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Preschooler Uses Mean Words



I have a 5 year old who is bright, loving and genuinely a great kid. However, lately when he doesn’t get his way he chooses to scream at me and say mean things like “I don’t love you” and “get out of my room”.   At first I was shocked and responded accordingly, asking him where he learned those mean words and angrily told him he was not allowed to talk to me like that.  No good, the situations seemed to get worse and more frequent, and it seemed that he was saying these things just to get the reaction. So I moved on to telling him that when he is mean to me, I choose not to be ‘fun’ with him and I simply walk away and not respond…no matter how much he yells I just stay quiet and go about my business.  This has helped somewhat, after working thru his tantrum he usually comes to find me and apologizes repeatedly – which I graciously accept.  The problem is, he still reverts back to screaming mean words at me every time he gets told no… and his 3 year old sister is starting to copy him word for word.  Is there a way that I can break this negative pattern and get my sweet, kind, well mannered boy back?


Hi Julie.  My name is Penny Davis, and I am part of the team that answers questions sent to the website.  I have been a counselor and parent educator for almost 30 years, and am the mother of two daughters, both now in their 20s. 

Many of us have experienced our children saying mean or hurtful things to us when they are angry or frustrated.  My eldest child’s favorite for a time was ‘I hate you’… you are definitely not alone.
It certainly sounds to me like you are on the right track – in your thinking and in the last response you decided to try. Children often get a big reaction from parents when they say hurtful things, as we are human too and it’s natural for us to take it personally. When children say these things, they are most often angry or frustrated – as you pointed out, it’s normally when your son doesn’t get his way that you notice the behavior. Your response of saying ‘I choose not to have fun with you’ and then walking away, is a terrific tool. You might also acknowledge whatever feelings you think he is experiencing….ie.  ‘I see you are really angry at me right now. Come and find me when you have calmed down’ (feel better, etc).

What you are doing here is helping him learn that strong feelings are ok, and modeling for him that you have faith in him to learn how to control his own emotions.  The important thing is to be consistent. Discipline is teaching….you would never expect your child to be able to read after being exposed to only one or two books….discipline is the same. You will need to continue modeling calm behavior, and continue helping him understand his emotions. You mention that he ‘works through his tantrum’ and comes to find you with an apology….this is wonderful  – this is an indication that he IS learning.

One last thing…at a time when you are both calm and spending quality time together you might engage him in a conversation about those ‘mad or frustrating’ times, and ask him some ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions.  It might look something like this – ‘when you are really mad at me, do you have any ideas about what you might do or say, besides yelling at me?’ or ‘how can you express your feelings in a better way?’

If you haven’t done so already, you might find it helpful to read ‘Positive Discipline for Preschoolers’, since you have a 3-yr old as well. 
Hope this helps…good luck to you.


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