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How can I handle a young child who uses hurtful language?

I know it’s really hard when your precious little guy starts talking like that. But don’t take it personally. He’s just trying out the strength and power that new words have. He sees how much impact they have at school, and wants to "try them on for size" at home.

Talk to him about the meaning you hear underneath the words, not the words themselves. When he cries about his friends saying those things, say, “Yes, it’s hard when friends say mean things. I think your feelings are hurt. We don’t like to say mean things in our family.” But try not to dwell on it. The friendships of preschoolers are notoriously changeable.

If he says those things to you, try not to overreact, but use it as a lesson. “I think you heard your friend talking like that today, but I know you can talk more nicely. If you’re mad, say ‘I’m mad’ instead. Can we try that again?” It’s important that you don’t get emotional about it. Remember that he’s testing out some new phrases. Staying low-key about it -- but setting the limit about what’s allowed (and what’s not allowed) -- will help him to learn how to use his words most effectively (and politely).

Otherwise, you run the risk of putting too much emphasis on those powerful words, and he’ll be tempted to get into a power struggle with you about it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.