Child Caring

"Mean" mom needs thicker skin

My 6 year old daughter has been calling me "mean" mommy lately when I say something she doesn't like (such as "no" to more television or sweets) or if I talk to her in a firm tone. I tell her that parents need to set rules (and limits) and she may not always like what I have to say but that's my job. I try not to make an issue out of every small thing but she still tests me, sometimes even saying I don't love her. How should I handle this?

From: Gabbie, Natick, MA

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Hi Gabbie,

When your daughter says you're mean, she's testing you. And guess what? You're failing. She's testing you not because she wants you to fold, but because she doesn't want you to. So here's what you need to do:

1. Develop thicker skin. If you're going to take everything your child says personally, you'll be a basket case before she's 8.

2. Accept that being "mean" isn't necessarily a bad thing. She needs to know that you're tough; that you can take whatever she dishes out and still be there for more. Just because. Because you're her mom and you love her. Knowing that makes her feel safe and secure, so when she says these things, pretend she's saying: "I'm testing to see if you still love me."

When you react defensively, you're giving her power that she doesn't want. That's scary. A young child doesn't want to be more powerful than her parent (despite all the behavior to the contrary). What she wants is to know that even when she's a rotten, mean, naughty girl, you will still love her enough to take care of her, which means keeping her safe, which means continuing to do your job of setting limits and being consistent in your responses.

Next time she says you're mean, don't react, just move on. Repeat calmly and matter-of-factly the limit you have set. Tell her, "You're entitled to have your feelings but it's still bedtime." Offer to help her if that is appropriate. Don't back down and don't negotiate. You can say, "My job is to take care of you. Right now, that means getting a bath and getting ready for bed." If the language is offensive ("You're stupid!"), tell her she's entitled to her thoughts, but not to hurt other people's feelings.

There's a new book coming out, "Mean Moms Rule," that I'm hoping to see and it sounds like it might helpful.

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