Very Bad Behavior

The Insult Slinger

A verbal slap like "I wish I had a different mom!" can leave you asking how your child got to be so cruel. These zingers aren't only tossed at parents, of course; you may find yourself cringing as you overhear your child tell her friend, "You're stupid!"

Who does it? Kids of all ages

What they're thinking When preschoolers blurt out mean things there's no real malice intended--they're just reflecting something they're feeling. "Little kids don't have a social filter or impulse control yet," Dr. LaRocque says. So, if your daughter says, "Go home!" to a sitter, it might really mean she doesn't want you to leave. If her rude comment is directed at a friend, she could be tired of fighting over whether it's her turn to hide or to seek--or just be tired, period. Bottom line: She's probably not trying to be hurtful.

Once a child hits 5 or 6, she has a better understanding of what she's saying. So why would your little angel shout, "Shut up!" to your face? Kids rage just like we do when they're angry, says Dr. Maidenberg. But while adults typically hold back from saying something nasty because it's counterproductive or rude, "kids don't understand that if they express themselves in a more socially appropriate way they're more likely to be listened to," she says.

How to deal Explain to your kid that when she says "your shoes are ugly!" or "I don't want to play with you," it could hurt someone's feelings. "Tell her she can say 'Mom, I want to talk to you' and then tell you privately what's up, but she shouldn't make mean comments in front of other people," Dr. LaRocque says. If your child is over 5, put her in the other person's shoes by asking how she would feel if a friend said the same thing to her.

When to call an expert You should be concerned if your child is constantly making scary statements ("I wish you were dead!") directed at other people. "Something may have happened that's causing her to speak aggressively," says Dr. Maidenberg; it's important to find out what that is. Whom her language is directed toward could be a clue; for example, lashing out at authority figures could mean your child has anger toward an adult in her life who is mistreating her.

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