6 Tips On Dealing With The Hurtful Things Children Say

B9bt4K1433710380Once our children get to a certain age they sometimes say hurtful things. They can make broad stroke statements when they are upset (or even when they are not) that can be like a bucket of cold water being thrown on us.
.’I love Daddy more than you’
‘I hate you’
‘You’re horrible to me’
‘You never play with me’

Of course, it is not always words that are used but through their body language they can speak loud and clear by maybe turning their backs on us or pushing us away.

Now in the moment any of these words or actions can be pretty tough to deal with, even more so if it is done in public. So here are my 6 tips to help you deal with the situation.

1. Understand their predicament

It is so easy to react at these times as if it was meant in the way it has been delivered but very often it is not. Children have strong emotions and limited power over their lives. Often the words they use are an expression of a feeling but not meant in the way they come across.

They are an attempt to express something they cannot explain. A child who turns its back on its mother after being left at preschool can’t turn around and say ‘I am angry with you because you abandoned me here and I am unsure of myself without you around’. Or a child who is refused a second ice cream half an hour before dinner can’t say ‘I resent how much control you have over me’.

2. Hear the meaning behind their words or actions

Children can’t fully describe how they feel and very often don’t know why they feel as they do. They may be complaining that the sausages on their plate don’t look normal but we are well aware that they are overtired. As parents we are used to reading behind the words. However, those really hurtful statements can catch us off guard.

I remember this feeing well when one day my son said to me ‘I love Daddy more than you’. I was taken aback. Me, the one who is always there and wipes away every tear and deals with every problem is second rate to Daddy? It stung.

But I took a second to assess the situation before I spoke. Was he trying to upset me? In this case I decided not, he said it so matter of factly. Then I thought about the feeling he might be trying to tell me about. He doesn’t see Daddy so much and he loves playing with him. Maybe he is saying that Daddy is more fun than me, or maybe he is saying that he misses him? A bit of both probably. So instead of reacting hurt I said to him ‘I am so glad you love your Daddy. He is lovely isn’t he and he loves you too.”

My sons statement was not a comparison of his love as the words would suggest but a feeling about his Daddy: a need to see him and have fun with him or maybe even a need to be reassured about Daddy’s love in his absence.

There are occasions, as children get more sophisticated, when they might say something on purpose to provoke a reaction from us. This is a time when it is even more important to consider the message behind the comment. It could be that they are feeling too restricted or that they are angry at us or someone else for something. It could be that they are hurt or unsure and don’t know what to do with it. The older the child gets the more possibilities there are to discuss with them what might be going on.

When our children say hurtful things hear the meaning, forget the words Click To Tweet

When we can tap into the reasons behind their statements and feed that back to them it helps our children become more emotionally aware. And it also helps us because we begin to see that it is not just about us. It removes the hurt and replaces it with understanding, even if we disagree.

3. Ignore the all encompassing words that they use

Children often use words like…

Always, Never, No one and Everyone.

‘You always give me fish’
‘You never spend time with me’
‘No one plays with me’
‘Everyone laughs at me’

These words sound like a statement of fact but they actually are used by children to express a feeling. As an adult it can be hard to hear these words and not want to tackle the logic of them. Our logical minds want to argue the validity of the statement

‘I don’t always give you fish. You had chicken yesterday’

But for the child this completely misses the point they are trying to deliver which is probably something like,

‘You give me fish too often and I don’t like it and I am tired and my brother has upset me’.

4. Let them know you understand, even if you don’t agree

Empathising with our kids helps them feel heard.

‘I know that you are very cross with me because you really wanted another ice cream. You must have really liked it…It is tough to feel so disappointed about not having another one.’

This helps them tap into their own emotions behind the anger. Explaining their emotions to them doesn’t mean you have to do it their way.

5. Don’t think it is easy

It is not always easy to do. As parents we are under a lot of pressure that children are totally unaware of.

It can feel so unfair in that moment when we hear something hurtful from our child because we know that we are putting our heart and soul into raising them. We all slip up from time to time and react to the words and miss the meaning.

6. Be kind to yourself

It is good to consider what our children are trying to tell us. Sometimes what they say is quite perceptive and it can be hard to hear. Sometimes we need to think about why they are getting repeatedly upset and consider if there is anything we need to change or if we need to discuss something with them.

