"You're Hurting My Feelings!"

Updated on July 10, 2012
B.B. asks from Bedminster, NJ
21 answers

Whenever I insist my son does something he doesn't want to do or not let him do something he starts to cry and tell me that I hurt his feelings and will often go on to tell me that I 'always hurt his feelings!". I do try not to be sharp with him and I never yell. Usually he acts like this when he is tired or at the end of the day but it does probably happen several times a week. He will be 4 1/2 in September. I do acknowledge that I might have hurt his feelings and I tell him that it hurts my feelings when he tells me that I "hurt his feelings all the time". I do try to encourage him to not use the words "always" or "never" because they just are not true and to focus on what is happening now. He is a very smart, sensitive child who is almost always extrememly well behaved. One example is yesterday he left his friends how without saying goodbye and I told him to say goodbye. He just willfully walked out the door. Then I told him that he might not be invited back if he is so rude. Then the "You are hurting my feelings" started in the car. Anyone have a child like this? What can I do?

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So What Happened?

He later told me that he was sad about leaving his friend's house. I told him it was ok to be sad but it's important to make our friends feel appreciated and say goodbye and hello. He told me he only wants to say goodbye when they come to his house. Okaaaay...

And uh, no, Adansmama I am not the one that gets upset when my son tells me he doesn't love me because he has never said anything of the kind!! IF he ever did I would be upset because we don't hurt feeling on purpose around here. Get your facts straight before you get sassy. And no, you did not "hurt my feelings" (uh, yeah, good one). Just like to keep it real.

Thanks for the stories and advice, I really appreciate it!! I will try to help him focus on his feelings like you all reccomended and try to watch out for it turning into a manipulation thing. Day 2 of no "You hurt my feelings"...so far so good. :)

Featured Answers


answers from Seattle on

"I hear that you're feeling sad right now. You get to feel sad and you still need you to listen. Thanks."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It's a phase.
My son has learned this phrase from a cartoon he watches.
I was sitting w/him when I heard the character on the cartoon use it.
They were trying to teach kids to be kind to each other, watch out for other's feelings, communicate what they want and try to assert their
It's a normal stage to go through.
Sometimes they can't effectively communicate their disappointment (at having to leave the party) or their sadness at not being heard or having a choice in the matter.
I just acknowledge that he is sad or disappointed then explain why we have to leave, why he can't have another cookie etc. and that is just the way things are.
He can still be sad. We all have emotions to express. Their little selves need to be shown how to deal with them.
We are their teachers.
They will learn from us and how we teach them.
The best lesson I learned in deal with kids was kneeling to their level to see what was wrong expressing interest in the child's feelings.
Then giving an explanation.
The kids learned better from this than any other approach.
They are constantly learning and we are constantly providing them examples to live by.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Grand Forks on

Am I the only one who would have said "Suck it up, Buttercup."? Of course my kids aren't all that sensitive...

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My (just 5 year old) likes to use the phrase "you're a bully" when I ask him to do things he doesn't want to.
A little different, but the same thing. . . I took him aside one day and said, "I don't think you really know what a bully is." so I did my best to explain and then I took the time to tell him that as a mommy it is my job to help him learn to do all these things he needs to know, etc.
I'd try something similar with - "What does it mean to hurt someone's feelings." and that being sad or upset or mad at someone does not mean that soemnone hurt your feelings, etc. However you feel is appropriate.
Pick a time when he is not in a tear or upset. Then the next time he is and says "you hurt my feelings" refer back to the conversation. I know it sounds lofty, but they are smarter than we give them credit for and he will remember the other words you have taught him to express his feelings (mad, upset, frustrated, disapointed, etc).
Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I think your reaction by acknowleding it may be true all the time is feeding the beast. My son did this for a while too and my reaction was "Okay, you can still put your toys in your room with hurt feelings." It stopped after a few times. When I ACTUALLY said something that may have hurt his feelings I would give a proper response, otherwise I moved on and ignored it.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

This reminds me of my granddaughter's Pre-K class, ALL 13 girls and 4 boys were saying this at school to each other and the teacher, and at home to us parents. There was an event at the school that parents attended and the teacher brought it to our attention, that's when we all realized it was happening to us all at home, and she said the children were using it out of context. They had been read some stories about feelings and had come to a collective conclusion that if there was something they didn't like or want to do all they had to say was, "You're hurting my feelings," and were trying to justify their selfish and mean actions by saying it as well. "I took her pencil because she hurt my feelings." "I won't say thank you because he hurt my feelings," etc. The teacher said she was going to talk to them about what they were doing and do some role playing, and that they would be told they had to identify the "feelings" that were hurt if they said it, and suggested we do the same at home to reinforce it.

