Recently, a MLPC Facebook liker asked me about her lovely 4 year old, who has started saying that she “loves mommy zero” and “I don’t want Mama to live in this family.”

“It hurts,” this Mom said to me, “and I am having double getting over it.”

I have so much respect for the mother who can write those words because:

A) I usually get e-mails about how these things are “unacceptable” (which is the verbal roadblock before getting to the hurt place), and

B) It is not easy to write out those words. Any of them. Takes courage, which I always respect.

So, I started to think about a class I took while at Hopkins. I cannot remember the exact name of the course, but I loved the professor. He speciality was counseling at-risk adolescents and part of the lesson I took away was the idea of therapeutic button-pushing. What? Well, the idea is that these aggressive, angry, and provocative teens will purposely say horrible things to their counselors to “throw them off the scent.” The teens feel so unlovable that they go ahead and preempt any compassion that an adult may show by insulting them first. And they can really go for it.

So, a good counselor may realize that being told “you are stupid bitch” will generate anger and resistance within themselves, so they will purposely have someone tell them over and over and over “You Are A Stupid Bitch” until the words have no more meaning. They do not carry any power; the words have exhausted themselves, hence not provoking a response in the counselor.

Why would I tell you, the parents, this story? You are NOT therapists and your children are not angry teens.

But there is value in this story for understanding the perspective of the child.

The teen was trying to push away first out of intense anger, fear, and pain.

A four year old? Not the same. BUT.

A four year old, who is a new player in the wonderful and amazing language game, LOVES to see the big reactions he gets to his new phraseology. From the good to bad, the 4 year old knows he wields power.

And how does she know? He knows from your furrowed brow. You lecture about hurt feelings and apologies. You may stomp away in anger or even have tears in your eyes. The child holds the power.

Not purposely, mind you. The 4 year old is not that savvy.

But. It is heady stuff to the young mind to watch Mom sometimes delight, sometimes squirm.

I like to think that the 4 year old is only warming you up for those teen years. You can remember them, right? I mean, I remember throwing the kitchen sink of venom and invective at my mom, and I loved (and love) her to pieces. She was number one in my life, and I tried to tell her she wasn’t through a slew of words and actions.

So parents, take heart.

The “I Hate You’s” and “I Love Daddy More’s”…yes, they sting. But the more you hear them, the less they sting. Really. Just try to remember that this is an active brain trying to find a toehold of attention.

And remember, if you are doing a really job, pretty soon the kid will try to run away. Then you know you are really entering into the big leagues!