they wonder?

No. It will not help. Not a bit. What will help is for the parents to recognize that it is likely they are a large part of the problem. What problem? The problem is that their daughter is talking to them, but they are not listening. They are focusing on her behavior, which is truly obnoxious, but they are missing the unspoken part of every communication between two people. If they keep missing this unspoken part, things will certainly get worse; and the family will continue to experience significant disruption.

The parents must recognize that Bonnie is speaking to them through their feelings. She is unable to speak effectively with her words because of her own emotional turmoil. If she were to say out loud what she was actually thinking, it would destroy her. But, here is the problem. She believes her parents do not love her. In her eyes, when they do not take the time to interact with her on a regular basis, she feels neglected. This leaves her feeling injured. She also feels that when her parents talk to her in a manner she feels is scolding or yelling, it hurts her. When her parents take things out of her room for a punishment, it also makes her feel wounded and wronged. When they fight with her about what she has done, she feels offended and ill-treated. Her parents, Bonnie says, talk badly about her to relatives and friends. She says chatting about her private issues to others embarrasses her, and she feels distressed.

All of the parent’s tactics to correct her behavior have backfired and only created more of a problem. Bonnie wishes her parents would spend more time with her, but she finds that she cannot ask them to do so; therefore, she remains quiet but hurt. Her sense of hurt is then communicated to her parents through the poor behaviors she exhibits. But, her parents do not get the hint. So, they fight back, and so it goes.

The parents need to realize that when children act out, they are expressing their own hurt feelings. If the parent can take responsibility for the situation (recognizing that “I feel hurt, so perhaps that is what my daughter is telling me – that she feels hurt”), then the parent can go to the child and talk it out. That is what the child desires but is unable to ask, so the parent must. Speak softly and lovingly to your child, and you will get the same in return. Consistently spend positive time with your child, and your child will love you for it.

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Tags: Featured Story, Parenting


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