Hello Dr G. I’m an over 40 stay at home mom. I have a beautiful 5 yr old son. In recent months he has said some very hurtful words when he does not get his way or is disciplined. For example, please turn the ipad off. He would say I hate you. He now knows how hurtful and disrespectful that is and now says I don’t like you, you are a stupid mom. I tell him that is not respectful and to apologize. For some reason he does not want to say the words I’m sorry and says it in an awful whiny way. Last night I was reading a book at bedtime and he was not paying attention, tapping the book & tossing and turning. After the 4th time saying please stop or I will close the book, he tapped the book. I closed it and a very bad tantrum and crying started. I know he was tired and it was a long day for him at kindergarten. He continued to cry and I turned the light off an! d sat next to him and he started to push me with his legs and said the most hurtful words. Mom, I want to push you off the bed, see you fall, watch you bleed then I will laugh. I got up off of the bed and he immediately started to cry. I said I know you did not mean those hurtful words. He cried out sorry which is rare. I have taught him about the word respect and what it means and so does his catholic school. I’m just at a loss for where these mean phrases are coming from. How can I teach him more about respect? I do give in and need to stop. Thank you for your time!
Anonymous, in IL
I admire your determination to teach your son respect. Now it’s time to show him what you mean.
- Disrespect has consequences. Even while you are asking yourself and him why he is doing these things, are you giving him consequences for hurting you? It’s important.
- Showing him that you value yourself. If he speaks disrespectfully to him you need to turn away. He gets a time out in a safe place and you spend time in another room. If you are out of the house together, you end the outing or turn your face away from him after letting him know that he may not speak to you this way. Do not engage with him until he has had some time to accept his consequences.
- Demonstrate that he can respect your promises. If you tell him you will do something (“If you tap this book again I will stop reading”) then when he taps the book the first time after the warning, you must stop. When we follow through on consequences our children learn that they can count on us!
- Only sincere apologies are respectful. If you need to you can demonstrate for him what a good apology sounds like. Do not accept a whiny or insincere apology.
- Do some activities that build respect.
The last suggestion I have, if you have a parenting partner, is to get him or her to sit down with your son. That person needs to help your son understand how it is and is not acceptable to treat someone we love.
Have you tried some of these things? Please, let me know how it goes and what might be working!
Parents, what do you do when your young child says hurtful things?