This week’s question is from Neerja,
“Can you help me with how to handle negative thoughts about my child? I’m getting very frustrated and tired of dealing with his challenges. I often think negatively about him and really hate myself for doing that. Any suggestions as to how to deal with this?”
In this episode, I will address how to deal with the shame and guilt parents experience when they have negative thoughts about their children. First off, please know you are not alone. Second, the strategies in this episode will help you deal with those feelings better and may even prevent them from happening at all.
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Parents Have a Wide Range of Thoughts About their Kids
- It is completely normal to have negative thoughts about your child with regard to the challenges you are dealing with, especially if the child has extra challenges
- Difficult behaviors are exhausting and can feel frustrating and unfair
- You are not a bad or unloving parent for feeling these things sometimes about your child, even if those feelings are really uncomfortable feelings like anger
- It’s real life, and it’s much healthier to acknowledge it than it is to try to deny it because the feelings and the things that we are willing to acknowledge become the things that we are able to work to improve ourselves
Separate Your Child from the Behaviors & Challenges
- Your child and their behavior/challenges are 2 different things
- If you step back and reflect, typically parents are not actually having negative thoughts and feelings about the child themselves
- A mantra that works well around this for us to remind ourselves as parents is, “I love my child, but sometimes I don’t like him or his behavior very much.”
Constant Negative Feelings & Time to Recharge
- If negative feelings are coming up when you have to deal with your child, when you have to face certain things during the day, or it is happening frequently, that is a sign to us as adults that we need to have more opportunities to take breaks from our kids
- When we notice that those frustrated, angry, sort of impatient thoughts and feelings are coming up, we are having a lot of this negativity around our kids, that’s our brain waving little flags, saying, “Hey, we need to be taking more of a break here.”
- Be intentional about stepping away and recharging your batteries
- It may mean leaving the house, but for many, it could be letting them watch a show, placing them in their room to play alone, or putting them to bed a little earlier so you can have time for yourself
- Get creative about it. Don’t shut down to the idea and say “Well, that’s not possible”, it absolutely can be done.
- We need to make sure that we are not letting our cup get too full with that frustration and negativity; finding an opportunity to let some of that drain out so that we can keep that cup from overflowing on a regular basis
- It’s good for us and it’s good for our kids
Intentional Stops in the Day
- Be intentional several times a day. Just stopping, putting your hand on your own heart, taking a few deep breaths. Remind yourself out loud or in your head mantras such as:
- “He’s a good kid and having a hard time.” Or “I’m a good parent. I’m doing the best that I can”
- Spotlighting the positives throughout the day, both for your child and for yourself
- Our brains are velcro for negative things and it’s a lot harder to be aware and focus on the positive things, particularly with our kids
- Try daily journaling, make a running list on your phone, or sharing positives at mealtime as a family as well
- Kids hold onto “bad” too, so it is very beneficial to have them participate
When You Feel Beyond Frustrated
- When parents are feeling that things aren’t improving with all their efforts, try looking for different or additional support and approaches
- Too often the focus becomes that the problem is the child rather than the need to look for different systems, tools, strategies, or professionals.
- What is best for one child or family may not work for another—Seek alternatives
- Perhaps the true underlying causes of their challenges have not been addressed
- Resource: “Digging Deeper Workshop” at drnicoleworkshops.com
- Helps parents have a better picture of what areas are probably contributing to the symptoms and the challenges a child is experiencing so that parents can seek out the right kinds of interventions, approaches, and treatments
Recognizing Our Emotions as a Parent
- Honestly check in with yourself to see how your ability is to regulate your own emotions and behaviors
- Kids are only one part of your life
- Do you have the tools and strategies to support your mental health or issues you need to address?
- All parents struggle at times with negative thoughts or questioning their ability as a parent—acknowledge when this occurs, don’t be ashamed, and seek out support/a support group, etc.
