Hurtful Words & Talking to Toddlers

No parent gets up in the morning thinking of ways to cut back his child’s self-confidence with ridicule and sarcasm. That’s why I’m always amazed to see parents using hurtful words like “idiot” or “whiner” when talking to their kids – words they’d never allow a stranger to use with their toddler. Often, angry words slip out of our mouths on a momentary impulse . . . perhaps echoing mean names thrown at us long ago. (Can you remember being called names when you were a toddler? Does thinking about them still bring up feelings of anger or hurt?)

Verbal attacks can scar like knives, wiping out a hundred hugs and triggering feelings of worthlessness. An angry or disgusted tone of voice is something that even a 1 year old finds hurtful, but actual “name-calling” becomes increasingly damaging to toddlers around two years of age because middle toddlers are superfocused on words and care a lot about what others think.

Remember, like an ambassador, you are building a long-term relationship. Can you picture a diplomat telling a king, “You’re so stupid!” or “Shut up!”? Diplomats keep a cool head and a respectful tone even when they’re mad, because they know that today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend. So when something your toddler does makes you really upset, skip the yelling and names and instead tell him how his actions made you feel: “You broke my favorite picture frame, and Mommy is mad, mad, mad!”

Fortunately, compliments and kind remarks also live long in our minds. So here are some tips on how to replace mean labels that tear your toddler down with descriptions that build him up. It’s one of the best gifts you can give. Time to play a game I like to call “Reframe That Name!” See if you can replace each of the “labels that hurt” with one of the “descriptions that help”.

Labels that hurt Descriptions that help
Bossy A leader
Defiant Brave
Hyper Energetic, spirited, passionate
Nosy Curious
Picky eater Discerning, knows exactly what he likes
Shy Careful, looks before she leaps
Slowpoke Thoughtful, deliberate
Stubborn Tenacious
Whiny Outspoken

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