The first time my granddaughter said it to me, I asked her what feelings I hurt and she looked surprised and said, "What?"
I said, "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, which feelings did I hurt?"
She said, "You were mean to me."
I asked how I was mean and she said because I told her to pick up her toys.
So, I told her that if she thought I was mean I would pick up her toys for her (her face brightened) but that they were going in my room.
She said, "No, they're mine!"
I told her, "But if you think I'm mean then I should be mean and take the toys and keep them."
Something must have clicked because she hung her head and said, "You're not mean."
I asked why she said i was mean and she said because she got mad that she had to pick up her toys and stop playing, aha!
I told her that she could get mad or upset, but that if she was told to do something she had to do it. I told her she could even tell me she was upset, but would still need to do whatever. I told her that the way she feels about things so does everyone else, and that her behavior was rude and hurtful at times and it just wasn't nice to take her feelings out on people. The "You hurt my feelings" comments dwindled to nothing in the next month or so with all the class.

So I'm guessing your son is upset when he doesn't get his way about something, and used that to be rude and not say goodbye to his friends when you'd told him to. I'd talk to him about how he's entitled to his feelings, but he needs to say what feelings he's having, and that he can't use them to be mean or rude to you or anyone else. A good lesson to learn now in life.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

BB, you're putting grown up understanding onto a 4 year old here. He learned the phrase "You hurt my feelings" and uses it to convey what he feels to you. He doesn't yet know how to describe the many nuanced feelings that he has.

Would you rather him say "NO! I'm not going to go to timeout!" Or "I am so mad at you right now that I could spit nails!" Or do you expect him to keep his mouth shut and not tell you any feelings at all, like adults most of the time do when they are really upset with their bosses?

If you approach this like I am describing, you will see that there is nothing wrong with what he is saying. What is the problem, really, is that you don't yet know how to deal with it.

It's your job as mom to teach him how to communicate. You can do it in a kind and loving way, in a tough but loving way, you can laugh about him saying SOMETIMES, or you can be really firm about it. You'll have to choose.

Children DO become willful when they start using their brains instead of just falling in step with adults. Sometimes it's really hard on us. Rather than punish him for it each and every time, try to figure out what is wrong. It's great that he finally was able to tell you that he was sad to leave his friend's house. You did great by explaining that we must be gracious to our host or we don't get invited back.

And THAT'S how you handle "You hurt my feelings!" You say "I'm sorry you feel that way, but you still have to pick up your toys. Let's sing the cleanup song while we clean up!" You validate his feelings first (I'm sorry you feel that way, I understand that you are unhappy, Are you sad about "x", are you mad about "x", etc.) If he keeps it up when he gets older, tell him "You must be tired. Time for some rest in your room." THAT will get him to re-think blaming you for how he feels. But that comes LATER when he is older and CAN speak better about things.

So... this not about you hurting his feelings, mom. Put that away and accept what he is saying as a substitution for him not being able to communicate what's going on in his little mind and heart, for now. Ignore the implications of what he says.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I have a son who is now 5.
He has ALWAYS known himself very well and is very good at expressing his feelings. I let him express his feelings... while at the same time teaching him other ways to cope.
ie: that he can say how he feels, then.... think of another way to feel better. And that it is a choice.
But I always tell him "thank you for telling Mommy how you feel...." (because I want him to always know that he can tell me things), then I suggest to him "well, how can you feel better?" And he will come up with something.

That way, you are teaching a child how to think and come up with problem-solving.

When my son says things like that, I never "argue" about it with him or compete about which word is more correct or not. He's a child.
I let him say his peace, then... I with him, encourage him to come up with alternate ways of feeling better.
And when he tells me I hurt his feelings... I don't take it personally.
But he also does not over-use, saying it, either.

