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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

Mean Words.

Sarah Conway is a mother , psychologist, and the creator of Mindful Little Minds, a site she created to help inform and encourage parents to focus on and aid the emotional health of their kids. She wrote an article for her website titled, "How to Respond when your Child uses Mean Words" in order to provide parents with the tools they need to respond appropriately when their child uses negative language. Sometimes children can say things that will cause their parents to be shocked or taken aback by the use of such language. It can sometimes even make you question your job as a parent and it can feel like an attack when your child uses negative language directed toward you or another member of the family. Hearing this kind of language come from your sweet child can leave you feeling worried and wondering about your relationship with them or where they could have been exposed to such language. The reality is that all children are capable of saying mean and hurtful things and you are not alone or failing as a parent or raising a crazy delinquent. The first thing Conway discusses in her article is why kids use this language. Children have immature and underdeveloped brains and using language as a way to express their feelings is still fairly new to them. From birth, children learn to express their feelings and needs in forms of nonverbal communication. But as they grow older, they begin to learn more words, expand their vocabularies, and form sentences, therefore, we have greater expectations for them in regards to communication. We tell them to "use their words" to tell us and others how they feel or what they need in a given moment. However, this concept is new to them and human emotions are so complex, so they may just not have the words to fully express the confusing array of emotions they may be feeling. Even grown ups can struggle with putting their feelings into words, and we have fully developed and mature brains. Conway also describes what she refers to as the thinking brain. When we as humans, regardless of our age, become dysregulated, we lose the ability to access our prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for planning, reasoning, decision making, impulse control, and language. So, when we experience intense emotions and begin to lose control, we can lose the ability to access our words. This state may cause you to yell or curse out of frustration because it is difficult to access sophisticated language or behavior in these situations; the same happens for children. That's why the next section of the article, how to respond when your child uses mean words, is so important in helping you react appropriately when your child struggles to express emotion and uses words that may seem out of line. The first thing to do is to remember that it's not personal. It may feel like it in the moment, but your child is not intentionally trying to hurt you. They are simply just trying to express how they feel in the best way they can with an immature and overstressed brain. The next thing to remember is don't respond with your own mean words. It can be tempting to fire back a quick and nasty response in the heat of the moment. But, that is only going to exacerbate the already emotionally charged situation. If you punish or scold your child in these moments, it will only bring them to feel shame. This can make children feel as if we do not want to hear how they feel, making it even less likely that they will share their emotions with us and communicate how they feel. It is also important to focus on the message, not the delivery. Children are constantly doing the best that they can with the tools that they have, so reprimanding them or punishing them for their choice of words is not going to solve anything. Try to think about what your child is trying to communicate to you. Validate their feelings and offer them some empathy to show them you are listening and you are willing to try and understand their experience. As a parent, it is also important that you are aware of your own response in certain scenarios and you are modeling appropriate language. Most children have access to a limited emotional vocabulary, so they can run into problems when they experience an emotion that they do no have a label for. The solution to this issue is to teach and model appropriate labeling of emotions by helping them to give their emotion(s) a name when you hear them yell negatively or to express and label your own emotions appropriately when you are experiencing a certain feeling. The last thing that Conway lists that you can do is teach skills. Once you and your child are calm, you can begin to work with them on building their skills and helping them learn to express themselves in more appropriate ways. You can identify the potential problems they may be facing when communicating their emotions if you really listen to the message beneath their actual words. Give them language they can use and talk to them about how they can identify the feelings in their body and hopefully, manage them. This is the time where it is extremely important to focus on their language and teach them how to communicate with you better in the future. The emotions that they may feel will never go away, so giving them the correct language for what they feel is going to help them to build strong, healthy, and connected relationships with you and their peers.

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