I have been working with a Mom who has a seven year old daughter and the daughter has been mean to her recently. The daughter would say mean things to her Mom like “I hate you”, or , “I wish you were not here”. The Mom has been trying to get her daughter to understand that those words are hurtful and each time the daughter says them, the Mom corrects the daughter, but the behavior continues. Maybe it’s a phase or the daughter is testing limits, but the Mom was really frustrated with her daughter’s behavior.
As the Mom was telling me this story my thought was that her daughter was missing the connection to the hurtful words and the impact those words have. So, I asked the Mom what she thought if she were to get a stack of post-it notes and wrote on each note “OUCH”. Then, when her daughter would say the mean words the Mom would say to her daughter that those words hurt her, and then the Mom would attach the “OUCH” to her own blouse.
Well, the strategy worked. The Mom said that her daughter started calling her names and she told her daughter those were mean words. The Mom then went and pulled out an OUCH and put it on her blouse. After a while her daughter noticed and asked what is OUCH. The Mom explained that each time her daughter said those mean words she was going to put an OUCH on herself so the daughter could see that words hurt.
Her daughter went and played separately for a while and was very quiet compared to how she had been behaving. Then the daughter came back with tears streaming down and said pleadingly she was sorry and begged her Mom to take the OUCH sticker off.
After this experience the daughter has been much nicer, but the Mom has had to pull out the OUCH post-its on occasion. However, the Mom is not even able to put the sticker on herself because her daughter starts tugging and asking her Mom to not put the OUCH on, that she will be good.
In this teachable moment the Mom essentially asked her daughter to take responsibility for her choices and for the young girl to own her words and deeds. So instead of the Mom chastising and shaming the daughter, the Mom owned her boundaries and gave the responsibility to her daughter to own and develop within herself a response to the situation. The Mom was helping her daughter find agency within herself.
If only we could carry a stack of OUCH stickers with us throughout the day then others could see our hurt and pain that we carry because of words or deeds against us. But, we do have ways to protect ourselves using our words to tell others if we are hurt or in emotional pain – we have our boundaries. Know that you can use your OUCH boundaries anytime just by saying to the person – what you said just now hurt me, I’m feeling hurt by your words. And even though that person may not be as receptive as the daughter in my story, you will feel empowered knowing you were protecting yourself with your own OUCH boundaries.
Robert Jackman, LCPC
you may contact me at: http://www.robertjackmantherapy.com
Boundaries with Kids: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Help Your Children Gain Control of Their Lives – Henry Cloud, John Townsend