12 answers

Toddler Saying Mean Things

So I was just snuggling my 2.5 year old daughter to sleep. We were talking and she seemed happy when all of a sudden she said: "you're ugly mommy". She was very matter of a fact. Then came the real shocker. She said "I hate you mommy"!! I didn't expect to hear these kind of things from her at such a young age. I don't even know what made her say it. I wasn't sure how to react. I didn't get mad but I told her that those are not nice things to say and that she shouldn't say them. I don't even know where she learned this stuff! Is it common for kids this young to use such strong language? Just wondering what other moms have experienced. Thanks!

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Hi J.,
Your daughter does seem young to be saying these things to you, especially if unprovoked( in other words, she wasn't being disciplined by you at the time). She may not fully understand the impact of the words she said or she may be trying to see what sort of response she'll get from you for saying them. Is she exposed to older children in your neighborhood or does she watch a cartoon that may use that language amongst the characters? She may have picked it up from one of those sources.
I work with young children ( 5-8 yrs. old with varying disabilities) and one particular student has a difficult time with "kindness". This child always says or does mean things to others, even when unprovoked. The other staff and the classroom teacher as well as myself are always correcting his "mean" words or acts by showing him or asking him to do a "kind" word or act instead. Also, whenever he does do a "kind" act or word, especially on his own, we try to praise him. I think you responded as well as could be considering it was an unexpected behavior. Keep on gently reminding her that showing & speaking kindness to others is important and always let her know that you love her no matter what.
Hang in there, mommy! The hard work and good foundation you lay now will bring good rewards in the future!

H. Y.

About me: I'm 47, about to be 22yrs. married to a wonderful man;we have two teens- a boy, 16 & a girl, 13, who are just great kids. I work as a paraprofessional in Special Ed. in our local school district and I love to draw,paint, garden, walk & read!

J., my 3 year old does the same thing, usually to my partner. She can be brutal at times, incredibly mean and hateful. I don't know why she does it! She doesn't watch much, if any TV, and we don't speak to her like that. She also has recently started hitting/kicking/stomping. We're at a loss. What we do is if she is mean, verbally or physically, she has to serve a time out for 3 minutes, and then we talk about it and ask her to apologize. We also ask her to "take a break" or "shake the uglies out" if she is having a nasty day.

My 3-1/2-year-old has lately been saying things that are the opposite of what he means. He'll say he doesn't like something or doesn't want to do something that I know he does. He's also occasionally said "I don't love you" or "I don't like you" when we're saying goodnight. I usually just say I love him but that if he doesn't want me around right now, then I will leave. He changes his tune immediately and says he does love me and wants me to come back in the room. I think this is an age when kids experiment with saying things that they don't understand or that aren't true. I think you responded in exactly the right way.

I imagine that kids can come up with this sort of thing on their own. Using the word "hate" is obviously different, so I agree with others that you should ask your daughter where she heard a word like that.

In terms of a response, I think it's really important that kids feel like they are allowed to express their feelings. So even though your daughter probably wasn't actually trying to express a feeling but just trying to test out some new language, I'd still be careful about trying to punish it in any way. When my son says something hurtful (especially if he is in fact trying to express his displeasure at his brother for taking a toy or at me for disciplining him), I tell him it's ok to be mad/sad/hurt etc. and that it's ok to say how he feels, but it isn't ok to say mean things about other people. I offer him an alternative way to express his feelings. For example, if he were to way "I hate you" because he got put in time out, I'd tell him he could say "I'm mad at you because _____" instead. This probably isn't an appropriate response in the situation you described (because your daughter probably wasn't actually mad), but nonetheless it might be good to keep in mind that kids need help figuring out how to say what they are feeling and that you don't want to give your daughter the impression that she might be punished if she says the wrong thing (when she gets older, though, I can see that there could be some language that might merit punishment).

Although I don't have experience with my daughter saying those things, I do know that my 2 1/2 year old daughter loves to say things that will get a rise out of me. She is very much into the reaction she gets. So I wouldn't read too much into it. It sounds like she may have heard those words somewhere and figured she would see how it would work with you. Kids don't really know the meaning of what they say. :-)

You handled it exactly the right way! I can imagine it was hurtful though.
I'm positive she's repeating what she heard elsewhere (older kids? TV?), and has only a vague idea what it means, and no idea that it's not nice. She's just trying out different words. It's good she didn't get a reaction out of you. Encourage her to say NICE things, and reinforce that behavior. I'd keep generally ignoring or downplaying the mean things she says.

