Need Some Supprt . . . Feeling like a HORRIBLE Parent

Updated on March 16, 2010
D.C. asks from Berwyn, IL
21 answers

Today a note was sent home from my 5 year old son's teacher that read " _____ speaks unkindly to others often and today told a child that they deserve to die."
Of course, my husband and I are just shocked, appalled, sad, angry, confused,, etc.
I asked my son what was happening at the time that he said that to the child and he said that they were just working at their table so I am assuming it was not in retaliation for anything.
We had a long talk wih him about how his words hurt people, etc. and while he has had issues with a smart mouth (for which he is always punished) this is the first time that he has said something of this magnitude.
I am stuck b/c while I want to make sure he realizes just how WRONG and UNACCEPTABLE this is, I also want to make sure punishment, discussions, etc, are appropriate.
Any insight is welcome.
I am just so extremely sad and embarassed to think that my son is becoming a "bully."

2 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so so much for your insights and advice. I think I am going to have my son write a short and sweet apology as some of you suggested. Since we do reward the good and punish ehte bad behavior in our home, he already had some privleges taken away. I am also going to contact the teacher so that we can be on top of the situation. I was a little upset to read on the note that she wrote that he "often" says mean things . . . If that's the case, why is this the first time I am hearing about it? Not saying that my son is the only kid in the classroom but I just think if we are both aware of the issue, obviously we can work together.
You all really helped to ease my fears and look at the situation with a new perspective.

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answers from Portland on

Well, I think the teacher could have found a better way to tell you about this. Sounds like she just sent you a note and expected you to "fix" things. If she is educated in Early Childhood, she would know how to work with him in the classroom and how to professionally include you in solving the problem without making you feel horrible.

So let me tell you, you are NOT horrible. It sounds like he has some ideas about things, and is exploring them. If I had been the teacher, I probably would have used the chance to start a conversation with him about what he thinks death means, etc... I really don't think he should be punished for trying to express/understand huge concepts in his world.

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answers from Las Vegas on

I recently had to explain what a bully was to my daughter and she thought that was awful. Then I had to remind her of one of her bullish acts. She was taken back a bit.

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answers from Seattle on

For the first time EVER, a few months ago my son got an apology note from a classmate (gymnastics) who said/did something mean to him out of the gazillion times from preschool to present that a kid has mouthed off/ hit/ or in some other way hurt his feelings. It was SO special for him. He keeps it in the sun shield in our car, and periodically pulls it out to reread it. Nothing special just "I'm very sorry I was mean and hurt your feelings."

As a mum, I'm not only incredibly touched, but also so impressed with the other kid's parents tack on this, that I am officially co-opting this strategy.

Similar to Rebecca M. kiddo's preschool teacher never used the word "bully" but a kid doing mean things was "having problems being a good friend today" or was "learning how to be a good friend". I know my own kiddo gets kinda lost with the whole punishment/negativity aspect of soooo many things, but jumps on board almost immediately when he's given a direction to go. AKA "don't be mean" gets us nowhere, but "working on being a good friend" goes for miles. I also like his spin, that if he's a good friend to people he DOESN'T like then he's sure an amaaaaazing friend to people he DOES like.

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answers from Portland on

Hello D.,

I believe that children often use hurtful words, actions, acts when they don't know the appropriate things to do. I teach a class called Behavior Modification without Punishment, and one of the skills I teach parents is to give their children the words.

In your son's case, talk to him about what was going on at the table. I bet something happened that either upset him or make him feel bad in some way. It could have been something another child did or said. Your son probably didn't know how to react, so he said things to hurt the child like your son was hurting.

Use role playing as a tool to practice more appropriate things to say. Also try talking about what others are feeling. Read books about feelings and talk about what the characters are going through. If your son learns to understand other's feelings, he will be less likely to bully classmates.

I also believe in focusing on the positive. When he is being a "good friend" praise him, "you're being a good friend, that's great." "you really helped today, that's being a good friend." etc.

I hope this helps.

R. Magby

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answers from Dallas on

I disagree with some of the posters that say not to punish him. Children his age may not understand the gravity of their words, or even what it actually means, but they are capable of understanding that speaking unkindly to another and using language like that is hurtful and unacceptable.