My son as well, will say "you hurt my feelings...." when I scold him.
So that's fine. I will also say "Mommy was sad, when you refused to listen to me.... it was important..." So I reflect back, to him, that the other person can feel that way too... but as a TEAM... we come up with a solution.

Its a phase.
Keep in mind... that your son is 4.5 years old and he is just recognizing his emotions... and is now articulating it. Don't "scold" him for that... but direct him... to other ways of coping. Don't get focused too much on how young kids use the words "always" or "never" all the time. They are not verbal experts yet and not accurate. They are just learning, about what words mean and how to express themselves.

At this age, they DO begin to have more recognition of their "emotions." Emotions are not even fully developed at 3-4 years old, nor are they "mastered" at it yet.
Some adults aren't even mastered at their emotions yet.
So guide him... and teach him about ways to cope and how to then, come up with solutions to feel better.

I am always glad, that my son tells me his feelings. I don't clip his wings about it. Because as he gets older... and a teenager, I want him to always KNOW that he can tell me things and about his feelings, even about vulnerable feelings. And that I am there for him. A "boy"... NEEDS TO KNOW, that they CAN say how they feel to their Mom. So that they don't get all pent-up... like some grown up men can be. And that is not good.

Teach your son, different words/vocabulary... to express his feelings. They do not yet have massive vocabulary skills yet. But if you teach him different words to use to express his feelings, then he will learn that.
I do that with my son. And even at 3 years old, he knew the differences between him feeling "mad" or "irritated" or "frustrated" etc. And he could tell me.

My son and I are close... and it is also because of how he can communicate with me about his "feelings." But it takes teaching them that and the vocabulary for it. Then how to feel better, as well.
My son has a great vocabulary for his age, and so his expression of things, is that much more, pertinent and able.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

It's amazing to think about all the learning that's going on inside their heads at this age! My girl is 3.5 and we're getting into this already (maybe girls are more "in tune" with feelings?)!

Just the other day, her dad got onto her for filling up her pretty new hat with mud--she came in to me almost in tears asking me to please help her fix/clean it. A few hours later, when getting ready for bed, she was fussing at daddy and told him "You hurt my feelings!" He asked her "what did I do?" And she explained "I have FOUR feelings and you hurt ALL of them!" He finally got it out her that she was upset about possibly ruining her new hat and he made her feel worse by getting mad at her about it. But, it was pretty interesting (and funny) to me that she believes that she has FOUR feelings! We are working on the "better words" for our feelings (frustrated, mad, sad, confused, etc)... but it's not exactly an easy concept to explain (or understand)--heck, even as an adult, it's hard for me to understand my feelings sometimes! :)
The one that gets me is when she knows I'm mad (or getting ready to get mad) or telling her to do something she doesn't want to do--and she gives me a huge hug and says "mama, I love you." I hug her back and say "I love you too, and we still need to do xyz." Just tugs at my heartstrings!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

He has learned (maybe at preschool, certainly from you) to let other kids know when they hurt his feelings. At some point didn't you teach him to use his words and express himself that way as the mature thing to do? I think most all of us moms do it: "Instead of crying/hitting your pal Johnny/melting down, use your words, son! If someone has hurt your feelings, tell him so and don't use hands!" It's actually good. But your son has absorbed that it's a catch-all phrase that he thinks applies whenever he doesn't want to do something. He got the message about using words; he doesn't use them in the right context, and seems to think his feelings are "hurt" when in reality he's angry (that you want him to do something he doesn't want to do). He's confusing being mad, or just irritated, with "having my feelings hurt."

I would not overtalk this with a kid his age. I also would be careful not to get into a round of "it hurts my feelings when you say I hurt your feelings" because he's smart, and will take that as far as he can: "It hurts my feelings when you say it hurts your feelings that I say your hurt my feelings..." It could become quite a battle.

Next time he is saying it solely because he is cross that you want him to do something he doesn't want to do, I'd stop everything instantly, get his full attention focused on you, and say to him something like: "I hear you say that I'm hurting your feelings by asking you to do X. I know you don't want to do X right now. So -- what are you feeling? Are you mostly feeling you don't want to do X? Maybe you're a little mad that you have to do something you don't want to do. But we all have to do things we don't want to do sometimes. And that is not a time to say 'You hurt my feelings' when what you really mean is 'I am not happy because I don't want to do X.' Those two things are really different. It's OK to not want to do it --but you have to do it anyway because it will help us (get out the door on time, get the dinner cooked, get the room picked up, whatever)."

