What to do When Kids Say Hurtful Words?

“I want daddy. I don’t like you!” or vice versa.

It is very difficult to hear such sentences; they punch you right in the gut. Especially when you are physically and emotionally exhausted after running around them making sure of their safety and well being. There is nothing more heartbreaking and emotionally depriving situation than this.

Hugs momma; trust me they don’t mean it; not this time. They’re just short of words.

You’ve probably heard this before and you are desperately hoping to hear another answer from me, but the truth is — don’t take your child’s behavior or words personally. They’re very young and impulsive and learning about feelings and empathy at this age.

You need to read words differently with kids, especially when they are upset, overwhelmed or tired. In this example;

I want daddy; I don’t like you = I would like to be with daddy now; I don’t want to be with you right now.

Why does your child use such hurtful words?

They’ve just started to communicate with real words and their vocabulary is limited; hence, the raw crude harsh words. And they don’t understand what it feels like when they say or even hear such words. Trust me when they will understand the emotions that such words stir they’ll stop using such words.

It is actually very similar to your child wanting to be with the other parent when they’re being corrected by one parent. Like if the child throws things around, and dad is telling them it was not appropriate, they want nothing to do with dad at the moment and yell mom, mom, mom. It’s really equivalent to this, and nothing more.

Sometimes such harsh sentences have an obvious reason behind them; while other times it’s difficult to see the trigger behind their words or behavior. Sometimes just being bored, and wanting to come out of that boredom can trigger such sentences; all they mean is “I am not liking this situation, and dad is probably doing something exciting, so I want to be with him”. Just because you were around them when they’re getting bored or because you were around them the rest of the day; you get the short end of the stick. Sorry!

What to do When Kids Say Hurtful Words?

First and foremost; acknowledge his/her feelings, using the correct words that you think they mean. Example of the above situation again; to a sentence like I want daddy; I don’t like you, you could say; “I see you’re upset. You want to be with daddy right now [let’s go find him / I’m sorry he’s busy right now, but we’ll go see him once he’s done / you can be with him when he get’s back”. Depending on the availability of dad the child can either be taken to them or should be asked to wait till he’s available.

Acknowledgement makes your child feel heard; it sets things in right perspective for everyone, you as well feel reassured of their intentions. They might not know the correct words to use, but when they hear the correct words they instantly acknowledge that’s what they mean. It’s very calming a reassuring for everyone to put the words in correct order; because our emotions are connected to our words.

Trying to explain the situation, or telling them “it’s not nice to use such words” at the heat of the moment is futile, and will actually blow air in the fire and make it stronger.

When we all (including kids) act out of emotions we don’t understand logic; only after the emotions have passed are we in a stage to retrospectively understand the situation better and make better choices next time.

Don’t make it a power struggle; that is the worst you can do to the situation. I know it’s tempting and almost logical to say; “don’t talk to me like that it’s disrespectful”, or “who taught you to talk like that” or account to them all the things you did for them all the time when you were taking care of them, and tell them that they are rewarding you in this manner.

We don’t do all this with babies. When babies show preference for one partner, we just feel bad about it and we stop there. But when a toddler or a child who is able to communicate, use wrong words or sometimes even the right ones; we instantly feel like correcting them. We don’t realize that they are acting out of feelings and feelings need to be heard (always; and just that, they just need to be heard and not corrected).

It’s actually healthy and there is some good news about it.

Really? Is there one? No, there are three.

There is a bright side to this; your child actually feels super comfortable with you. No matter how good a child feels with someone; they’ll only say such emotionally charged words to the people they feel very close to, whom they trust that they’ll understand their situation, and this is actually normal to them. And probably in their mind, they’re using some really great words explain their emotions. The words that you used to acknowledge their feelings are actually truly equal to the words they used, in their minds.

Your child is communicating with words now; a few months back this particular sentence was being communicated with just crying and you would have no idea why are they crying and what should you do to make them feel good. Not long ago, it was a relief to have them stop crying, no matter in whose arms they stop crying, it’s just the same — with words.

In all honesty we all should gear up for this; right now they are sayings things they don’t mean because they are not able to pick up correct words; in the coming 4 years they’re going to use correct words, but will hurt our feelings because they’ll be learning about emotions and feelings and how they work. And then around teenage sometimes they really hurt feelings because they are themselves going through an emotional turbulence.

It’s just that as a family we must learn to understand the intentions, forgive and move more quickly then our minds allow us.

So remember; your child is not doing this intentionally, they’re just short of words. It’s your responsibility as an adult to share your calm at the moment, instead of feeling hurt. Correct their words, so everyone feels heard. It’s a lot more simple when we trust our child to not hurt our feelings, just like we won’t hurt theirs.

I hope this was a little reassuring to you Momma; the one who was in the situation a few hours ago; it’s simpler then you feel.