I wonder what he thinks "deserving to die" means and where he got that concept in the first place, it's not a common concept or phrase for children. When my child says something off, I ask him why he said it and what he thinks it means. Sometimes, he knows what it means, other times he doesnt.

Writing an apology letter and a full lesson on hurtful things would be helpful. Also, perhaps, give him ideas on how to channel his frustration and anger, if these are the things that spawned this statement.

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answers from Boston on

Don't feel bad - this is probably one of the first of a great many things that your son does that you will find really embarrassing. You are not a horrible parent.

My recommendation is that you get in touch with the teacher on Monday and express how you are feeling and work with her to see if you can come up with a constructive way to address this together. As a teacher, I can tell you that it is a really scary thing to need to send home a note like this to a parent. I just don't know if they are going to respond as you did (receptive to the information, wanting to work on finding a solution), or by being incredibly defensive, wanting to know why the teacher can't diffuse the situation, etc. Especially at this age, a teacher can be a real ally so that the consequences for this type of behavior are consistent in your sons social settings. Also, she would have access to resources (councilors, etc) that you might not otherwise have access to, should you decide that you need them for whatever reason.

Good luck. I am sure that it will be fine in the end.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Don't feel bad. Kids express themselves in many ways to fight off things and sometimes it just comes out the wrong way. Who's to say the other child didn't aggravate him to that point. Don't begin to "class" your child as bully and those things. Guide and teach him what is acceptable and right and I believe in time, he will get it. You telling him what he did was wrong was good enough. Maybe to get your point across next time he does it (if he does), restrict something he likes as the consequence to doing so.

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answers from Denver on

Don't be so hard on yourself I think at this age a lot more stuff will come out of your child's mouth that will flat out stun you. I've heard my son say some stuff that stops me dead in my tracks like did you really just say that. I would definitely talk to him about how we do not talk like that and if he does say stuff like that there will be a lot more trouble to come. I think at this age they are not fully aware of exactly what death entails I mean their worlds have been sooo cush and protective until this point where they are realizing that there is bad in the world, but don't realize how bad bad is. I don't think your son is a bully or will be one just because he said a sentence that I am pretty sure he doesn't realize how bad it was. Keep the lines of communications open and just correct it, if it becomes an ongoing problem then stronger discipline is in need. Other kids are also such strong influences that they could be picking it up from school, daycare. Don't stress just correct and move on til the next thing comes up.

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answers from Chicago on

I am having some similiar issues with my 5 year old. He hasn't said those exact words to a kid but he is very disrespectful to his classmates as well as his teachers. And, just like you, I am struggling with exactly how to punish him in a way that will help change his attitute and behavior. I have talked to his teacher on several occasions and there is one thing that we've tried that did have an impact:

Cut out a heart from a piece of paper. Explain to him that when he says mean things to someone, it hurts them - then crumble the peice of paper into a ball. then explain to him that when he apologizes that does help the situation a little - and then uncrumble the heart. And then show him that even after you apologize, there are still creases in the heart. And no matter what you do, it will never be the same. You can't take back the words that you have said (you can't make the heart flat anymore).

this visual did help my son realize the impact of his words, a little bit. I realize that this is a work in progress and will take time. Another thing that I am now making my son do is if he does something mean or says something mean, he then has to write an opology letter to that person.

Wishing you good luck - as I know I need it too.


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answers from Portland on

...from the mouth of babes. Hang in there - if you are this worried about it you are not a horrible parent. Sounds like you are doing what you should be. Maybe let him lead the conversation and don't over-react to what he says. I noticed when I let my daughter do that I get so much more info about what happened. Something like 'I heard that you had a bad day.....' and I let her tell me about it. I wouldn't punish at this point, especially if its the first time. I would explain the consequences of his actions... kids wont want to play with you or be your friend, the teacher will get angry and give you a time-out, you wont think its appropriate.... and next time if you hear that he spoke rudely you will do 'x'.

