How to Respond When Your Preschooler Calls You Names

Preschoolers often say naughty words as a way to get attention. KidStock / Blend Images / Getty Images

Don't be surprised if your 4-year-old calls anything from a 'stupid-head' to a 'doo-doo face.' It’s common for kids to test your reaction by using 'potty words.' The way you react to name calling however, makes a big difference in how likely you are to be called more names.

Manage Your Reaction

Although it may be tempting to laugh when your preschooler calls you a silly name, paying too much attention to the name calling encourages your preschooler to do it again.

Similarly, if you get angry and turn it into a big deal, you may also inadvertently encourage the behavior to continue.

Respond by saying, “That hurts my feelings when you call me names. Please don’t do that again,” and then walk away and focus on a different subject. This lets your child know that it is an inappropriate word won’t gain him any attention.

Teach Appropriate Ways to Deal with Anger

While sometimes kids call their parents names just to get a reaction, others hurl insults out of anger. If your child calls you an idiot because you told him to pick up his toys, teach him more appropriate ways to deal with his feelings.

Teach him anger management skills. Let him know that feeling angry is okay but hurting other people is not acceptable. Teach him to take a deep breath when he’s angry or encourage him to say the words, “I’m mad,” rather than lashing out.

Provide Consequences When Necessary

If your child continues calling you names, or he starts calling his siblings names, provide a negative consequence.

A brief time-out or removal of privileges may be necessary to help him learn that he can’t call you names. It’s important to curb the behavior as soon as possible so he doesn’t call other children names when he’s in school.

Create Rules About Respect

Establish a rule about treating other people kindly.

Make it clear that you don’t allow people to hurt anyone's body with physical aggression and that you also won’t allow hurting anyone’s feelings with verbal aggression.

Teach how name calling hurts people and that it’s not a nice thing to do. Sometimes, even saying the word, “Ouch,” when your child calls you a name can reinforce to him that it hurts your feelings.

Catch Your Child Using Kind Words

Encourage your child to use kind words by praising him. Say, “That was so nice of you to tell your sister she looks pretty,” or “Thank you so much for saying you like the sandwich I made for you.” Praising respectful words will promote more compliments and kindness from your child and reduce name calling.

Role Model Appropriate Language

It’s essential that you’re role modeling respectful language for your child. If you’re guilty of using words like stupid in your everyday vocabulary, your child will pick up on it. 

Don't allow any type of name calling in the house. That includes pets. If you call the dog stupid, your child will begin calling people stupid.

Don’t ever call your child names. Saying things like, “You’re such a brat,” reinforces to your child that it’s okay to call people names (not to mention it can cause some emotional scars).

Role model how to use kind words, even when you’re feeling angry and frustrated.

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