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Rudeness in Children

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School-aged Kids > Rudeness in Children



8-year-old daughter says mean things to me

Jan 2009

I have an 8 year old daughter. I know that she loves me but she is consistently mean to me. I feel like making a recording of her and playing it to her so she can see how mean she is. (At times I have written the things she says down and then read them back to her.) She consistently says things like, ''I hate you,'' ''You're mean'' etc. I am very nice to her and never ever say things like this. Also, she does not hear this kind of talk in our house. She has always felt free to be mean to me. When she was younger, she would sometimes hit me. She is extremely well behaved at school, at friends' houses and just about everywhere else. She can also be mean to my husband, but it is not as bad as she is with me. I know she feels that I am the safest person around to be mean to. When I say something to her about it, she always says she is sorry but she can't seem to stop herself from saying the mean things. Any advise is much appreciated. Fed Up


My kids are too small for me to respond to this as a parent, but as a new parent I have been thinking about this a lot in terms of my treatment of my own mother. My brothers and I were horrible to her for years and years. We called her stupid, we told her she didn't know anything....Granted we were pre-teens and teenagers, but with 5 of us in the house it went on for a long time! My only advice is to stop this now. Find a system that works for you, and fix the behavior the way you would any other misbehavior--by discipline, therapy, or whatever your chosen method. I am now an adult and (as backwards as it may seem) angry at my parents for not making us treat my mother better. She was a wonderful mother (as I am sure you are), and you both deserve to be treated as such. sad I was mean to Mom
Take away tv, toys, ice cream, etc. Her memory and ability to refrain will improve. Talk over substitutes, other words to express her anger that aren't as hurtful to you. You don't want your daughter treating people in her relationships this way and she will, because that is what she is learning to do. bpn fan
I love the idea that you have thought about your kid being mean as not acceptable. There is no ''safe'' place to be mean as mean is not a personality trait our society encourages. At 8 she can TOTALLY get it! You and your partner ned to jump in the game and it needs to go something like this. ''mom, you suck!'' Turn around and in a very strong voice say, ''that is a mean and hurtful thing to say, you are NOT ALLOWED to speak to ME or ANYONE that way. Please go to to the most boring room in the house (your bedroom is probably more boring than hers) for five minutes and when you come out we will have this conversation again and you will speak to me politely.'' If this continues to be a problem please expect to lose some things you enjoy as I REALLY don't ENJOY being spoken to like this!'' no brats allowed!
I have the same thing with my 8 year old son. Partly, it's because Dad is fun and leanient. Partly, I guess because of the close relationship. After confronting it, promises not to ever do it again (until the next day), etc, I lost it. I put him in the doghouse (his term). I met my obligations as a parent -- meals, transportation to school, help with homework and music practice. All very friendly and supportive. What I did NOT do was any of the things which make his life more pleasant -- playdates (including permitting them at friends' houses), TV, computer access, making him something special for dinner (though I didn't serve anything odious).

I told him that everyone has to contribute to our family by being supportive to one another and by building a happy home. The regular blow-ups and rudeness needed to be dealt with once, instead of everyday. As a human being and family member, I deserve respect. If you think I'm mean and don't understand the extra effort I make for you, I may as well stop. When he asked how long he'd be in the doghouse, I said I didn't know, but I wanted it to be long enough that we didn't return to regular ''this is not acceptible'' and ''I promise I'll never do it again'' scenarios. I had to time it when there were no upcoming playdates(and made an exception when a mom needed us to take her kid -- but my kid understood it was a favor to the mom, not him) and nothing fun upcoming for the weekend. After a week of stellar behavior and general helpfulness, I asked if he understood that it was imperative to have a happy, respectful home. We've been good since. It helps that he knows I'll put him back in the doghouse, if need be.