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answers from Norfolk on

There were a few times when I'd go to get my son from preschool and found he was in a time out in the principals office. I learned early on there are at least 2 sides to each story (and sometimes 3 sides) , and things are not always as they appear on the surface. I'd have the teacher tell me what happened. Then I'd have my son tell me what happened. And if I could, I'd have the other kid tell me what happened. You'd be amazed at how different each side could be. Especially in preschool (and sometimes kindergarten), kids are learning to play cooperatively with each other instead of playing side by side, and it's a difficult process sometimes. After it all comes out (and a lot of the time both parties had their parts in the misunderstanding) I'd have a talk with my son about treating people the way he'd like to be treated. And I'd ask him how he would feel if someone talked to him like he talked to someone else. Once he could see it from another point of view it was usually not a problem having him apologize to the other kid (and sometimes the other kid would apologize too) and they could make up and be friends or at least not be enemies.

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answers from Indianapolis on

I have a colleague who made her son, an only child, write an apology letter to a friend (and the friend's parents) for being rude and asking to leave their house during a sleepover because the family's X-Box wasn't working. I so applaud her for doing that.

I also commend you for not sweeping this under the rug and for being concerned about the impact of the situation.

So, I agree that an apology letter (to the student, his parents, and the teacher) are a great idea for him to be accountable in that situation. I agree that scheduling a time to speak with the teacher (with your son present) to understand what she expects in the classroom and his understanding of how to interact with other kids.

And, I do believe in pushing him for this situation. The lessons we learn the most from are often the hardest. Telling someone they deserve to die is a lot different from telling them they have ugly clothes or that they smell funny.

Besides sitting down with him on many occasions to discuss what's appropriate and not, I do believe a punishment (most likely taking away something important) is appropriate as well.

Best wishes!

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answers from Chicago on

I love the idea of an apology letter to the other child. It doesn't matter what happened before the words were spoken, your son needs to know that what he said was inappropriate. Just like he wouldn't be allowed to hit someone with his fist or kick them, he's not allowed to use hurtful words.

It sounds like he doesn't know what his options are in a situation where someone is bothering him. Talk to him about his options: 1) Telling the other child to stop bothering him; and if that doesn't work, 2) Inform the teacher and possibly asked to be moved. And practice with him. Switch roles. He might not be comfortable speaking up because he's never done it.

But, other than the writing the apology note, I wouldn't punish him. I'm assuming this is his first offense. Tell him that if it happens again, he'll write another apology note AND you'll take X away from him.

I think it's important that children be taught to speak up in an appropriate manner.

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answers from Detroit on

I commend you for actually doing something about this. You are a very good mother. You don't know how many parents out there just don't take responsibility for their child. That's why our society is so screwed up these days. Additionally, when you throw in what is shown on tv, magazines, games, etc. it's not a surprise when our children do something wrong. Kudos to you and I think you talking to him was the way to go. By explaining right from wrong is how he will learn to choose better ways to deal with his classmates. If this behavior continues, then yes, punish him by taking away privileges. Personally, and I too have a 4-1/2 year old son and a 15 year old daughter, kids at that age are very impulsive and immature and lack self control. They have no concept of the things that they can say to hurt others. Keep talking to him--that's a very important channel to use to get him to realize right from wrong.




answers from Springfield on

Has there been any deaths in your family recently? I think the concept to a 5 year old of death and dying is something they can't quite wrap their heads around just yet. He may just be exploring the word itself, not so much the meaning. Have you tried to to reward his good behavoiour? I read that you punish the bad. Sometimes all it takes is a positive word from something good they do to turn a situation around. Perspective is everything. Time outs are always taking place in our home for bad behaviour, but we we reward for the good stuff too. Take a good look around, is he watching violent tv shows or anything like that? Bullying is a scary thing these days, and I don't blame you for being fearful of that. Talk to him about as much as you can. Good luck with this. I hope you get some resolve.



answers from Chicago on

Bravo to the teacher for addressing it. Many just ignore it - Think about what he is watching on TV or hearing from an older sibling friend or cousin. You would be surprised what siblings on Disney channel shows say to each other. We have banned it in our home. your son is hearing it somewhere and just repeating it. At 5 years old he can't possibly understand what hose things really mean.



answers from Chicago on

OH Jeez! This is hard to take as a parent.

Before you think your child is horrible...think about his environment and what he hears. Does he watch TV? What TV shows? If so, chances are he heard it there and will repeat it if he continues to hear it.

