What I hear when my kids yell at me.

Sometimes my delightful children yell at me. They might yell a quick ‘I hate you’ in passing, or they might have a good long screaming fit. But, quite frequently, they will put together a big rant.
When they were smaller, I timed their tantrums. Sometimes because I was meant to be keeping some kind of record, sometimes just for something to do, to keep my mind busy and put the whole thing in perspective. As they got bigger, I took to noting exactly what they said, and a pattern began to emerge.
As younger children, there were a few problems with toileting issues (I am sure you can understand why I want to keep this a bit vague). As parents, we felt it was important to remain calm and unfased, to present this as ‘one of those things’ that isn’t particularly uncommon and is nothing to worry about.
One day, however, I noticed that my children’s insults were very smell oriented. When they were angry, they would shout ‘you stink’, ‘you smell of poo’. It was the day that one of my children – furious about being told not to hit his brother – screamed ‘mummy wees in her pants all, and she smells of wee’, that made me think something was going on here. They are selecting insults from the most shameful things they know. What’s heartbreaking is that the most shaming things they can think of to yell are about themselves.
Sure enough, the toileting issues reduced, and the smell-themed insults went away.
As I have mentioned before, the boys have long struggled with aggression. They would often shout, in the midst of a meltdown, whether I was holding them or not, ‘you’re hurting me’. Sometimes they would go further, shouting ‘you like hurting people’. Having made the connection once between the children’s struggles and their choices of insult, these accusations began to sound different. I began to see in them proof that the boys understand it’s wrong to hurt. They choose to accuse me of hurting because they are intimately aware of the shame of hurting people.
There have been times, when my children started shouting ‘you steal things’, ‘you break other people’s toys on purpose’. These are probably not insults they’re likely to pick up from friends or TV.
My Mum used to tell me that the thing you most dislike in others is usually some fault that you have yourself. People, like me, who love to talk can find others who love to talk incredibly irritating – how can I fit in my endless babbling, if you have so much to say? I think that she has a point: it is easier to identify your faults bodied in someone else, and it can be a lot less threatening.
I think my boys, who are generally rather resistant to sharing their feelings, have hit on a striking way to share their worries with me.
So now, when I hear a boy screaming ‘mummy is a meany and she doesn’t have any friends’, I don’t feel bemused, I feel worried. When I hear ‘you’re stupid’, I am not offended, I’m wondering.
I am not replying ‘are you worried about making friends?’ or ‘when do you feel stupid?’ After all, I am not overly fond of having furniture thrown at me. But, I do store up these questions and concerns and try to find a suitable (outside of tantrums) time to reassure my boys. They are wonderful people, loved dearly, liked by many, and in a lot of ways very smart and successful. They are not their worst images of themselves, but, it can be a great help for me to get a little glimpse of those images. It’s far easier to help correct a misunderstanding that I have noticed than one that is hidden.
When I listen to my boys yelling at me, I can hear what they think is shameful, what they think is awful, what they don’t want to be. It’s certainly not the smoothest way into their heads, but I am glad they have some way of sharing these fears with me.