- As parents, when we are feeling like we’ve got our feet underneath us more/a bit more together/managing ourselves and our inner and outer worlds just more effectively, that goes a long way to helping us have a more balanced or better outlook on what’s going on with our kids and the challenges that we face each day with them
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Parents Have a Wide Range of Thoughts About their Kids … 00:01:58
Separate Child from the Behaviors … 00:03:45
Negative Feelings & Time to Recharge … 00:06:15
Intentional Stops in the Day … 00:09:45
When You Feel Frustrated … 00:13:00
Recognizing Emotions … 00:16:00
Episode Wrap up … 00:18:15
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show. I’m Dr. Nicole, and today I’m answering a question from one of you. This is a topic that’s relevant for every single one of us as parents, but it’s not something that gets talked about very often, and can even be something that a lot of parents experience a great deal of guilt or shame around, and that is how to handle negative feelings we have about our kids. Hopefully, by the end of this episode, you will be able to give yourself more grace around this and have some strategies for supporting yourself. The specific question for today comes to us from Neerja, who writes: “Can you help me with how to handle negative thoughts about my child? I’m getting very frustrated and tired of dealing with his challenges. I often think negatively about him and really hate myself for doing that. Any suggestions as to how to deal with this?” Well, Neerja, I really want to applaud your courage for asking this question because it for sure is something that has gone through the mind of every single parent out there, but a lot of people are really too afraid to acknowledge it or to talk about it, or feel too guilty or too ashamed about it. So, kudos to you for being willing to raise it. I do have several thoughts on this, and strategies that I think may be helpful to you and to everybody else out there.
So first, I want to start by just really normalizing this experience. It is totally normal to have negative thoughts about your child, about the things that your child is doing, about the challenges that you are dealing with. We all have a wide range of thoughts and feelings about our kids, and that is completely normal, especially if you are raising a child who has got extra challenges. Maybe a lot of really difficult behaviors, or every meal is a struggle because the feeding issues, or maybe school is a real stressor, or they are not sleeping well, or whatever it might be, it’s really exhausting. And it feels frustrating. It probably feels unfair. It can feel a whole lot of other things that are completely normal. So I want everybody to understand: You are not a bad or unloving parent for feeling these things sometimes about your child, even if those feelings are really uncomfortable feelings like anger, or you think, “I’m just constantly having negative thoughts about my child”. It’s real life, and it’s much healthier to acknowledge it than it is to try to deny it because the feelings and the things that we are willing to actually acknowledge and be aware of and look at, then become the things that we are able to work with and strategize around and try to improve or work on for ourselves. So that’s how I want to frame this whole conversation: However you are feeling about your child, whatever negative thoughts or feelings might be coming up, just acknowledge them and know that they are normal, and that we can work with them.
The next thing I want to share is this idea about separating your child and the things they do. These are actually two separate things. And what I think Neeraja is alluding to here, and the rest of us deal with when we have these thoughts, is sort of this merging of those two things, right? We are having all of these negative thoughts about our child. Well, actually, if we really step back and reflect on that a little bit deeper, what we are having these negative thoughts and feelings about, these uncomfortable emotions that are coming up, are actually about the things that are going on with our child, the behaviors that they are exhibiting or the challenges that they are having. We are not actually having these negative thoughts and feelings about our child themselves. So our child and their behavior, or their challenges, are two different things. And that can be really relieving and helpful to us as parents, because then we realize, “Oh, right, of course I love my child. I’m not having these negative thoughts or emotions about the core of who my child is as a human being. I’m having these negative thoughts and these negative feelings and these difficult emotions coming up around the stuff that’s happening with my kid.” And that can be really helpful. And a mantra that I think works well around this for us to remind ourselves of often as parents is, “I love my child, but sometimes I don’t like him or his behavior very much.” I want you to think about that. We can absolutely, deeply love someone and sometimes not like them very much, not like the things that they are doing. That’s completely okay, it’s normal, it happens in all of our relationships. And to recognize that even on their worst day and our worst day, we still really do fundamentally love each other very much, although we may not be liking each other, or liking what each other is doing very much at that time. This is helpful because it separates the behavior and the frustration and the challenges from the child himself, and that’s really, really critical because a child is not their behaviors and their challenges, and of course we love them very much for who they are.