Look, I tolerated it for a long time because I understand that kids work a lot of things out with their moms. I still understand the occassional meltdowns and why home is the safe place for them. But, it just didn't make sense to let a kid treat me disrespectfully. I also think it's a reasonable message that no human being wants to put out for you if you're not appreciative or treat them badly. I remained pleasant while he was in the doghouse, so it fit with the ''happy home'' -- I would just remind him that he was not receiving any privileges (many he had previously assumed were inalienable rights). Good luck. anne


Sounds like there is a pattern developing. If I was in your shoes, I guess I would try to do something different from what I've done before to shake things up. If she speaks to you like that tell her right away that what she has said is hurtful to you and that you are not going to stay in the room with her. If you are in the car, pull over and say a few things to her. Seems like she needs an outlet for her aggressions or hurt or angry feelings and it should'nt be you! Maybe you two should go to some family therapy. good luck!
Outrageous! Let me ask you this, would you let anyone else in the world treat you like that? The mother is the one person who should be treated with utmost respect in a child's life. Here's the thing, you can sit around and analyze and sympathize with your daughter, and obviously there's something there she needs to express (though I'm sure it's not your fault!), or you can nip this behavior in the bud, take charge of this 8 year old, and make it stop. It doesn't matter what she's feeling, she can tell you about it later when she learns some respect. By allowing this, you are setting up the guidelines for your relationship with her for the rest of her life! She will be that 30 year old who blames you , in front of others, for her ....fill in the blank, whatever she's unhappy about. My advice is to find a counselor who, instead of helping your child, they help you. Help you to grow some nerve and whip ( not physically ) that girl into shape. She obviously can do it. She does it at school, other places. She does it to you because you let her. Children push because they want to know their limits. She probably gets more and more angry, because she's scared of her emotions, they're more than she knows what to do with. It's your job to tell her what to do with those emotions, and it starts with speaking respectfully. I'm sure you don't need to be pounded on during this difficult time, but I will say this. You're the parent. What happens in your house is your responsibility. Help her. Alison
I think it's too bad that you're condoning your daughter's behavior. She treats you that way because you have permitted her to. It's time to set boundaries. Frankly, if you don't stop this now, it's going to get a lot worse when she is a teen- ager! Believe me! The time is now to nip this in the bud and frankly tell her, ''If you're not going to respect me and continue to be mean to me, then I don't need to be around you. When you decide to treat me with dignity and respect that I deserve as YOUR MOTHER, then you can have the PRIVILEGE of having a relationship with me. Period!'' Walk away every time she is mean to you so that she knows you mean business and she can think about it but stay firm! It may seem brash to you but you are doing HER a big favor by setting boundaries. Good luck! p.s. Rent the movie FIRELIGHT to get a better idea of what I'm talking about as I, too, am a mother of a difficult child so I'm not judging you here at all! anon
Are you tolerating her behavior? How strongly do you feel about this? She may need firmer limits and tangible consequences from you to curb her more disrespectful behavior, if you really want it to stop. This can be simply choosing something she doesn't want to lose and removing if for a couple days, consistently, each time she crosses a line with you. It would be important to be clear on what behaviors (words) need to stop, and to follow through with a said consequence. I suppose you could do a reward system too for improved behavior, though I don't think rewarding her for treating you well is good on principle nor as effective. Kids/people often need tangible consequences to stop a behavior (E.g. If I really got a ticket every time I sped, maybe I wouldn't, assuming I'm not rich - choose your consequence wisely. A cop coming to my window and simply scolding me wouldn't do the trick.) I think it is very common for kids to vent and take out their stress on their parents, and does not necessarily reflect any great issue, but as long as you let her unleash on you she may very well continue. I also worry about the message being sent about letting yourself be disrespected. Anon
If you allow your child to hit you, or be disrespectful to you, you are setting her up for life-long problems. If she treats others the way you let her treat you, she will always be unhappy. Children need rules and boundaries. Rules are an expression of love. In my experience, parents who allow their children to run wild are usually just too lazy or too self- involved to provide boundaries for their kids. What is your excuse? And what is your husband's excuse? Aghast
I'm sorry about this, but seriously - your child is mean to you because you are LETTING her.

Who sets the rules in the house? You. Who decides the consequences of rule breaking? You. Who ensures that consequences are followed through? You.