It is quite normal to have these things stay with us, to question ourselves. But it is also important to let it go at some point and be kind to ourselves. As parents we work really hard to do what is best. Recognising that in ourselves is very important.

What have your children done or said that has been hurtful? How did you cope with it at the time? Did it stay with you? I would love to hear. I reply to every comment.

So what is next?

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100 thoughts on “6 Tips On Dealing With The Hurtful Things Children Say

    1. Hi Kiran, I think knowing that our children ultimately love us is very important no matter what happens on the odd occasion. Even as adults we have our moments when we find the people we love pretty frustrating and it is no different for children. When it happens you will manage it and it will just become part of your learning curve as a mother. Thanks for your comment.

    1. Hi Kaye, I am glad the post was of use. It is good to have thought about your reaction before it actually happens. at least then you will have some tools in your kit although these moments are always a surprise. Thanks for commenting.

  1. When we are eating at Ikea before my son slapped me. It so embarrasing and well hurt my mother pride. But I try to be in my son’s shoes. The restaurant is full of people and he is tired. Must be very very stressful for him and thats why he slapped me.

    It took awhile for me to recover from that but I try my best to understand why it happened. I know he doesnt mean it.

    You always have the best posts. Thanks for sharing.

    Merlinda Little (@pixiedusk) recently posted…Sports DayMy Profile

    1. That is tough. It is harder in public to deal with because we have the added factor of embarrassment. You did a great job in that situation to think about what was happening for your son. It takes a lot to hold our own in front of others and disregard onlookers. Thanks very much Merlinda for your comment and supportive words.

  2. I’m not at the stringing sentences stage yet and my mummy is not looking forward to the verbal outbursts when I get older. Thanks for this very informative post, no doubt we’ll need to call upon this advice in the near future x #PoCoLo
    Baby Isabella recently posted…Roses in BloomMy Profile

    1. I hope the post will be a useful starting point for when it does happen. Often it is just good to have given it a little thought before we actually find ourselves in that position. Thanks very much for commenting.

  3. Very wise words indeed. We do worry too much, or read to much into the actual words that children say. One of my daughter’s is definitely a Daddy’s girl and will often choose him over me, but there are still other ways that show that she really loves me so I don’t worry about it.
    Anne recently posted…Remembering A Year Ago TodayMy Profile

    1. Hi Anne. You are so wise too. Our children having a good relationship with someone else is wonderful. We all get different things from different people. Having a special Daddy relationship is a bonus rather than a threat. It can be a joy to see too. I am so glad you can be comfortable with this and see the love she has for you too. Thanks very much for commenting.

  4. Such a fab post. My son is two so a little young, but he often asks for Daddy instead of me (sob!) I try not to let it upset me but it is hard. I am going to book mark this for when he gets a little older.
    Popping over from #BinkyLinky
    Becky xx

    1. I am glad this is useful. You have made a great start. you are doing something so valuable for him was is respecting his feelings and knowing that it really doesn’t take away from your relationship with him, the fact that he wants Daddy. It reminds me of a story I heard that was called ‘Love is not a pie’. It basically said that unlike a pie which gets cut into smaller pieces the more people come along, love is not like that. you don’t have less love because your son loves his Daddy too. Thank you so much for commenting and adding your voice to this conversation.

  5. What brilliant advice. It is so important as adults to try to remember that, as the person with more advanced reasoning skills and more sophisticated emotional control, it is down to you to try to understand & find ways to handle the more difficult aspects of a child’s behaviour. &, as you say, it is really important to realise that children often don’t mean what they say, or they don’t intend it to have the emotional impact it does. #TheList
    Silly Mummy recently posted…‘Hello, Dave. Is Dave There?’ *My Profile

    1. I totally agree and you have worded it so well. We do our children a great service when we can help them understand their emotions. Stepping back and seeing it from their perspective is of great value. Thank you for adding your clear and concise words to this conversation.

    1. I am glad this is helpful for you. You are perceptive in your words. I think often as parents it is reassurance we need when things like this happen. To know we are not alone and it is not just what it seems can hep us through the emotional discomfort that these things bring us all.