Then after that, whenever he uses "You hurt my feelings" in that context, I would say nothing else other than, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to do." And carry on.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

now B B, are you also a mom that gets upset when he states he doesn't love you? because the same applies - he's just trying to rattle your chain. next time he throws a big dramatic scene, walk away. if you must react, state, "sorry it hurts your feelings - but you still have to (do X)". very matter-of-fact. it's a fact of life, it's not personal- and you're making it personal. he's doing it because it upsets you, my dear. stop reacting. if he escalates the tantrum into poor choices, time out or whatever your normal discipline is, just like anything else. quit making it about his "feelings". rules still have to be followed regardless.

***BB, sorry if you took it that way. again, it wasn't personal. it's a fact of life. kids will say what gets to you. once they see it gets to you, they'll keep saying it. he's only 4...give him some time. mine was 5 1/2 the first time he said "well i don't love YOU!" in response to my "i love you." i said, "okay babe" and walked away...and he never said it again. he also only tried the "you hurt my feelings" once or twice...around age four. not being sassy. been there done that. sorry if it hurt your feelings ;)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Him: You hurt my feelings!

You: I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. You also owe me an apology because of xyz. I understand you're sad or mad but that doesn't mean you get to do/say whatever you want.

Don't let him use the excuse of his feelings being hurt to get away with disobeying the rules or being disrespectful.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hurt his feelings? Your son has learned what it takes to ring your chimes.

Ignore that and continue being a good mom. Look at what Sherri G had to say. That works too!

My kids' favorite saying was, "That's not fair" or "You're not fair."

When I figured out the answer, then that nonsense stopped.

Good luck to you and yours.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Just let him know you are not trying to hurt his feelings, but sometimes the truth does hurt, because really what we are feeling is disappointed, frustrated, angry, embarrassed.

Now is the time to help him identify the differences.
You probabky can tell what he is actually feeling.

Leaving the friends house without saying good bye, maybe he was disappointed it was time to leave.

Maybe he was embarrassed because you told him to go back and say good bye in front of the other people..

Maybe he was angry because he sis not get to finish playing..

I always tell my friends.." I never want to hurt your feelings, And if I do, I will give you a warning first. "

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I have a daughter like this, and I think we are close to talking her out of it. I think the best thing to do is along the lines of "I don't think it means what you think it means. Tell me what your feelings are right now, describe those feelings, are you mad, frustrated? Let's name it. Because kiddo, I'm disagreeing with you (or directing or advising you) not hurting your feelings." Whatever you are saying is upsetting to him, you said it, therefore you must be at fault to a 4+year old. Help him see the distinction. it's always never too soon to learn the "I language" of I am feeling a certain way, vs you are doing this or that. Give him the language to use to focus on his emotions and communicate them without blame. He'll get it eventually.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

My daughter will be 5 next month and she does the same thing - I don't even have to raise my voice or speak in sharp tone, but if it's something she doesn't want to hear, she gets all dramatic and will say, "That hurts my feelings!"

"No more TV shows! Time for bed!" - "No! That hurts my feelings!"
"Sorry, no ice cream right before dinner - it's for after dinner if you do a good job." - "But I want ice cream now! You hurt my feelings!"
"It's time to leave the park - we need to get home." - "I don't want to leave! You are hurting my feelings!"