Lay out the rules clearly. Write them down on a poster board and post them in the house. Be clear about the consequences for rude or mean behavior. Take away her most precious possessions and privileges if she breaks the rules. Take them away for a week at least. If she continues her behavior, keep taking things away until her room is empty except for furniture and she has no privileges.

If you do not do this, you will end up with an INTOLERABLE teen who thinks she can get away with anything. Boundaries are loving


You need to stop her. Tell her that's not acceptable language between family members, let alone a child to a parent. I have an 8 year old daughter too, and she gets mad at me when the situation sometimes isn't what she wants it to be, but we have never tolerated the kids hitting us or calling us names. When it has come close to that, we've said, ''Hey, don't talk to me in that tone of voice. I'm your mother, and it's my job to make rules that keep you safe and teach you how to be a good person. It's ok if you don't like the rules and you feel angry, but it is NOT ok for you to say ______to me.'' If she continues the rude, disrespectful behavior, punish her by taking away a privilege or giving her a time-out to cool down, and tell her she needs to apologize to you before she regains her privilege or comes out of time-out. You're the Mom--You're in charge!
While you should not have to tolerate being treated disrespectfully and setting strong boundaries is important, as well as modeling intolerance for unkindness, I think it's important to remember what one child psychologist I consulted pointed out: children DESERVE and parents EARN. That is, children should be able to EXPECT to be loved and accepted unconditionally by their parents, parents EARN their children's love and acceptance (of course, children are hard-wired to love you regardless, but don't you want that to last into adulthood?).

While I think getting some help with setting good boundaries and limits (there are lots of good books out there that can help you, I was surprised no one recommended any), if you do consult a counselor, find one that will care for BOTH of your needs and feelings, not one that will create a dynamic of the two of you against your daughter. For crying out loud, she is only 8 years old! She needs to know, deep down, that you are on her side no matter what. Yes, her behavior MUST CHANGE and you will help her find better ways to express whatever she needs to express. If your child doesn't believe that you are on her side, how can you possibly expect her to be guided by you when she is a teen, and you have NO CONTROL over her?

Yes, you certainly need to do something, and your daughter needs you to do something, because it's not good for her to see you putting up with this kind of thing from her. She needs to see her mom as strong, powerful and ''in charge.'' Kids feel safer that way!

Some books you might want to check out: ''Loving Your Child Is Not Enough,'' ''1, 2, 3 Magic,'' ''Positive Discipline,'' ''Unconditional Parenting'' A search on Amazon under ''Child Discipline'' will bring up many more books, no doubt, and the library will likely have many of them, if you don't want or can't spend the money to buy them.

I recommend reading more than one, as no one book is likely to be completely perfect in every way, but you'll get something from each one you read. Best of luck to you and your daughter, you both deserve it! Anon.


Well, everyone seemed to think that strong discipline would work, and that you just had to make your daughter tow the line. I don't think this method necessarily works for every child. My son is four, so my comments don't carry the weight of experience with a child of your daughter's age. Still, he is a handful in this regard, and I have found that the tow the line idea works sometimes, but also can really backfire. For him, I've found one thing that really works is to purposely misinterpret what he says every time. So if he says, ''You stupidosaurus''--for a while this was his favorite thing to say to not just me, but everyone--I decided finally (after fruitless punishments that just increased his use of this word) to start saying, ''You're right, I am (or daddy is) a stupendousasaurus. Thank you so much for noticing.'' He HATED this, and kept testing and testing my resolve to misinterpret this. With a smile on my face and seemingly genuine gratitude, I just kept thanking him and rephrasing what he was saying to what would sound nice. We did this repeatedly for a couple of days, and then voila, no more stupidosaurus comments to anyone. For him, this tactic works far, far better than the strong discipline techniques, which he sort of feeds on for some reason. Those techniques generally just make things worse.