  6. One of my children hates going to bed because he thinks it is boring and a waste of his time – I get around that with him through empathy because I happen to aggre with him. If we were superheros our power would be to be able to manage without sleep lol. Great post #PoCoLo
    Mummy Fever recently posted…Family-friendly dining: part oneMy Profile

    1. Empathy is so powerful. There is a fear that empathising means we are giving in but we can empathise and reconsider or we can empathise and hold our ground. Your child will feel validated and overtime become even comfortable with his feelings. Knowing it is okay to have our own thoughts and feelings and to be different, is of so much value in life.

      I get it too actually. I remember bedtime being so boring. Thanks for commenting.

  7. This is such a great post, I really appreciate the level of detail you went in to. My 2.5yr old often hurts me when his daddy is around, pushing me away and not letting me do things such as get him dressed or read him a book because he wants daddy to do it. When this behaviour started it really upset me, and it was difficult not to feel unloved. But over time I’ve come to realise it flares up most when he sees his father less (ie if he works at weekends or shifts that mean he isn’t around at bedtime), or because I typically do more of the less-fun things like saying no to chocolate for breakfast. Its made my husband see that maybe we should be sharing chores more and that he should put his foot down a little more often too!
    @SarahAnneDG recently posted…Selling Memories?My Profile

    1. Hi Sarah. There is quite a challenge here for mothers who do everything so become boring and normal. Daddy is then exciting and interesting and also in short supply. Understanding that your sons actions do not speak of a lack of love but a need for Daddy is very valuable. It sounds like you are getting used to it and seeing beyond the initial feelings it provokes in you, which is great.
      I also totally agree that getting Dad to do some of the mundane stuff is great too. I sometimes say to my husband that he needs to ask the boys to do the chores so they know it is not just about me but about family life instead. Thanks very much for sharing your experiences.

  8. Great tips for dealing with hurtful comments from children – especially the one about hearing the meaning behind the words. This is one I try to apply to comments from anyone that come across as hurtful and it often takes some of the sting out of them. I’m not always good at expressing my emotions in a logical way as a adult and I often find that I have to take a step back and remember that my children are even less capable of doing so when they make those sweeping statements. Thank you for sharing.
    Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) recently posted…Friday Fabulous Five #39My Profile

    1. Hi Louise. You are so right. Sometimes we as adults don’t say things the way we should. In fact sometimes we say something and don’t realise the emotion behind the statement. There is value in using this approach in life generally. I have had to do that recently with criticism coming my way (not from children). It could have been hurtful but I know that the intention was good even if it was ill informed. I am glad you already use this knowledge to see behind your children’s words. thanks for adding to this discussion.

  9. So true! It can be hard but we must always remember that children are still trying to figure out their emotions (and aren’t most adults, too??). It’s up to us to take a deep breath and respond consciously, rather than react because something was hurtful. By doing this we can teach our children how to manage their emotions healthily, because we are modeling it!
    the ^mostly mindful mommy recently posted…Be Happier Today By Asking Yourself These 3 QuestionsMy Profile

    1. I agree whole heartedly. We haven’t mastered it yet so they definitely haven’t. Emotional literacy is of so much value in life for all of us and the more children learn of their feelings and not to fear them the more power they will have as adults. Thank you very much for your words. You have really added to this discussion.

    1. I think we all experience it. Children need to express themselves and express their opinions. It can be hard for us at times. Thanks for commenting and hosting your linky.

  10. This is a brilliant post and will prove invaluable in the coming years. I always try to be as understanding as possible with my daughter, asking her questions and trying to get to the bottom of the outburst. She’s still pretty young but I can imagine the ‘I hate you’ and ‘loving daddy more’ comments can be hurtful but like you say, you have to look at the reason behind it. Thanks for sharing #bigfatlinky

    1. Thank you Wander mum for your compliment. It sounds like you are already doing the right things. Taking that moment to be reflective and understanding that there is more there than the words is of such value. Thanks for adding your voice to this discussion.

    1. You are more than welcome Angela. It is worth having things in your back pocket for when these things happen. Thanks for commenting and all your support.

