blogEmail from a Parent asking for help:(permission given to post anonymously)

My son  hits himself and pulls his hair leaving a mark when he gets upset and it really scares me. So much so that I’m ashamed to say, that I grabbed him by his arm and pulled him aside and told him that’s completely unacceptable that he hit himself. He has to stop right now.

And I know that’s not correct or the right way to handle. I also recently learned that if I just stop that symptom my childs unconscious is very clever and it will just come up with another symptom .

And I am worried maybe the next one will be worse and more secretive harder to fix …can you please help me how to handle this.

Dear Parent !
It is really scary to see your child so upset that they hit themselves and pull their hair.
And it’s really hard to watch kids or adults for that matter be so unable to express hard feelings in words but  instead express it in unwanted behavior.

First Step: Make amends

What you could do first is apologize to your child and say that you’re not happy with the way you handled it and you are sorry…children are very forgiving. In addition by apologizing you’re also role modeling that making mistakes is ok and so is fixing them. You are showing not telling how to  apologize and move things forward.
You can say  “I imagine it must’ve made you very angry at me for how I acted when I pulled your arm.. he will probably say no …but say  “I’m sorry my behavior was unacceptable.”

Let’s see what we can both learn from that episode I went to talk to someone about how to handle this…


So how do we understand the behavior or any behavior and react in a more helpful manner next time and create new coping mechanisms. Your child’s  behavior is  an expression of many big disappointments or anger, frustration and hurt feelings .

If a child doesn’t receive  empathy for the hard hurt feelings children will need to do something with those feelings! What do most adults and kids do with the hard feelings?  They repress the hurt and develop symptoms. The more we hurt the more we repress and the more symptomatic we become..

The hurt  never goes away if not talked about and helped with empathy it just goes underground and is expressed in many different behaviors that builds and build. Some people develop OCD, some are Overweight,  Hyperactive, Anxious or Depressed, covering up mounds and mounds of repressed hurt feelings over a life time. The more we hurt the more behaviors our unconscious helps us to create to suppress feelings that we haven’t learned how to deal with.

And along  with the acting out behavior comes negative thinking  hurting oneself with thoughts. I’m a terrible person, I am ugly or not good at anything and accompanying  feelings of low self-esteem .

I call the negative thoughts and low self esteem falling down the rabbit hole from which all of us have to continually pick ourselves up and start over and feel better…see previous article(mommy Im ugly

The goal is to help your child through the hard feelings that we all have and then get to the place that they could find their self-esteem again..Take your fear wrap it in a hug, take a deep breath and then do the same for your child.

Your child has  hurt feelings; What to do 

  • 1: Talking about it and having the feelings be named
  • 2: Having it recognized with empathy
  • ( I am sorry your feelings got hurt) (Those are hard feelings to have)
  • 3:Being listened to not lectures or given a lesson.
  • ( Listening to kids to figure out what is going on instead of punishing them teaches new skills. And teaches  that we all make mistakes and what can be learned from them.)
  • 4: Learning new skills,talking problem solving
  • 5: Recovering self esteem
  • 6: Feeling good again

All 6 steps are part of  the process of emotional intelligence skills.

1: Assume you child had a long day with lots of feelings when you see your child hitting themselves and pulling their hair out you need to see it as an expression of very difficult feelings and that they are having a really hard time.

It’s been a very long day at school probably not a minute goes by that their feelings aren’t hurt by the teacher or a friend! Someone left them out or wanted to play with someone else! Or the teacher corrected their behavior numerous times. Another child was complemented and they weren’t!  Just learning new things hurts but virtue of the fact that people don’t feel so great while they learning new things or feel good about themselves!

Or  children are mad at you for overly controlling them or always reprimanding them or correcting them. Or trying to teach a lesson whenever they tell you something  instead of listening and providing empathy. And the list goes on and on!

And on top of that  your child missed you and you may have missed your child and you would both  love to re-connect  when you see each other. But keep in mind by the time they get out of school they maybe so overwhelmed by feelings that it’s hard to cope with after school activities and homework.

Some children do better than others with things that happen in school.

  • “I know school could be a long day sometimes and sometimes it goes by fast…
  • “Was your day was hard or did it mostly go well”
  • “What did you like what didn’t you like”
  • What was the rose what was the thorn
  • You know you won’t get any information at this point but you gave some empathy paving the way!
  • Now onto disruptive behaviors you see after school

2: Expect that your child is going to need LISTENING to not Lecturing  Educating or Punishing.

Saying: I’m sorry or that’s hard or I adore that, that sounds fun. I love when you tell me things you  are so interesting.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 2.50.41 PMListening means being quiet…Listening means not talking not responding to what they say with something about yourself or some point you want to teach, that comes later on another day. Listening means saying “that’s a hard feeling” or ” I’m sorry that happened” or “That’s exciting or “That sounds like fun” “How do you feel about what happened.” The Book Listen To Me Please “Time in not Time Out has many conversation starters an this to say


Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 2.58.52 PMWhen they say “I don’t know” get out the feelings map with them look through it. It helps kids and parents figure out feelings they may not be aware of..

3: When you see a behavior that scares you quickly tell yourself and your child the behavior is telling us you had  a hard day, lets put it into words.

  • I see you just hit yourself and pulled your hair let’s put those feelings into words.
  • Hurting yourself doesn’t solve the problem doesn’t express your anger and your upset that would actually make you feel better.
  • We can’t hurt ourselves or  hit because of our feelings but we can find new behaviors like talking walking, listening, drawing ,working on the map.
  • When  you view the behavior as a sign of anger disappointment upset and feelings that need to come out you can respond with empathy.
  • I know you dont know what you are feeling but we can sort it out together,
  • You may be angry or disappointed and you have to put them into words I can’t let you hurt yourself!
  • I’m so sorry these feelings are so hard I can help you with them.
  • Sometimes we just need to cry and get it out or be really mad.
  • When feelings get too big sometimes we don’t know what to do with them and might hurt ourselves but we have to really use our words.
  •  Your not Going to get in trouble I’m going to help you through it.

Dear Readers

If you try this let me know how it goes and any questions you have. Then we can take the next step as Feelings and Behavior Detectives using the new technique of empathy ! There are also 100’s of tips of what to say and do in the books “My Feelings are Hungry and “Hungry Feelings not Hungry Tummy”

And as always remember “Change your Parenting and your Child’s Behavior will Improve.”


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