advice on kids arguing back and bad friends


Written by The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital







Q: My 10-year-old son tells me at least once a week that he hates me. It’s always in the heat of an argument, but it really upsets me. What’s the best way to get him to stop saying this?


A: Nothing wounds a parent more deeply than hearing, “I hate you!” from your own child. After all, don’t we show our love to our children daily, through acts great and small? The demands of the position are endless. Expressing hate toward us feels like the ultimate ingratitude, not to mention disrespect.


Some behaviors, however, are not to be taken too personally. By age 10, children have developed more self-control than they had in early elementary school, but they still may be overwhelmed by strong emotions (especially with the onset of puberty). Also, as children grow, they struggle off and on with competing drives to feel connected to Mom and Dad while asserting some independence and identifying some individual differences from the family.


You can help your son learn to express himself in a more respectful and articulate manner. Part of the way we teach respect is through modeling, so don’t allow his outbursts to trigger one of your own. Children need adults to remain as calm as possible, rather than escalate the situation through yelling, lecturing, sarcasm, or knee-jerk punishment.


Point out to your son what he seems to be feeling (“You are really mad about not being allowed to go to your friend’s house this afternoon.”). Then, guide him to find more effective ways to communicate (“I want you to use better words to let me know you’re disappointed.”). If he complies, then you can do some problem-solving together or just let him know that you’re sorry he is upset. If he continues his outburst you can either disengage from any potential power struggle by simply walking away or you can send him to his room for a “cooling off” period. When he’s calmer you should discuss what words/phrases/tone is acceptable communication in your household and let him know you are willing to discuss his opinions as long as he is respectful.


It’s important not to give the expression “I hate you” too much power by overreacting, or by giving in because you feel upset by your child’s distress. If you’ve set a clear limit, don’t allow your child’s tantrum to change your mind. On the other hand, especially if you are going through a trying period with your son, avoid a struggle, stay calm, and remember to look for plenty of opportunities for positive interactions, as well.


Q: I can’t stand my first-grader’s best friend. She bosses my daughter around, and even back talks to me. How can I “break up” the friendship?


A: By first grade most children’s friends have become very important to them. This development may come as a surprise to parents who are concerned that peer influence (especially that which is negative) begins this early. Six and seven year olds are starting to establish and enforce the rules of their games built around shared interests. Children learn a lot from the social interaction with their peers in the give-and-take that occurs during play at this age.


To the dismay of parents, children are often fascinated by friends who test the limits established by their caregivers. If you allow your daughter’s friend to continue playing at your house, you should be clear about what your house rules are (“In our house we walk inside and only run outside”), and be kind but firm when enforcing them. Keep play dates fairly brief, and change the activity if there is too much conflict between the children. Talk to your daughter about what social behaviors are acceptable, which aren’t, and how negative behaviors can make play dates less fair and fun. Ask her how she feels when her friend is bossy. You might also coach her on how to be appropriately assertive, to let her friend know when she wants a turn or has a suggestion about what they play.


While you can certainly decide whom you invite to your home, it is much harder, if not impossible, to dictate with whom your daughter plays at school. You can ask her teacher for her opinion on your daughter’s social interactions. He or she may be able to recommend other classmates that she might enjoy seeing outside of school.


Finally, try not to worry too much; children this age are “trying on” friendships to learn what they value in a friend. Your daughter’s friend’s bossiness may eventually annoy her enough that she loses interest in the friendship without much intervention.

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