Take a Closer Look
It may surprise many viewers of Hurtful Words that this mother doesn’t scold her daughter for speaking with such disrespect. Mom wisely knows that there are better ways to gain a child’s respect than by demanding it or punishing disrespect. In this scene, mom demonstrates the use of four key elements to address her daughter’s hurtful words. Her approach both promotes the girl’s emotional intelligence and facilitates an important repair to the injury her daughter’s words caused in their relationship.
When the girl says, “You’re so stupid,” mom resists the impulse to blurt out a response (see Don’t React — Respond). After she expresses her hurt, mom pauses to see how her daughter will react. In the face of the girl’s silence, she walks away — without a scolding or punishment.
Rather than using the power of parental authority, mom uses the power of vulnerability to express her hurt (see Emotional Honesty). Many of us believe that showing vulnerability by saying “that hurts my feelings” invites children to take advantage of us, to see us as weak. On the contrary, there’s great power in vulnerability. It’s the most effective way to touch our children’s hearts, triggering healthy guilt and regret — the emotions that spur the inclination to apologize.
Engage Logical Consequences
By walking away after expressing her hurt feelings, mom was not giving the child a pass. She knows her daughter will soon make some request of her, and she plans to reference her lingering hurt at the right opportunity. She’s teaching the girl that when we mistreat others, negative consequences result — even with parents (see Fifty Years of Dreikurs). It’s a valuable life lesson: how unkind words harm relationships and have natural consequences (such as mom feeling ungenerous toward her daughter the next morning).
When the daughter appears open to repair but unsure how to do so, mom creates a learning moment by patiently teaching the girl how a proper apology can repair the harm (see Teach Repair).
A child’s respect can either be demanded or earned. Respect demanded of children is rarely authentic; kids may go through the motions and “perform” in respectful ways, but they don’t necessarily feel true respect for us. The mother in Hurtful Words wants her daughter’s respect to be genuine and real, and knows that authentic respect develops when children grow up on the receiving end of a parent’s patience, kindness, empathy, forgiveness, caring, and, as this scene demonstrates, emotional honesty.
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Talking to Kids You Love is written and created by Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., in collaboration with Marina Eovaldi, Ph.D., and Benjamin Rosen, Ph.D. The project is made possible by a generous grant from The Golub Family Foundation.