Don't Take It Personally!

Laura Markham's picture

Your teenager slams the door to her bedroom. Your ten-year-old huffs "Mom, you never understand!" Your four-year-old screams "I hate you, Mommy!"

What's the most important thing to remember? DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! This isn't primarily about you, it's about them: their tangled up feelings, their difficulty controlling themselves, their immature ability to understand and express their emotions. When your daughter says "You NEVER understand!" try to hear that as information about her -- at this moment she feels like she's never understood -- rather than about you.

Taking it personally wounds you, which means you do what we all do when we're hurt: either close off, or lash out, or both. Which just worsens a tough situation for all concerned.

Remembering not to take it personally means you take a deep breath, let the hurt go, remind yourself that your child does in fact love you but can't get in touch with it at the moment, consciously lower your voice, and think through how to respond.

You can still set limits, but you do it from as calm a place as you can muster. You try hard to remember what it feels like to be a kid who is upset and over-reacting. Your child will be deeply grateful, even if she can't acknowledge it at the moment.

I'm not for a minute suggesting that you let your child treat you disrespectfully. I'm suggesting you act out of love, rather than anger, as you set limits. And if you're too angry to get in touch with your love at the moment, then wait until you can before you interact. Saying "I'm too angry to discuss this now. We'll talk later," and leaving the room, keeps a bad situation from getting worse and gives you better options for resolution. You'll be glad you did.

Dr. Laura Markham