Is it normal for my child to speak rudely to me when he’s angry?

“Be quiet, Dad. You never let me do anything!”

“I wish Seth’s mom was my mother. She lets him stay up late.”

“You’re not fair! Leave me alone!”

When a child is allowed to spontaneously express his anger, he may say rude, hurtful things without considering his parents’ feelings. In the heat of the moment, he can forget all they do for him. He also may ignore their attempts to reason with him. While one father was telling his daughter why she couldn’t go outside after dinner, she was writing an angry note: “Dear Dad, other kids get to do things they want. I’m so mad at you. I’m never talking to you again.”

Anger at parents is a normal part of growing up. Learning how to express negative feelings in socially acceptable ways takes time. It also takes patience on the part of parents. Yet many parents react harshly to their child’s rudeness: “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” “I don’t want to hear that tone of voice.” If parents overreact toward their child for his disrespectful words, he may learn that feeling angry is bad and that angry thought shouldn’t be spoken. A child who isn’t allowed to show his feelings may never learn to express anger appropriately.

While some parents overreact, others feel helpless when faced with outbursts: “Should we allow this behavior?” “Why does he talk this way?” “Am I setting enough limits?” Many parents grew up with strong restrictions on their speech: “Don’t ever say that again. It’s not nice.” They may be reluctant to impose similar controls on their child’s expressions of anger, yet they feel uncomfortable listening to him say things they would never have said as children.

Your child needs a chance to speak his angry thoughts, but you also need to put limits on how he expresses himself. If certain words or attitudes are unacceptable to you, tell him: “It’s all right for you to be mad at me, but you’ll have to change your tone of voice.” “When you stop name-calling, I’ll be happy to listen to you.” “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.” “You’ll have to find another way to tell me about being angry.” Not only do such statements guide him toward better ways of expressing anger, but they demonstrate a respectful way of communicating that you’d eventually like him to adopt.

If, as often happens, you can’t respond calmly when he’s rude, walk away or get involved in another activity. Save your discussion for later. Eventually his anger will subside, even if he doesn’t get what he originally wanted. His angry words will have helped him release his feelings. And since anger doesn’t feel good for very long, once he has expressed himself he may quickly become friendly again.

As you help him control the way he speaks to you, consider his age; a six- or seven-year-old lacks the communication skills of an eight- or nine-year-old. Also, remember that he is greatly influenced by your behavior. If you expect him to speak respectfully, offer examples. Don’t say, “Get over here this minute!” “Stop acting like a baby.” “Don’t be stupid.” Instead, treat him as you would like him to treat others.

He allows his anger to surface because he trusts you’ll love him in spite of his temper and words. Both he and you desire to live in harmony. With patience, limits, and guidance, he should learn to express most of his feelings appropriately. However, if you become concerned that he can’t control his anger, consider seeking outside help such as a parenting class. The way you treat this issue now will set the tone for communication with your child later during his teenage years.

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