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Children / Mama Drama / Motherhood

Mama Drama: Rampant Rudeness

Dear Mama Drama~

I am struggling with my daughter who is almost 4 saying mean things to her parents and her younger brother. When she is tired, hungry, irritated or just not in control, she says many mean things.

For example:

I don’t like you.

You are not a good brother.

You are not the boss; I am the boss.

I never like you.

I know this is not truly how she feels, but I don’t know what to say back to her to take the power out of her words. Her little brother gets sad when she is mean to him, so he’s crying and I’m in a fit hearing her use these words.

What do you say back to these mean words? Telling her that is not something we say is ineffective.

Trying to be nice,

Mommy in Erie

(photo credit)

Dear Mommy in Erie:

I can hear your heart breaking as you struggle with this situation. It can be so difficult when your children are acting mean.

It sounds like you’ve identified some of the triggers that are leading to your daughter’s rude and hurtful behavior such as tiredness, hunger, and irritability. Figuring out those triggers is a huge step.

Next I recommend looking at her schedule. Pinpoint the times when her behavior escalates and when she might become tired or hungry. Then see how you can adjust the schedule to head off the triggers with a snack, eating meals earlier, reading a book together, having quiet rest time, or other calming activities.

Become a great observer of your daughter. Begin to learn the early signs that she is becoming frustrated, tired, hungry, or out of sorts. We often feel like outbursts come out of nowhere, but with focused observation we can find the little signals that precede them. Look for subtle (or sometimes obvious) changes in behavior that indicate in increase in anxiety such as an increase in fidgeting, rapid breathing, heavy sighs, whining, or struggling to handle minor issues. Help her notice those signs and do something to alleviate them. As you both learn her body signals, you can intervene and help her stay more even.

The next step is teaching her how to handle herself when she’s tired or frustrated and how her mean words hurt you and her brother. It is important to do this when she is relaxed and rested so you can all talk about it calmly and make a plan for the next time she is feeling upset. Books are a great way to address these issues as they can feel less confrontational and you can reread them and refer to the ones she connects with when issues arise.

Some books that are appropriate for her age are Words Are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick, Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ann Miranda, When I’m Angry by Jane Aaron, When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman. Books that can help her understand how mean words hurt others are Andrew Angry Words by Dorothea Lachner and Snail Started It by Katja Reider.

When issues like these are happening, we can have a hard time stepping back and looking at them without being overwhelmed by emotions. Increasing our toolbox of strategies is helpful in managing it all. A great resource for parenting strategies and humor is Love and Logic Magic for the Early Childhood Years by Jim Fay and Dr. Charles Fay.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

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  1. I would also recommend, under the “become a great observer” section, that you find those times when she’s being especially nice to those around her. Catch her being good and show her how proud you are of her. In the beginning of these observations really lavish on the attention so it stands out as being connected to her positive words.

    Often it is the striving for THAT kind of attention that will help a child self-monitor when they’re feeling their defenses and coping mechanisms get low.

    • Thanks, Triffany. You are so right. Positive recognitions make a huge difference in shaping the behaviors we want to see from our kids.

  2. These are wonderful tips. I especially like the books you list. In fact, even though my children are older, I think several pieces of your advice will work for me!

    • Thanks, Lori. At different stages of development our children definitely need reminders and reteaching of these basics.
      Some other great books that comes to mind for kids a bit older are Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners by Whoopi Goldberg – hilarious and effective for overall issues of politeness – and How to Take the Grrrr Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick & Marjorie Lisovskis.

  3. Lisa, I’m headed to the library! My four-yr-old was a bit too sleepy as we were leaving an event last night and acting out more than we appreciated. About that time, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in almost eleven yrs. Needless to say, having a book to remind her of appropriate behavior while mommy was talking would have been at least hopeful. I was just glad it was a friend and not a person who might not understand!

  4. It’s so hard when they are already tired, isn’t it. Those few minutes for us often seem like a lifetime for a tired tot.
    A book to remind her of expectations and maybe a little distraction tucked away in your purse for just those moments are great resources. I used to carry a couple Lion King figures in my bag for those unexpected wait times. It helped a lot.
    Hope you were able to enjoy at least some of that conversation. 🙂

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