A practical thing that I think is really important, especially if you are recognizing that you are at a point in your life and your relationship with your child is really stressful. That you are having a lot of negative feelings coming up when you have to deal with your child, when you have to face certain things during the day, that is a sign to us as adults that we need to have more opportunities to take breaks from our kids. I know some of you might be thinking, “Oh, right, that’s easier said than done. That’s really hard to do.” And I get it, but we can all do this. When we notice that those frustrated, angry, sort of impatient thoughts and feelings are coming up, we are having a lot of this negative stuff around our kids, that’s our brain waving little flags, saying, “Hey, we need to be taking more of a break here.” Now, breaks can certainly look like leaving the house and going to the spa and having a day to yourself, which let’s face it, most of us aren’t doing on a very regular basis, if at all, but on a more practical level, what we are talking about with breaks is stepping away for a little bit. When we are having a lot of that negativity, a lot of those draining negative thoughts and feelings, we need to be intentional about stepping away and recharging our batteries a little bit more. That can look like lots of different things throughout the day, even if you are a single parent or even if you are home alone with your child all day, even if you don’t have a support network to literally come in so that you can get away and take a break, that can look like letting your child watch a show for a little bit while you go and do something for yourself and get a break from them, not having to deal with them in that moment. That can look like, if it’s possible, putting them to bed a little bit earlier so you get a little more time to yourself before you go to bed. That can look like placing them in their room to play periodically throughout the day, or to just be there by themselves, or be bored, or whatever they are going to do, so that you can get a little time and space away from them. So it can look lots of different ways. Get creative about it. Don’t shut down to the idea and say “Well, that’s not possible”, because a lot of parents do that. They say, “Oh, I can’t take breaks, you don’t understand, my child has all these challenges. My child whatever.” I will tell you, as a parent and as a professional, I have yet to encounter a situation where I wasn’t able to work with parents around finding some possible ways for them to get a little bit of a break, at least a few times a day from their kid, to take some deep breaths, to recharge, to just have some space to themselves. It absolutely can be done, you just may have to get creative about it, but it’s important because otherwise the intensity, especially if you are dealing with a child with a lot of special needs or a lot of behavior challenges, it just builds and builds and builds and builds and builds, and then we do feel angry and negative, and just “Ugh”, all the time with them. So for them as much as for us, we need to make sure that we are not letting our cup get too full with that frustration and negativity before we are finding an opportunity to let some of that drain out so that we can keep that cup from overflowing on a regular basis. It’s good for us and it’s good for our kids.
Something you can do in the moment if you are dealing with a lot of ongoing challenges with your child is to be intentional several times a day. Just stopping, putting your hand on your own heart, taking a few deep breaths and literally reminding yourself out loud or in your head: “He’s a good kid having a hard time”, or “I’m a good parent. I’m doing the best that I can”, or “This is really hard right now, but I love him so much.” Whatever that phrasing is going to be for you, intentionally stopping yourself, doesn’t have to be for longer than a few seconds, and doing that process can be so helpful just to remind yourself that you really do love your kid, it’s the other stuff that you don’t like that is creating the issues, and that you are both doing the best you can. Really important.
I think another practical tool to use here is to make sure that you are spotlighting the positives throughout the day, both for your child and for yourself. The human brain is geared towards noticing and holding on to the negative far more than the positive. There are a lot of evolutionary reasons for that, but our brains are just super sticky velcro for negative things, and it’s a lot harder for the positive things, for us to even be aware of them, particularly with our kids. So this type of strategy, by no means is intended to minimize the very real challenges that you may be experiencing with your child, but it is important to bring some balance to that, and to recognize that there are always some positives happening for your child and for yourself, and to try to be intentional about noticing them. Some parents like to keep a little running list or a journal or a note on their phone that they pop those into when they see them, some just like to commit them to memory. Some families or parents and kids like to have a little routine of sharing one or two positive things that they noticed about the other person or just about the day. That could be at bedtime, it could be at a meal time, another time of day. Maybe you have a journal that you write in in the morning or at night, and you want to add a little section to that just to challenge yourself to write three little bulleted points about something positive that you noticed with your child, or a positive experience, or moment, or something that you had with them during the day. What that does is it just reminds us that those moments are there, it helps to bring some balance to all of the negativity that our brain is so good at being aware of and holding on to, and so that can be a really helpful tool. And it’s good for our kids too, because their brains do the same thing. They are holding on to all of that negativity and noticing all the challenges and the “bad” things that happen and “bad” things about themselves. And so by helping them do this little routine or strategy as well, it’s really beneficial for them.