Ugh. I also get a lot of, after I've said no to XYZ, "But the only thing that is going to make me happy is XYZ!" (Well I guess you are just going to be one unhappy little kid!) I just think it's because they don't really know how to better express themselves and maybe they think that saying that will cause you to take pity on them and change your mind. She does a lot of "always" and "never" either ("You never let me have ice cream! I'm never going to get ice cream again!"). For the most part, I just try to ignore it - to me it seems like it is just a phase and the more I try to reason with my daughter, the more apt she is argue back, and it becomes a lost cause. I am just not going to get into a debate with her. Sometimes I will just say, " Well, I am sorry if that hurts your feelings but we still need to (insert unwanted action here)." Or I might acknowledge how I think she is really feeling (sad, frustrated, disappointed, etc.) but the outcome is still not going to change. I do hear it a lot more when she is tired and I figure she's having a harder time coping with whatever is going on that is making her upset. You can be sympathetic up to a point, as I will be, but when it starts to get to be too much (whining, crying, pestering, etc.) I will ask DD if she needs to go to her room to pull herself together - having her spend some time alone in her room is my go-to consequence for continuing to bug me after I've given her an answer, or throwing a fit and crying for no reason. Sometimes if she is super-over-tired, she ends up falling asleep - problem solved!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Yes, I have a 4 1/2 yr old who tells me on a frequent basis that I hurt her feelings when I tell her something she doesn't want to hear or am a bit short with her. She also has started to tell me, "No, I didn't do it" when I ask her to pick something up that may have been knocked over by her (or the dog or me) or to pick up her toys which I know was her doing. I've started telling her that it doesn't matter WHO did it; if I've asked her to pick something up that's the end of story. The other thing she tells me is "you're not my friend anymore!" My standard replay is that makes me very sad because I love her very much, but it is most important for me to be her mom. She also frequently tells me, "You're my best friend!" and "I love you THIS much!" I think they're at an age where they are learning that they can hurt other people's feelings or make other people feel good, and they have to test that control. By the same token, they're learning that other people can hurt their feelings which is sad but also good as a distraction or for some sympathy.

Update: I do take into consideration whether my tone may have been snippy (and would've been acceptable if she used it with me). If I was short with her, I do apologize for speaking harshly which hurt her feelings, but reinforce that we still have to complete what was asked of her.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Awww...does he go to daycare or pre-school? IMO that's where they really absorb the "you hurt my feelings" line. As others have mentioned, it's a good thing but they don't always understand the context at this age and use it as a catch-all for every time things don't go their way. It's important to teach, gradually, that not every upset feeling is a "hurt" feeling. That not wanting to do something, or feeling angry, stubborn, embarrassed etc. is not always caused by other people. That it's OK to just have negative feelings as a reaction to something, but that we still have to do things anyway. In the case of leaving his friend's house, I would have turned it around as "you hurt your friend's feelings when you left without saying good bye."

FWIW it sounds like you're doing a good job with this. My husband and mother have no tolerance for hearing "you hurt my feelings" from little kids, but mine would use it for everything when they were younger:

Adult: "Do you want tuna or peanut butter for lunch?"
Kid: "I want clam chowder"
Adult: "Well we don't have any, what kind of sandwich do you want"
Kid: "Can't you buy some clam chowder?"
Adult: "No"
Kid: "Well you hurt my feelings!" (with pouty face and arms crossed)

Anyway...keep working on helping identify his "real" feelings. This phase passes.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

My dds go to excuse is 'Im scared of it', lol, shes scared of eating her dinner, cleaning her room, wiping her own butt, ect. He has figured out the feelings remark is a way to.get attention. Just ignore it, or do as someone else suggested and just say sorry but you still have to do xyz. I would just turn it around on him, say well it hurts my feelings when you say that, so I guess we're even.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I agree with 1babygirl. I doubt he fully gets what "you're hurting my feelings" really means to an adult. Whenever he says this, I would translate it in your head as him saying, "I'm mad because I'm not getting my way." That might help change your reaction to it -- to understand he's mad, but you're still the boss, and it's your job to set and enforce the rules, and you shouldn't feel bad or guilty about it (if you do).



answers from Orlando on

My daughter is also 4 1/2, and I have been having full on conversations with her since she was 2. The one thing that I always have to remind myself of (and I forget a lot!), is that, she is 4! Because she is so smart, and says things that an older child or adult would say, I have to remind myself, that she doesn't (and can't possibly) comprehend in the same magnitude. I'm sure that your son understands what "feelings" are (as much as a 4 year old could understand), but he must be getting some sort of reaction out of you by saying what he says, that is triggering the constant association. I would try ignoring it, and redirect, or simply acknowledge and redirect. It's a phase, he will soon find something else to annoy you with! Lol... Good luck ;o)

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