    1. Hi Victoria. Absolutely. Children need to flex their muscles and try things out. It is so important that we help them and further their understanding. emotional literacy in life is so valuable. Thanks for your comment. It is much appreciated.

  11. I really like this advice. The times my two tend to say more hurtful things is when they are tired so usually I put it down to that and not let it upset me. But there are times when it hits a raw nerve, which is then more down to how I’m feeling so I guess then I need to try and be kinder to myself 🙂 #pocolo
    Emma recently posted…WIN: A Children’s Travel JournalMy Profile

    1. This is a great point Emma. You are so right that when things really sting it is often because it is an off day for us. Been there! Sometimes it is my reaction to them that makes me realise I must be feeling more vulnerable than usual. Being kind then is the best thing as you rightly say. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion. It is much appreciated.

    1. You are right. They only understand what they are trying to say. Poor things can be a bit mystified at times when we react to them. But even as an adult I sometimes say something which is not really what I mean. thanks for your comment and continued support Mrs Tubbs

    1. Hi Helen. It is surprising how tough it is at times. there are so many surprises and uncertainties that come with it. Thanks for commenting.

  12. I can’t say I ever get hurt by the grandiose statements of dissatisfaction my kids make, but on the other hand, I doubt I deal with it very much either, especially the illogical ones (You always give me fish). My particular bad habit is telling them they are tired when they get like this, which, of course, drives them absolutely bonkers. Must try to remember not to. Good post. Timely!
    Mama Herself recently posted…Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL, LondonMy Profile

    1. I am glad to hear that it washes off you. Not reacting is a good thing. Sometimes it can be useful to take things a bit deeper if there are repeating patterns and underlying emotions that would be useful to identify. However sometimes not dealing with things is fine. Not everything needs to be tackled all the time. The skill of letting stuff wash over us is pretty useful as a mum.

      I know exactly what you mean about mentioning tiredness. They hate that. It is as if the worst insult you can give a child is to suggest they are tired. My sons have never been tired in their life, according to them!! Thanks for adding to this discussion. It is appreciated.

    1. Hi Heidi. I know that it is tough in that moment but looking behind those words into your children’s world is very useful. Be kind to yourself when it happens. Parenting is not easy. Thanks for commenting.

  13. This is a really good post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I agree that a child often doesn’t understand how hurtful their comments can be. For example when a child yells “I hate you” often they mean “I hate that you won’t let me have more sweets” for example. It’s still hard to hear though and I think this post is helpful in understanding the reasons children use the language they do. You can hear I love you 20 times, but the one I hate you is the one people obsess about. #Sundaystars
    Random Musings recently posted…My Father Themed PoemMy Profile

    1. Wise words. ‘You can hear I love you 20 times, but the one I hate you is the one people obsess about” is so true. These moments hurt when they tap into the deeper held fears we have about ourselves. Thank you very much for you comment and continued support.

    1. I remember it well. We are all powerful to them at that age and they get so angry. It is interesting to watch how that develops as they get older and they try out new strategies. I think at 3 though you will be in for a few more tantrums. Best of luck and thanks for commenting.

    1. Hi Mackenzie. Teenage years are a time when we really have to be able to ride the waves of our kids emotions. I am glad you found it useful. I really appreciate your kind words and continued support. Kirsten

    1. Thank you for your kind words Sarah. It is great to have thought about these things before it happens. they can still catch you off guard but you will be aware of the need to reflect and empathise where possible. Thanks for commenting.

    1. I agree with you Casey. Understanding their language is not all there is a good thing. They go to extremes also partly because they have not learned the middle ground. Until a certain age things are awful or great. Thanks for your comment.

    1. Hi Cassie. Once you have considered that moment and have that thought in your mind to think beyond the face value then it will be easier to do. None of us are perfect though and kids do sometimes choose the worst moments!! I am glad you liked the post and I hope it is of use when your daughter is older. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Thank you for such a great post. This really does get to me too. But I will listen to your words, and take a moment before my son says something to upset me. I really know deep down that he doesn’t mean things he says, but as a human being, you just take it personally sometimes.

    Thanks again #bigfatlinky
    Kelly recently posted…THE SHOWMy Profile

    1. Kelly, it is not easy. There is no two ways about that. Just taking that second to consider his meaning behind the words can be so helpful in not only educating him but helping yourself also. It gets easier with time. My first hurtful comment was a shock and now I am on child two they don’t have much of an impact. Goodluck. I am always interested to know how you get on. Thanks for adding to this conversation.

