Editor’s Note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter @kellywallacetv.
In the "Parent Acts" video series, CNN's Kelly Wallace asks parents to role-play
It's a "normal developmental phenomenon" when kids think their parents are always wrong, pediatrician says
Laura Simms, a mother of three in Atlanta who runs her own public relations firm, says her 11-year-old daughter, Marlo, thinks her mom is right about nothing and wrong about everything and corrects her 24 hours a day.
” ‘No, the sky is not blue. It’s actually green.’ ‘No, it was $1.26, not $1.25, Mom.’ ‘No, we went on Friday, it wasn’t Saturday,’ ” said an exasperated Simms, relaying what her daughter might say to her. “I literally stop and say, ‘Am I right about anything anymore?’ And my husband’s like, ‘No.’ ”
Any parent of a tween or teen can probably relate to what Simms is going through.
In the ninth installment of our CNN Digital Video series “Parent Acts,” we asked parents to act out how their kids might demonstrate how they are wrong about everything. We then had a parenting expert listen to their role-play and weigh in with advice.
Parenting strategist and licensed family therapist Tricia Ferrara listened to Simms and said that instead of focusing on whether she is right or wrong, she should “pull the lens back” a bit and focus on what’s happening with her daughter.
“What she’s developing is a communication habit of unsolicited opinion,” Ferrara told Simms. She offered this approach to use: “Instead of it being about whether you are right or wrong, almost like I can’t do anything right or say anything right for my daughter, it’s about, ‘You know what, honey, let’s have a time out, OK? If I asked your opinion of my answer, I would want to hear it.’ ”
Ferrara, the author of “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now,” a guidebook for parents with step-by-step advice on how to strengthen their relationships with their children, said Simms could also build in an incentive for the good behavior: If her daughter wants to do a sleepover at a friend’s house, for instance, she needs to go 10 days without making a comment about something her mother says unless her mother asks for her opinion.
“Occasionally, I would ask them their opinion and say, ‘What do you think of that?’ so they have an understanding it’s not that you don’t want to hear from them, but there is a time and a place.”
What also plays a role in how our kids respond to us, said Ferrara, herself a mom of two teenagers, is how we respond as parents.
“I see a lot of parents just barking on their kids or barking on their business,” she said. “And so that they think it’s OK to do that in reverse.”
Having a child who thinks you are wrong all the time is very common, said pediatrician and author Dr. Claudia Gold, who is an infant mental health specialist. “Depending on the degree, it’s a normal developmental phenomenon.”
Before adolescence, it may be happening because the child’s group of friends is beginning to take prominence over the family, said Gold, author of “Keeping Your Child in Mind” and “The Silenced Child.” During adolescence, it may be related to the teen’s desire to separate from their family and forge their own identify.
“When they get older and they have more advanced cognitive skills and are capable of abstract thinking, it’s a kind of practicing of their own newfound abilities,” Gold said.
Her advice is for parents to brush it off and not butt heads with their kids. The irritating behavior will probably go away, she said.
What needs to be looked at a bit more closely is when the child’s thinking that everything their parents do or say is wrong is causing problems in a family and when the behavior really seems to be pushing the parent’s buttons, said Gold.
“So if it’s happening a lot and people are really troubled by it, it really warrants a closer look and a little bit of time and attention to figure out the deeper story,” she said.
It may come from a place where the parent is not feeling heard at work or in their marriage, and so when they don’t feel heard by their children, they’re primed to jump at that behavior, she said. It may also stem from their relationship with their own parents when they were younger or other troubled relationships in their past.
Join the conversation
“When it’s hard to brush it off and you get angry and then you get entrenched in these battles and if this is the pervasive mood in your family that’s taking up a lot of time and energy … then it’s a problem,” Gold said.
“If it’s really disruptive, there may be some deeper meaning to it.”
What do you do when your kids think everything you say or do is wrong? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.