I do want to say that if you are a parent who is feeling really frustrated and feeling really negative, and just having a hard time because you are trying to do the things that you’ve been told to do to address your child’s challenges, maybe those are behavior challenges, maybe they are learning challenges, anxiety, whatever it might be, but things aren’t improving, and you are feeling frustrated, because you are like, “My child is really struggling, we are doing all these things, but it’s just dragging out. We are not really getting anywhere, we are not getting any improvement”, then you probably need different support or approaches. Not everything works for everyone, and not every professional has a toolbox of things that’s going to be effective for every kid. And too often, then, the focus becomes, “Well, the problem is the kid. My kid is so messed up, or has so many problems, or whatever that is, look, even these approaches don’t work.” No, that’s not true. It just means that the approaches or the strategies or the solutions you’ve been given aren’t the right ones for that child, or for you, or for your family. So I want to really encourage you, if that’s the situation that you are in, to seek out alternatives. To say, “Okay, let’s stop on this hamster wheel of doing things that don’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Let’s seek out some new insights and new approaches.” It may very well be that you haven’t really gotten to the root of what’s actually going on for your child. Maybe you are doing a lot of parenting or behavioral strategies, but it’s like Groundhog’s Day every day, you are not getting any traction, it’s not getting any better. Well, then you probably need to do some digging, either on your own or with a skilled professional to find out what’s actually going on underneath this behavior. What are the things that we haven’t yet identified that really need to be addressed here? And you want to access resources and people who can help you figure that out. One of the resources that I’ve created that’s available for all of you and any parent who wants to dig deeper into what’s going on with their child’s challenges is my Digging Deeper Workshop. You can get to that at drnicoleworkshops.com, and we have had so many parents now go through that workshop to really help them have a better picture of what areas are probably contributing to the symptoms and the challenges that they are experiencing, so that you can seek out the right kinds of interventions, approaches and treatments for that. Otherwise, you are just left implementing a lot of things, feeling like you are not getting anywhere, and of course, you are going to feel frustrated and resentful and negative as a parent because of that, and guess what? Your kid is feeling the same way. So it may be the case, if this is going on for you, that you need to seek out some additional supports and strategies and tools for you and for your child.
And on that note, I would say that it’s important if you are recognizing for yourself that you as a parent are really struggling with your own emotions, with the ability to regulate your own emotions and behavior — kids are only one part of our life, we have got lots of other things in our lives, and sometimes it feels like it’s just really a lot. And sometimes we don’t feel like we have got good tools and strategies to support ourselves, or to handle what’s going on inside of us. And then that can really compound the frustration and negativity we feel with our children, and so if that’s what’s going on for you, just know that that happens to virtually every parent at some point. And it’s important to acknowledge that for yourself, not to be ashamed of it, not to try to deny it, not to tell yourself a story that that means that you are not cut out for parenting, or you are a bad parent, or “What’s my problem that I can’t have this all together?” No, this is a normal thing, and to acknowledge it, and also then seek out support and help for yourself. What do you need to help yourself? Would working with a therapist or a counselor for a period of time potentially be beneficial to you? Is there a support group that would be helpful? Is there something that has been an issue in your life for a while that you kind of have been meaning to address or you know you need to deal with, but you just haven’t yet? Seek out supports and resources and tools to be able to help yourself, because that will also help with the issue of how you are thinking about what’s going on with your child and how you are feeling towards your child. When we are feeling, as parents, like we’ve got our feet underneath us more, like we have it a bit more together, like we are managing ourselves and our inner and outer worlds just more effectively, boy, does that go a long way to helping us have a more balanced or better outlook on what’s going on with our kids and the challenges that we face each day with them. So get support for yourself in whatever form that looks like, if that would be something that would be supportive to you at this point.
So I hope that these ideas and strategies are helpful for Neerja, and for all of the rest of you, who at times struggle with negative thoughts and feelings about your child. Remember, if you have a question you would like to hear answered on a future show, please email it to email@example.com. Thank you, as always, for listening and I will catch you back here next time.