If my 8-year-old son tells me one more time, "I hate you," I will scream. This is getting old. What should I do?
A childrearing notion that badly undercuts parents today says that, in the name of psychological correctness, children should be allowed nearly unlimited license to express themselves. Much of what was rightly considered disrespect is now protected behind the shield of venting feelings. Consequently, many parents fear squelching their children’s opinions — however meanly meant and said, lest they become emotionally pent-up, unhappy children — so they allow some pretty insulting things to be said.
Certainly kids have a right to talk and be heard. But that right ends when disrespect and nastiness begin. For many parents, the real struggle is where to draw the line separating positive openness from negative intent. A general suggestion: Feelings that are expressed with regard for others’ feelings are allowed; those that batter others’ feelings are not.
Many parents choose to ignore the standard kid gripes: "You don’t like me; I don’t like you. You like Harmony better; you hate me. You’re unfair; you’re mean. You’re old-fashioned; you’re a parent" (I threw this one in because it’s often what they’re really saying). Most of us tolerate this kid commentary ilk if it doesn’t get too obstinate or repetitive. In other words, we don’t like it, but we’ll put up with it if they don’t push too hard.
For you, the repeat hammering is what’s wearing. And your son probably knows, or at least senses, it. I sense that you want to stop him but believe it is beyond your parental discretion to stifle his freedom of speech. In reality, your son’s First Amendment right, like grown-ups’, is not limitless. He has gone beyond an occasional burst of opinion to a chronic insult. "I hate you" is ludicrous, and even a mildly irritating sentiment can become abrasive if said with enough force or repetition.
Make it clear you don’t want to hear "I hate you" anymore. If it happens, there will be a consequence (go to his room, a written apology, an earlier bedtime, loss of a privilege, etc.). An old adage says: Repeat a lie often enough and people will come to believe it. Your son is repeating a lie. Rather than getting his anger off his chest, he may be reinforcing in his mind what he is saying. You can’t stop a child from thinking nonsense, but you can prevent him from believing it.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is an author, clinical psychologist
and EWTN Radio and TV host.