How we perceive our children informs how we treat them. If we indulge the narrative that our children are unlikeable, we will treat them as if they're unlikeable. Not surprisingly, they will undoubtedly respond in ways that are, well, unlikeable. Rather than setting a self-fulfilling prophecy in motion so early in a child’s life, why not reframe this unhelpful belief: “this is my child who needs me to believe in her. This is my daughter who needs my support to be at her best.”
2. “She is quick to cry, yell, and throw the kind of tantrum that I once thought only 2-year-olds were capable of. She’s disrespectful and rude. Moody...she is spirited, strong-willed, and as it turns out, a brat.”
I love this saying by author Rob Bell, and it has crossed my mind almost daily since I first heard it: “If you have a kid who is making you miserable, that kid is miserable.”
Kids do well when they can. If this little girl isn't doing well, it's because she isn’t capable of doing better in a given moment. I hope these tantrums are seen as a cry for help rather than confirmation that she’s a brat.
3. “This is especially problematic for a mother who is a not-so-closeted people-pleaser. I try hard not to let people walk all over me, but I pride myself on being kind and generous and thoughtful and giving. I want to make people happy and be easy to get along with. And I hate that my child doesn’t.”
This paragraph suggests what’s true more often than we’d like to admit: our issues with our children are rarely entirely about our children. This mother admits to being a people pleaser, and she places high value on being likeable and making others happy. She may view her daughter as an extension of herself, and she may be projecting her own need to be liked on her daughter.
While it’s difficult for parents to recognize this fact, often issues with our children can be addressed through our own work and self-discovery. This process can be humbling and life changing. Children have an uncanny way of rooting out our biggest areas for growth and reminding us our work isn’t finished. The bright side is that if we miss the cue the first time, it will inevitably come back around.
4. “When I watch her side-by-side with her peers, it’s never more clear to me that my independent, determined, stubborn diva is different from all the rest. She is the the definition of a difficult child. And I want to accept her and love her for it. I don’t want to compare her to every other child. But the truth is that I wish she was a little more like your boy or girl, who is all kinds of sweet and pleasant and extraordinary.”
Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparing isn’t fair to our own children or to the children we place on a pedestal. We might think we understand what a child is like from a brief interaction at a playdate, but so often we couldn’t be more wrong. We don’t know what bedtime is like or how that child responds when broccoli is on the menu for dinner.
Some kids are kind of intense. Spirited, sensitive, whatever you want to call them. Some kids are just more. Rather than the sheepish, "sorry my kid is a brat" it might be more accurate to admit, "I don't always feel equipped to be the parent my kid needs me to be." There’s no shame in this admission since I’ve yet to meet a parent who knows how to handle every situation in which they’ve been thrust.
5. “...don’t be afraid to tell your kids to stand up to her. To fight for the toy they want. To win the game that she is desperate to win herself. I’ll deny this if ever asked, but it’s even OK with me if they give her a bit of a kick to her shin. For real. Go ahead…let them birth their own inner brats. My daughter needs friends (and dear god, I fear she won’t have any if she keeps acting this way), but she also needs someone to knock her down a peg or two.”
No small child needs to be "knocked down a peg." Many children who act out are actually operating from feelings of deep inadequacy or insecurity. Making a child feel worse about herself is not what helps in this type of situation. Children need to know that even when they’re difficult, they’re unconditionally loved and accepted. They also need to know that when they behave in ways incongruent with our family values, we will hold them accountable in a loving and respectful manner.
I’m sorry this mama doesn’t like her daughter, but that doesn’t mean her daughter is inherently unlikeable. She’s misunderstood and she’s hurting, and that’s not the same thing.