What to Say When Your Child Calls You Out on Your Bad Habits

Do you smoke? Are you often late for pick up? Is it really hard for you to stay away from your phone? 

Our children see and feel everything we do, and often even call us out on that. Addressing a situation where your child calls you out on your bad habits can be a challenging yet valuable opportunity for growth and communication within the family if you take their words for what they are: a gift of love and concern. 

It’s essential to approach such moments with openness, humility, and a commitment to fostering a healthy parent-child relationship, rather than falling down the rabbit hole of fear, guilt, and shame. 

Here’s a guide on what to say and how to respond when your child calls you out, along with five alternatives that emphasize active listening, accountability, and positive change for the entire family:

Understanding the Parental Response

Before responding, take a moment for self-reflection. Acknowledge your child’s observation without pushing it away or throwing the ball of guilt back at them. Avoid statements like “And how about you? Are you always on your best behavior?” 

Resist the urge to be defensive. Your child expressing concern about your habits is not an attack but a chance to improve and strengthen your relationship, as long as you consider the feedback as an opportunity for personal growth.

Encourage open communication by expressing gratitude for your child’s honesty. Let them know their input is valuable and contributes to the family’s well-being.

Five Alternatives for Responding:

1. Acknowledge and Validate:

  • Child: “You’re always on your phone and never play with me.”
  • Parent: “Thank you so much for sharing your feelings with me. I hear that my phone use makes you feel neglected, and I totally get it. Let’s find a balance, and I’ll try to spend more quality time with you.”

Acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings sets the stage for collaborative problem-solving, where both you and your child feel seen and heard by each other.

2. Active Listening and Accountability:

  • Child: “You smoke too much, and it’s bad for you.”
  • Parent: “Thank you for bringing this up. I know smoking is not healthy, I appreciate your concern, and I sense the love behind your words. It’s a habit I’m working on changing for both of us.”

By actively listening and taking accountability, you model responsible behavior and teach your child the importance of acknowledging and addressing shortcomings. It doesn’t mean that you will quit smoking, but that you know that you will benefit if you do.

Owning up to our bad habits is a strength, not a weakness. And be the habit whatever it may be, we all have them. 

3. Collaborative Goal-Setting:

  • Child: “You never listen to me.”
  • Parent: “I hear you, and I want to do better. Let’s set a goal together to listen to each other. Your input matters, and we can work on this as a team.”

Collaborative goal-setting involves your child in the process, fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Get a clear understanding of what your child is saying when it is that they don’t feel heard and what they are trying to communicate that often gets missed.  

In these situations, I love setting magic words with my kids, a specific and unrelated word they can say, which I’d immediately respond to in the middle of a conversation. Ilay and I used “avocado” for a while. 

4. Apologize and Commit to Change:

  • Child: “You’re always late to pick me up.”
  • Parent: “I’m so sorry that I’m often late. It’s something I need to improve, and I commit to being more punctual. Your time is important, and I want to respect that.”

Instead of making excuses that won’t do anything to your child’s heart, apologizing and committing to change demonstrates humility and a willingness to prioritize your child’s needs.

Note that if you apologize and commit to change, not making that change will hurt your child’s sense of trust and their feeling of belonging. 

5. Explain and Share Perspectives:

  • Child: “You never buy me anything.”
  • Parent: “Thank you for sharing with me. I do want you to appreciate what you have and have what you appreciate. Let’s talk about budgeting as a family to make better decisions together. It’s important to balance our needs and wants in a way that works in the long run.”

Explaining and sharing your perspectives involves your child in decision-making, fostering financial literacy and responsible spending habits.

Responding to your child calling you out on your bad habits requires a thoughtful and constructive approach. By actively listening, taking accountability, and involving your child in the process of positive change, you address the immediate concern, model valuable life skills, and strengthen your parent-child relationship. 

Embrace these moments as opportunities for growth and connection within the family. Don’t forget to join my community, I’d love to meet you 🙂


Do you smoke? Often late for pick up? Yell too much? Here's what to say when your child calls you out
We all have bad habits, and our children feel them, and see them. This is how to respond when children call us out on our bad habits.

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