Anyway, it's worth a try perhaps. Good luck! Laurel


Rudeness in 6 yr. old

March 2005

I am having an issue with my almost 6 yr. old daughter - she is incredibly rude to adults outside our family. She is otherwise a fun-loving joyous kind child but in the last month I have been getting feedback from our carpooling family that she does not speak when they ask her a question - she instead looks out the window and ignores them - the 4th grader we carpool with (who picks her up at her classroom to head home) reports that my daughter is reluctant to go with her and drags her heels and pretty much makes people wait for her to be ready to go. Today in her classroom after school her teacher asked her to help her with something and my daughter said flat out ''no''. It seems she has entered the self-centered zone where she believes that the world will wait for her and that it also revolves around her. There is no change at home or at school (that I can discover) that would make her so reluctant to be polite. She seems to have become entrenched in this behavior almost as a result of our discussing it at home. I want to help her overcome this problem - we have tried taking away privileges, playdates, extra fun stuff, etc. and are about to embark on a sticker/incentive plan to get her to change her behavior. She is very precocious and smart and is aware that her behavior is hurting people's feelings. Help! any advice out there?
nice mama rude daughter


Your daughter's behavior doesn't sound that unusual to me for a six year old. My son is seven and I work in his classroom a lot and the not answering thing is BIG. Not that I accept that but it just isn't that unusual. Also dawdling is the number one complaint among my friends. I did notice however that is does seem to be around the carpooling in particular that this is coming up. Any possibility she is intimidated by the other children she rides with or in any way doesn't feel comfortable with them? It could all relate to one incident that would seem minor to an adult but left her nervous. And kids her age can't always articulate what is bothering them. My son would not want to carpool with anyone he didn't know exceedlingly well and I find that is not unusual among his friends.

That said, my strategies for coping with not being answered is to state the answer (and I often will make the answer something I know my son would not agree to just to get a response)... ''I assume you don't want french fries since you didn't answer me.'' For the dawdling I will use a timer. I used to set a timer while my son put on his shoes. I didn't hang out and I didn't say anything..just set the timer - worked great. I also will often make it a race (which I always let him win) to go places, change clothes, etc. That also works well.

Don't be too hard on her, annoying as it is, it is typical of this age. She hasn't suddenly turned into some rude child that will forget all her good manners. Heck if that is the worst you get at this age you are doing well. It does seem to be an age of lots of testing. They go out into the world and try to make sense of it and it can be scary. Elementary school is a very big deal and comes with lots of huge changes and expectations. It is a time of transition and lots of parents find 6 a challenging age. Good Luck!


Rude 7-year-old

Sept 2003

Does anyone out there know what is ''age-appropriate'' rudeness (if there is such a thing) and just plain old unacceptable rudeness in a seven year old? Our daughter is very polite in public, or with teachers and strangers, but at home, she is very rude to us. Her responses to what we believe are resonable requests (granted, they usually involve transitions, which is another issue all together!), seem curt, rude, and disrepectful. I am talking about such responses as growling, ''Fine!'' (and stomping off to execute the request, such as teeth brushing), or eye rolling and the like. Also, we are interested in what works best for this age group-- loss of privileges or a reward system of some kind in order to curb this behavior? Tired Mama


Boy, do I know this one! My (almost) seven year old was really getting rude. Mostly by the tone of her voice, which I was ignoring until I realized that this was NOT the way I wanted to be spoken to, by anyone. So I sat her down and told her that we had a new ''politeness policy'' in our house. I was very specific about the behaviors that I wanted her to change, and that violation of the policy would result in loss of video/TV watching time (this is highly coveted and somewhat sparsely given in our house). We had been through the need for behavior change when she was four, and we found that rewards for good behavior weren't ANYWHERE near as effective as what we term ''loss of privileges''.

