It takes heroic effort to remain calm during a verbal attack launched by an out of control child. The natural inclination is to feel offended by the ugly words hurled. Striving to love and care for their child, a parent may feel crushed to hear, “You’re a horrible parent. I hate you.” Such remarks connect to pockets of self-doubt. Am I strong enough to parent a child with a history of abuse? Will this child ever love me? Can I accept that attachment and success may look different from what I envisioned? The child’s rage and parental self-doubt can undermine relationships and the attachment process.
On one level, that’s why a child utters them. By lashing out first, they keep others at bay. This blocks them from crossing into a place where historically, the child was vulnerable to connection or injury. Their trauma broadcasts the warning alarm: better to be isolated than abused. And so the child becomes their own warden keeping others at bay, driving them off with unattractive, annoying, and dangerous behaviors.
What might happen, if instead of allowing their verbal hand grenades to inflict their intended damage, you resist their offensive strategy? Don your flak jacket and press the mute button. “See” the history that generates the child’s behavior? Rewrite his expectations and create a new experience of an adult in his life: one who does not lash out either physically, emotionally or verbally.
Avoid anger, yelling, or threats that replay old traumas and reinforce expectations that adults equal danger. With calmness, validate how awful it must be for them to believe whatever they alleged. (“It must be horrible to think I hate you.” Have genuine empathy for their being burdened by this isolating, destructive belief without owning it or believing it to be true for you.) “Everyone deserves to feel loved by their mom.”
Understand the courage required for him to risk becoming vulnerable to closeness with you. It may take years to convince them that you are not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What a mighty frightening, lonely, and, hopeless place for them to be. Focus exclusively on validating the child’s feelings.
Take your sails out of their wind. Stop fighting to prove your parental excellence. You cannot win this debate when they’re this overwrought. Rational thought is beyond their reach. At the moment, the issue is their pain. Minister to it. This is your opportunity to connect. Your actions are your evidence not any argument in which you could engage.
Always commit to see, hear, and acknowledge their pain. But, never sacrifice your safety or theirs.