  15. For me, staying calm and not taking any comment personally helps. When my child does say something hurtful, I usually ask, “oh, why did you say that? Is that because you’re upset?” Then I would teach her how to say, “I’m unhappy. I don’t like it because …”

    Even when my child say something hurtful, I don’t have to feel hurt. Instead, I should use that opportunity to teach and to guide because I’m the parent.
    Pamela Li recently posted…Math (School Readiness)My Profile

    1. That is great Pamela. Using it as a learning tool for them and seeing that there is more to their words than the words themselves is of great value. You are teaching your children emotional literacy by helping them understand what is going on too. this is something that they will use through the whole of their lives. Thanks for sharing what you do and adding to this discussion.

    1. Sometimes I think our little ones say something meaning something else and get very confused by the response they get. I am glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

  16. Great post!!
    My son quite often says hurtful things to me. One day he said that loved me too much. I was so touched.
    The next day he said he loved me ‘three’ much….and he actually loved me ‘two’ much the day before…not ‘too’ as I thought. His dad? Well he loves him ‘infinity’ much. Of course!
    IF he says hurtful things, I interpret why and offer suggestions of other ways that he could have said how he felt. Seems to do the trick!

    1. This is great to hear. You are teaching him emotional literacy which is of so much value in life. He will learn what his feelings are, not to be scared of them and how to express himself better. Well done. Thanks very much for adding to this discussion and sharing your experiences.

    1. Hi Rachel, I am glad it has made you think. When it happens you will be more prepared to see it from their intention and help them with their emotions. Thanks very much for your comment.

    1. Hang in there. you are doing the right thing by not letting them upset you. Seeing what is behind those words is key for you to help them understand their feelings and learn to communicate better as they grow up. Well done. Thanks for your comment.

    1. Just looking beyond the words is so useful. Giving ourselves that moment to consider, helps everyone involved. I hear what you are saying, it is so easy to feel like a poor parent, we all do it when things aren’t working out as planned but no one is perfect and it is important to also note where we do well. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate it.

  17. Great tips. As a mum of a child with autism I have learnt to distance myself from his comments during meltdowns as I know the behaviour is not about me it is my sons cry for help. But it has been a difficult process.
    Catie recently posted…Wednesday words of wisdomMy Profile

    1. I am glad to hear that you have been able to distance yourself from that and to see it for what it is. I found that I built a resilience to it, a little like the resilience to coping with tantrums, it became easier with time. It sounds like you can be proud of your achievement in this area.

  18. I can’t think right now what my girls have said to me. But I do worry that when my eldest is older that she is going to turn around and tell me she loves her Dad more than me. Because she lives with me and only visits her Dad once a week It’s pretty obvious I am going to look the ‘evil’ one because I am going to be the one having to give her rows and telling her to come home at a certain time when she starts going out and she isn’t going to like it.

    We will see!

    Great post.

    Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky!
    Beth recently posted…A Typical Day | Before And After.My Profile

    1. Hi Beth. I know other mothers in your situation (with older children) who have been hit really hard by ‘I love Daddy more’ statements. It is good to know that actually many of us get that and it is not just about the separation side of things more kids expressing how great dad is as he does the fun stuff! As long as you are aware not to take their words at face value then you will be fine. thanks for hosting and commenting.

  19. My two have both gone through this. They still do. It’s hurtful bur what you’ve listed is exactly what you have to do. Great post. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there this week

  20. This is brilliant Kirsten, I think you are right on so many levels and you know what, I think some of this logic could also be used for adults as I’m sure most mean things that are said come from a place of pain, a bad day, weird hormones, being generally knackered, etc! Like you say, forget the words and think about the meaning. Love it.

    Thanks for linking up to #TheList xx
    Hannah Mums’ Days recently posted…I’m going to Britmums Live 2015My Profile

    1. Hi Hannah. Thank you so much, I do appreciate your kind words. I am really glad you liked it and I totally agree, the same can be applied to adults after all we don’t always communicate in the best way possible. Thanks for you comment and hosting.

