What I Did When My Son Told Me To “SCREW OFF”
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
So, the other day we went to see one of the local Junior A hockey teams play. We really went to raise money for my son’s hockey team by selling chocolates to the attendees.
Naturally, the kids didn’t just want to sell the chocolates, they wanted to EAT them (me too! 😉).
I gave each one of my boys a small bar and sent them off to watch the game. One of my boys came back asking for more chocolate…. I said, “no” …. he said, ‘Screw You’.
Um pardon? You didn’t just say that right? I stood there for a second frozen. It seemed like a lot longer but in that second, I went from disbelief, to anger to judgement to…. curiosity. Why? Why did he say that?
The old me would have said “HOW DARE YOU TALK TO ME LIKE THAT!” and done something like take away Xbox for a week. BUT, when my son says something like that, I know it’s just what I call ‘noise’.
It’s the noise that we often react to. For example, when our kids say:
I hate you!
I don’t want to go with you to the store!
You are the worst!
You get the picture. The noise is the first thing that comes out of their mouths that is often hurtful to us. What I’ve learned is that if we ignore the noise, we will find what they are really feeling and needing underneath.
I can hear you right now saying, “Robbin, it’s not ok for your son to say, Screw Off to you”. Totally. It’s not ok, but in that moment, it was not the time to address it. One of the most important lessons I learned in my journey to be a peaceful parent, is that not everything has to be addressed in the moment it happens. That was a game changer for me! (and thank you to my coach Lisa, for teaching that to me!)
So, what did I do?
After I came out of my frozen state of shock, I followed through on the curiosity; ignoring the ‘noise’…for now.
I said to my son, “whoa, dude, what is that about? Why are you so mad?” He didn’t say anything and just looked at me mad. I went to a quiet corner with him away from everyone else and said “hey, you seem really mad to say something like that. What’s going on with you?” He ended up telling me that he thinks we don’t treat him fairly compared to his brother and he was mad because his brother got more chocolate than he did. I asked him to tell me more and he went on to say that he was jealous because we where there with all his brother’s friends and he felt left out and like he had nobody to talk to.
That was it! That is what was behind the noise! He was frustrated, mad, jealous but under it all, he was needing connection with a friend. All of that was building when he asked me for a chocolate and I was the one who said the thing that was the final straw for him.
You see, if I had only reacted to the “Screw You”, I wouldn’t have been able to see that my son was sad and needing connection.
In fact, the “Screw You” had nothing at all to do with me.
Here’s what I did:
Could I change the situation for my son? No. I couldn’t change the fact that he didn't have his friends there.
Should I have given him more chocolate because his brother got more? No. But not because he told me to screw off, but because he was allowed to have a coke with his dinner and that was more than enough sugar. I will do a better job making sure things are more even between him and his brother because that wasn’t something I was noticing so I’ll be more conscious of it.
I didn’t punish him for using that kind of language, instead, I gave him empathy and told him how hard it must be to be the oldest kid here and not have anyone to talk to. I asked him to tell me what could make the situation better. He said he wanted to sit with his dad to watch the rest of the game. Done! I can do that! I called my husband over, quickly explained what happened, and they went to the seats to watch the game (while I stayed at my post selling chocolates #hockeymomlife).
Later that night...
When I tucked my son in. I asked him how he was feeling. He said ok. I asked him if he enjoyed the game and he said he did. I said, “listen buddy, I understand you were frustrated, angry and feeling bored because you didn’t have anyone to talk to, but it’s never ok to say, ‘Screw You’ to me. Please don’t use that language again.”
He said he knew it was wrong, apologized and told me he loved me.
And that was that! No big fight. No punishment. No rage (on my part). We resolved it peacefully and everyone moved on happily.
Here is the main thing I want you to know:
If you only ever attach to the ‘noise’ you miss an opportunity for connection that is right there in front of you. Every fight, meltdown, or outburst, is an opportunity for connection if you can recognize that there is a feeling and need under it.
Here’s how you can do it for yourself with your kids:
Pause – don’t react the second you hear an ‘unfavourable’ response from your child
Do not attach to the ‘noise’. In other words, don’t take what they say personally; it’s never really about you BUT it is about how your child is feeling
Ask them what’s going on. Ask them why? What is this about? Guess and say, “you must be really mad to say something like that to me”
When you get to what’s under the ‘noise’ work together to find a solution.
Go back when everyone is calm and reinforce with them that talking in a disrespectful way isn’t the way we talk to each other in this family
Make sense? I invite you to try with your own kids. It really works for my family and I know it can work with yours.
P.S. You can use this same approach when your child is having a meltdown! :-)