What to Say When Your Child Says “You’re Stupid!”

Knowing what to say when your child says “you’re stupid” is challenging because your feelings might be hurt. It’s essential to respond calmly and remember that your child’s words are not a reflection of you but rather an expression of their unmet needs. Contrary to what you may think, this is not an opportunity to teach your child respect but an opportunity to help them look within. 

Here’s a guide on what to say and how to respond, along with five alternatives that emphasize empathy, assertiveness, and positive reinforcement:

Understanding the Parental Response:

1. Manage Your Emotions:

  • Before responding, take a moment to manage your emotions. Feeling hurt or upset is natural, but responding with anger or defensiveness may escalate the situation. Don’t give your child power over your feelings; remember, it has nothing to do with you. 

2. Avoid Personalizing:

  • Remember that children often say hurtful things out of frustration or anger. In a sense, they try to hurt you so that they won’t feel alone in their pain. Avoid taking the insult personally and focus on addressing the needs behind it.

3. Set Firm Boundaries:

  • Make it clear that disrespectful language is not acceptable in your household. However, only do this after your child’s pain is named, addressed, and understood. Otherwise, it just won’t work. 

Five Alternatives for Responding:

1. Address the Behavior:

  • Child: “You’re stupid!”
  • Parent: “Oh, wow, you must be really mad at me right now to use such words. Did you want me to do x or y differently?”

Once you know the source to your child’s expression, prove them that speaking their needs will always bring a better result than anything else. 

2. Teach Self-Empathy:

  • Child: “You’re so dumb!”
  • Parent: “It sounds like you’re feeling upset right now. I would be upset, too, if <insert what’s relevant> had happened to me. Does it make you feel undervalued?”

Teaching your child self-empathy helps them understand the impact of their feelings upon them while naming them and giving them place and space diminishes that impact and creates a foundation of calm. 

3. Reversed Response:

  • Child: “You’re stupid; you never understand anything!”
  • Parent: “Wow, sounds like <insert what’s relevant> is really hard for you. Do you feel I don’t understand you?”

Very often, children will use words that sound like they’re aimed at us, but they reflect what the child thinks of themselves at that moment. Be brave and explore that with them. 

4. Redirect Behavior:

  • Child: “You’re too stupid to help me with my homework!”
  • Parent: “It’s okay to ask for help when you’re struggling with your homework. Let’s work on it together, and I’ll do my best to support you.”

Redirecting the behavior towards a positive solution helps shift the focus away from insults and back to the actions that help us move foreword.

5. Model Self-Confidence 

  • Child: “You’re stupid; I don’t want to talk to you!”
  • Parent: “I get it; I wouldn’t want to talk to someone if I think they’re stupid. We both know that I’m not stupid, though, right? I’ll be right there when you choose to talk to me.”

 

Words of anger come from your child’s emotional brain when their rational brain is inactive. When you put facts on the table and do so with a smile, you trigger your child’s rational brain back to action and open the door to positive communication when they are ready.  

Knowing what to say when your child says “you’re stupid,” requires patience, assertiveness, and a focus on teaching the child to find the undermined needs that trigger their feelings. 

With your help in teaching empathy, emotional literacy, and emotional coaching, your child will find respectful words from within rather than being triggered to “respect” by fear, guilt, or shame. 

This approach reinforces positive communication, promotes healthier interactions within your family, and teaches valuable communication skills to your child. Embrace these moments as opportunities for growth and learning for both of you 🙂

Want to internalize and go even deeper? Grab your copy of Positive Parenting: Breaking the Cycle of Fear, Guilt, and Shame

And don’t forget to join my parenting support group on Facebook, I’d love to meet you 🙂 

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