Hi Jessica,
My initial response is that your daughter is repeating something that she has overheard. I'd ask her where she heard that type of language because you want to be sure that no one is saying those types of things to her. And I'd use this as an opportunity to teach her that her words have an impact... that she can use her words to hurt people or she can use her words to encourage people and your desire is for her to do the latter. I wouldn't take it personally but I'd address it now before she intentionally uses her words to hurt people. I think you are absolutely doing the right thing by asking the question and addressing the situation now instead of waiting until hurtful language has become a habit.

I'm guessing she heard it somewhere and was not sure what it means exactly to say "hate" and so she was testing it out on you. I think you did the right thing by not giving too much of a reaction. I agree with another mom to respond with , "well, I love you" and to tell her that it is not nice to say to somebody that you hate them or that they are ugly. If you get too upset she will realize it is effective and use it against you to "push your buttons" when she is angry with you. And I am sure she does love you! :-)

Hi J.,
Yes, I've gotten the "i don't love you Mommy" bit from my very verbal 2 1/2 yr. old daughter. Is she around older kids in playgroups? She may have heard the "Ugly" word from older kids. When my daughter said "I don't love you" it was after a bad day and I had been yelling at her and her brother for not listening and fighting. When I was putting them to bed and said "Goodnight and I love you", that's when she said it. I started crying on the spot because we had a bad day and I was exhausted from chasing them around all day. I think she liked my reaction and said it a few more times after that. I just responded with "Well, I love you" She hasn't said it since. Who knows where kids pick up these things; TV, us, other kids. The best we can do is tell them how it makes us feel and hope for the best. Sometimes, they just want to see your reaction to it.

A word of advise. When ever she says that she s you, immediately come back with "well.. I love you". It still hurts, but remember that it really isn't true. The are only words. She will not say it as much. I'm not saying that she will not say it again...because she probably will. Don't make a big deal about it or tell her not to say that. She will love YOU for loving HER. You can not just tell her that you love her....you have to "show" her every day by making sure she is SAFE AND WELL CARED FOR. It's not about buying her things for her to like you.
Another word of advice is to sit with her every night before she goes to bed for about 15 minutes and read her a story. It will be very good bonding time for you both. Make this commitment as long as she lives in your home and as she gets older....just sit with her and ask her how her day was. (It's more important than laundry or other things you may need to do.)
Good Luck!
S. (mother of 4 wonderful children)

Wow- my three year old is having the same problem. I have long had a no-tolerance policy on physical violence, like hitting, pushing, pinching or biting is an immediate time out, no questions asked. At the beginning of the summer, I decided to treat intentional hurting of feelings the same way. If the intent is to hurt some one, off you go to your room.

Now, your daughter was just going to bed; not sure what I'd do about that because I don't like bedtime to be unpleasant. I guess I would just explain that it hurts your feelings and ask what made her say that.

Ah-- as I was writing, my three year old went into the playroom where my older daughter was building a castle, and viciously wrecked the whole thing! (We sent her to her room)

Good luck! Kids will be kids.
Take care,
K. Denney


The first time my daughter ever said she hated me was when she was 20 years old. Because I wouldn't give her what she wanted. I was hurt for a long time, she still regrets saying it to me because she didn't mean it. I got over it but when I think of it, I get a pang in my heart.
At 2.5 years old, snuggling in bed with her. I would have handled it the same way you did. I also think she heard that somewhere. I don't think she even knows what all that means, I would ask her in a toddlers way where she heard those words. Little ones absolutely love their moms at that age.
Good luck!

Does she watch much TV? Some shows (even kids shows) have some language in them that you don't necessarily want your kids using. Does she go to daycare or hang out with any other kids (family or otherwsise?) That could be another place she picked it up. When she said it, did she seem to have any indication of a true "mean spirit" or do you think she was just repeating something she had heard but didnt truly understand the connotation? I know my daughter is 4 but even going back a while she will sometimes repeat some things I'd rather her not but I can usually trace it back to tv (the movie Shrek for example....)

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