  21. Oh it’s so good to know I’m not the only one being subjected to these kind comments from their kids. My daughter has always been a Daddy’s girl from day dot, and it wasn’t long before she started saying things like “I don’t love you, I love Daddy.” When she first said it, it was like taking a bullet. Now I’ve kind of got used to it, but at times I still find it really upsetting. Thanks for the post and for letting us know it’s normal! x
    Gemma Capocci recently posted…Is honesty always the best policy?My Profile

    1. Hi Gemma, I am glad the post helped. It is great to know you are not alone. That is the main reason for The Guilt Free Guide to Motherhood. I wanted to write about the emotional aspects of motherhood so women know they are not alone. We used to be loved (according to one of our sons) much less than teachers, dogs and cats!! He was just saying they were all more interesting than us. As soon as he was hurt, sad, tired, hungry, at bedtime, bath time, nap time and a million others only we would do. Hang in there. when it hurst remember the truth. Your daughter does love you she is just expressing something about the fun or connection she feels with her Dad.
      Thanks for commenting and visiting The Guilt Free Guide.

  22. It can be so tough to hear things like this from your kids but it very seldom lasts long, I’ve always found saying OK and then giving them a few moments before asking them what the matter is usually helps, they can calm down and hopefully be able to compose their feelings better and you can stay calm as well.
    Ashley Beolens recently posted…Angelic ChildrenMy Profile

    1. Hi ashley. That is a great way to handle it. not reacting to the initial sting is important. Then coming back to it tells your children that there is something more going on. It is a great way to teach them emotional intelligence and help them learn about their underlying feelings. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

  23. This is what makes me so nervous when it’s time that my kids are teenagers as I think it gets even worse and I remember having things tantrum with my own mother. I am grateful we are super close but I feel bad that I ever treated her like that. I hope I am lucky and don’t have to deal too much with acting out but am prepared for it. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme
    jenny recently posted…Nursery goodbyes, my wardrobe, and bloggers inspiring me #littlelovesMy Profile

    1. Hi Jenny, I think that when we understand to look behind the words, it helps us cope emotionally. It doesn’t take away that our kids can be hurtful, but that is the thing about unconditional love, we love them no matter what they say.

      I think the teenage years will be tough. We are not quite there yet (not too far away now) but I was always taught that we set up our children for their teenage years by how we are with them when they are younger. Not that we can take away the hormones and teenage angst altogether but that when we help them with their emotions when they are younger, it is easier for them to navigate those years.

      Thanks for your comment.

    1. A wise move. Verbalising for them the possible underlying emotions can add to this strategy but I agree there are some things best just left. Thanks for your comment.

    1. I am glad this has been helpful. They can really catch us off guard at times. I hope you can tap into what is behind those statements for her. I would love to know how you get on. Thanks for hosing and sharing your experiences.

  24. This is a really thoughtful and helpful post. One of the greatest challenges in parenting can be controlling our own emotions and remembering that we are the grown-ups…. ! Children very often don’t understand the context or subtext of their words. I will never forget my 2 year old telling me “I will love you for three weeks!” He wanted to tell me that he loved me a massive amount and that he always would but (being only two) the biggest number he could think of was three weeks!
    Anita Cleare recently posted…Book Review: The Parent Agency (by David Baddiel)My Profile

    1. Thank you Anita. You are so right that we need to be aware of what is about us, rather than our children (which is of course easier said than done). I love your example of your 2 year old – that is so lovely and such a clear illustration of the language issues. Even with older children it is tough for them to verbalise powerful emotions. Even adults don’t know what they are trying to communicate straight away sometimes so it is unsurprising that kids struggle.

  25. I listened to my step-grandson through a wash of tears say “I want to stay with you today, Mum only does boring stuff with me, she never takes me anywhere!”, my heart went out to both him and his Mum as nothing would placate him. He was clearly trying to express something else but in that moment, neither of us was sure what it was. These tips are great to remember, Thanks Kirsten. x

    1. Thanks for your input Sandra. Your step grandson was clearly dealing with some strong emotions that he needed to share. It is tough to watch at times and tough for parents. It takes a little time and knowing a child to get to the meaning behind the words.

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