The main thing (for us) was to find something she really loved and would miss. She had to lose privileges (i.e. video time) only 2 or 3 times in the beginning and now still responds beautifully to just the threat of loss of privileges (counting to five is the signal), three years later. It's important to be specific about what you're asking, and perhaps give a warning the first time or two (but your kid will have to really lose privileges to get the point that you're serious). a happy mom


I have to ask what makes your daughter polite in public? Is it the knowledge that she shouldn't be rude, and/or that being rude would upset you? Does she know you would find that unacceptable? If yes to any of the above, then there is no difference to how she should be treated at home. So many parents nowadays try to reason with their children as if they were adults. We seem to forget that they are children. Parents need to be adamant and say NO when necessary. I have a four year old niece who can be as wild as any child at home, but she always knows when to say ''please and thank you'' anywhere - including at home and she knows how to behave outside the home. There were never any exceptions to this. There was no reward system or privileges - just a very serious ''No, we do not act like this towards anyone, esp. to our elders.'' She is also allowed to state her feelings but she knows her boundaries - adults are still the authority and must be treated with respect, not as peers. anon
There's no ''age-appropriate rudeness''; rudeness is inappropriate at every age. I had a similar problem with rudeness in my kids, and found a fantastic book that changed how our family functions: ''Backtalk: 4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids'' by Audrey Ricker and Carolyn Crowder. It's recommended on the parents of teens website, but covers all ages from three to adult.

Basically, you need to stick to a response something like: ''The way you're speaking to me is not respectful. It makes me less willing to do something for you, so I won't be able to ...[drive you to the mall, make your lunch, let Alex sleep over, take you ice skating, etc.] Very calmly. For 7- year-olds, the recommended consequence is often instant removal from family activities; for adult children it could be instant termination of financial support. You need to have appropriate consequences ready.

It can be a little terrifying at first -- I used it on a 16- year-old who is physically much larger than me and was simultaneously dependent on me for help with math homework and also very abusive during the help. When I told him, the morning after reading this book, that he was treating me disrespectfully and so I would not be able to help him with that day's homework, he begged and pleaded and got angry and more abusive and begged some more. I stuck to it, and he stomped out, violent and furious. But he came home like a different kid -- treated me like a human being, was cooperative and cheerful in every way. His brother, who was also pretty rude, only had to see this happen to do some serious shaping up himself. Highly recommended. Yes, I do mean it.


As the mom of a 6 1/2 year old girl, I am soooo familiar with this behavior! At school, my daughter is a polite, somewhat quiet, studious child (or so I've been told!). However, at home, she frequently feels comfortable behaving in a manner as you describe -- rude, rolling eyes, deep sighs, growls. We have decided that she is trying on ''a new hat'' so to speak and testing these new behaviors. That is fine, but we also decided that these behaviors are not acceptable and have sat down with her to explain that although she may be frustrated, as a member of our family, we have certain expectations from her. One is that she respects the others in the family and treats them as she would like to be treated. The other is that she can use her words to express her displeasure or anger in an appropriate way -- growling, sighing , etc ... when asked to do something is not allowed. When she does this, she is sent to her room for a 15 minute time out (she doesn't like this at all). It seems to work. Although she wants to try these new behaviors, she is also seeking out what her boundaries are regarding them, so we feel that we need to be quite clear -- so far it has worked! Good luck. Not Sure What I'll Do at 16!
I have the same thing with my foster daughter from time to time. I have been breaking her of the habit, so I feel some justification to respond to you here.

I am kinda old school, I think my kids should always show respect to adults, especially their parents unless they are just harmlessly fooling around. The nasty tone and negative attitude when I have done nothing to warrant it really gets me mad.

Here are some steps that I actually have gone thru, but lately just number one is necessary -- it is all really sinking in.

(1) I tell ''jenny'' to please act nice and I point out that her negative attitude is not appreciated.

(2) I explain that being nasty with me will only result in me being nastier back and I ask if she would like us to be nice to each other or screaming at each other.

(3) Still acting rude, I calmly and quietly send her to her room to stay there alone until she wants to be nice, but I decide when she is ready to be nice, not by her just blurting out ''but I am going to be nice!''

(4) The last straw is actually giving her a time out in her room for x-number of hours, or canceling any TV or outings for the day.

''Jenny'' does better on just about anything when she knows ahead of time what the consequences are going to be. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this and have a little meeting with her to set down my expectations and what the consequences will be for breaches.

Good luck. You sound like a great mom and your daughter is just doing normal kid stuff, testing the boundaries. Tiffany


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