I recently decided that any kind of TV must be avoided at all costs. My son's behavior, speech, listening, reasoning and attitude has changed COMPLETELY. He had begun talking back and we just don't allow that in this house. He can watch Dinosaur train (which we DVR) once a day and that is all!!!

If that is not the problem, look at his friends and playmates and at how you and your husband (or all prominent influences) speak to each other. I feel sure you will find a relationship that is responsible.



answers from Tulsa on

you are not a horrible parent my nephew walked in to the mens bathroom one day and there was a real fat man using the bathroom and my nephew said outloud "daddy that man is fatter than mommy" mommy is about 250lbs. so its not just your kid. The man actually started laughing about it. Just explain to him its not a nice thing to say and how would you feel if it actually happened? something probably triggered it though they may have been having a squabble.



answers from Chicago on

I agree with Lisa A and B from Chesapeake.
It's not like a note is sent home everyday. It's not like he really understood what he said and really meant it. And you really don't know what was going on when that popped out of his mouth (and neither does the teacher). Everybody is just REACTING. Things pop out of kids mouth that they hear somewhere from somebody - like other adults or media and for some reason it sticks in their head because it sounded cool or the reaction they saw it get. So they try it out for size. I was always diligent about media available in my house. One night I was watching NYPD Blue and my 3 year old son was laying on the couch by me (he was sick) and one of the actors told the other actor "kiss my azz". Well I hurried up finding the remote and turned off the tv. My son looked at me wide eyed and asked why I turned it off. I said because we don't need to hear those words they are ugly and hurtful and sometimes when people are mad they say mad words. Well he and my dad got into a little power struggle later that week and you guessed it - he busts out with "kiss my azz PopPop. Soon as my dad told me I knew where it came from and had to take responsibility for not changing my choice of television programs while he was up with me that night.
5 year olds don't always know how to verbalize their feelings emotions. Give the little guy a break. The conversation with mom about words was enough and let the teacher know you addressed it and ask your son what happened. There is truly two sides to every story. He's not a bully and you'd probably be suprised about the stuff that pops out of other kids mouth and they haven't got caught. Don't make it a bigger deal than it is. He said something inappropriate. You dealt with it correctly by telling him words hurt and I'd talk to him about how to cope in situations where things get heated and he gets frustrated. Like get the teacher, go play with someone else or just walk away. I guarantee you this is not the worst thing this teache has heard pop out of a kids mouth. I never get embarassed by my kids when they were little. They're kids they are going to do things we don't like and make mistakes. It's called growing up and what we do is called raising them. Now, when you have teenagers, we can talk about being embarrassed by what you kids do. But even then you have to realize it's not about you. It's about them and you have to not get so geeked up or you can't really deal with them in a thoughtful, planful, and useful manner.



answers from Austin on

I agree with the other poster who said to work with his teacher. Many parents get their backs up when they learn there's an issue with their kid. You are doing the right thing by being concerned. I bet the teacher can help you to work with your son. You probably know this already, but one thing I would suggest is to find every opportunity possible to praise him for any good behavior (even normal behavior.)

I know it's upsetting, but he's only 5. He's not a bully, but maybe he just needs to work on some impulse control.



answers from Chicago on

My stepdaughter is a sweet girl and is NOT a bully and would not willingly hurt anyone. That being said, when she's around other kids she wants to be entertaining or get attention. So she'll do whatever it takes and that usually is saying stuff that gets a big reaction from the other kids--even if it's negative.

Why don't you ask your son why he said what he did? Be prepared to listen, not talk. Was he mad? If not, was he trying to be funny or get attention? Try to make it an open conversation where he doesn't feel like you are attacking him so you can get the truth. Once you know why you can handle the problem.

My stepdaughter told another girl her butt was big like a bubble. She hurt the other girls' feelings and got in trouble. At first we yelled and made a big deal. Later we listened and she told us that she was trying to be funny and she thought the other girl would laugh. Then we got to talk about what is funny and what is not funny and it really helped her. She watches a lot of Disney Channel and believe it or not, those kids on there can say stuff just like that! We also talked about positive ways to get attention.

I don't think your son is becoming a bully. But I do wonder if he's trying to get attention or make some feelings known. I would guess he needs someone to listen to him.

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