Handling Worrisome Statements from Children

A dad I was talking to, Ian, often walked Tia, the younger of his 2 daughters, to school and put her to bed at night. As he often worked long hours he was happy to spend time at the beginning and end of each day with her. Unfortunately these moments frequently turned into difficult conversations as the 6 year old sometimes made provocative, extreme statements that worried and frustrated him.

Remarks such as “I hate everything about school.” “I hate myself and so does everyone else.” “You don’t love me.” “You are always so mean!” etc. unfortunately became a disproportionately large part of their time together during the week.

Ian would disagree with, reassure, validate and/or try to calm Tia but everything he did seemed to make conversations longer and more difficult.

I suggested that his little one was trying to get his undivided attention, something that was hard to come by given his long work hours and the necessity of spending time with everyone in the family when he was home.

We decided that Ian would try to avoid getting “entangled” in Tia’s proclamations and remember that she was missing him and seeking some special contact. He started by briefly empathizing with her concerns, asked for specifics (not sweeping generalizations) from her day and then listened patiently to everything she said. When it seemed to make sense he also asked her to share some good things from her day as well. Every once in a while he shared some nice moments from his day too. He stopped arguing and ended up talking less and listening more than he had before.

I also suggested that they plan a fun excursion together (no one else would be invited). Sometimes when children know they will get a parent all to themselves their requests for negative or dramatic attention decrease.

Trying to steer clear of long dialogues about Tia’s exaggerated general complaints, exchanging details from their days and planning some quality time alone seemed to help.