Calling People Names

Dear Dr. Rene,
My four-year-old son has recently started calling other people “bad”. Without any noticable provocation, he’ll emphatically say his one-and-a-half-year-old brother is bad. Or he’ll say, “mommy, you’re bad!” I find this to be upsetting, but I try not to overreact. I can’t seem to come up with a constructive response. Do you have any insight into what the positive intent might be behind these kind of statements? Any suggestions on how to respond?
Mom of two, ages one and four

Dear Kristine,
Name calling and teasing is common in the preschool years. Often children are trying to play or get the other’s attention. In this case, he seems to be testing the power of his words and looking for a reaction.

The first thing I would do is talk to him about how you don’t like to be called “bad” or how his brother feels sad to be talked to that way. At calm times, I would talk about how much people like to be called nice things and how important it is to speak in nice ways. You might, as a small response when he calls people “bad” have him find something nice to say about that person or think of a way to help them feel better. This would be a plenty big reaction.

If he seems frustrated or angry when he says this, I would start coaching him on other words to use when he is upset. Better for him to say, “I’m mad!” than to name call.
Dr. Rene

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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