What to Do When Your Child Hurts Your Feelings

frustrated kid getting mad what to do when your child hurts your feelings Middle Class Dad

By definition, being a parent means sometimes having your kid say mean things to you. So, I’ve started wondering what to do when your child hurts your feelings.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

Kids are going through big hormonal changes & feeling complex feelings. When they hurt your feelings, stay calm, accept their feelings (we don’t have to agree), communicate how it made you feel, & avoid escalating. It’s not always easy to take the high road in the heat of the moment, but we have to be the adult.

As a parent, we have to develop a thick skin and understand that our kids will say things that are mean.

So in this article, we’re walking through all the steps to help us deal with the sadness & frustration of when our kid hurts our feelings.

Let’s get going.

How my daughter hurt my feelings

Last night my 5th-grade daughter and I were set to go to a father-daughter dance. Needless to say, the night didn’t go well and I ended up pretty hurt.

It was our 1st dance together as the 2 previous elementary schools we’d gone to didn’t have them, so I was pretty excited. After all, when she goes off the middle school next year, I don’t think we’ll ever see another one of these. I have only ever done one of these once before when my oldest daughter, now almost 12, was in kindergarten.

So to me, this was a big deal.

She had been back and forth about whether she wanted to go for a few weeks but finally decided that she did want to go. Then came the big night and we went out to a restaurant first.

At the restaurant, she mostly laid her head on the table and moped about how her tummy hurt.

She barely said anything and didn’t eat much and generally looked like her best friend had just died. All the other dads and daughters there looked happy and excited and our table looked like we were headed to a funeral.

I finally asked her (after trying multiple different attempts at conversation) what was wrong and she said she was tired and didn’t want to go to the dance and that Mom (my wife) had pressured her into going. So home we went.

While I did express how disappointed I was, because of the tummy pain, I didn’t want to lay it on too thick.

Miraculously at home though, she acted as if nothing was wrong. She was happy, had lots of energy and seemingly had no more tummy pain. I, on the other hand, went and hid out alone to not show how sad and disappointed I was.

As I wondered what to do when your child hurts your feelings, I decided to write about it.

Why kids do and say things that hurt our feelings?

Kids, especially tweens like my oldest 2 daughters, are going through big emotional and hormonal changes. 

They are starting to feel complex feelings but don’t always have the tools to communicate those feelings effectively. In our case, Jolie (my middle daughter), was probably feeling some, if not all, of the following:

  • Not sure if many of her friends would be at the dance too
  • Thinking a father-daughter dance is for little kids (she’s 10 and the only other one she knows of is my oldest’s one in kinder)
  • Possible embarrassment at my dancing (not without good reason)
  • Stigma from her friends whose parents are divorced (who may have been telling her the dance isn’t cool to hide their own pain)
  • Thinking the dance was lame

Now you and I can say that she should have just said those things if they were true.

But for a hormonally-fueled preteen trying to balance her feelings, doing what she wants to do, and trying to please me, she probably got locked in mental gridlock.

She probably felt trapped and didn’t know what to do.

If she went, and her feelings were right (which probably wouldn’t have been the case) then she would have a bad time. If she were honest, however, she risked hurting my feelings and disappointing her mom and me.

So she froze out of fear, panic, and confusion.

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What do you do when your child says hurtful things?

When our kids say mean things or hurt our feelings, it’s very tempting to lash out.

I recall saying some very mean things to my mom as a teenager.  I didn’t necessarily mean them, I was just angry, confused, and could not fully express myself in a clear, respectful way.

Kids today are no different except that with the huge role technology plays today, we often see the ability to communicate verbally is stunted by the (sometimes) over-reliance of screen technology.

With screens, communication isn’t the only Benefit of Limiting Screentime (click to read on my site), so if that is becoming a problem with your kids, check out my steps on how to get some balance back in your house.

So when faced with a child saying mean things to us, we need to:

  • Stay calm (avoid the urge to lash back or escalate)
  • Accept that they are feeling angry or frustrated (but that doesn’t necessarily mean they meant what they said)
  • Understand that it’s OK for us to feel sadness, anger, or disappointment 
  • Know that we do need to them how they made us feel
  • But as the adult, we can’t just lash out trying to hurt their feelings back
  • Avoid guilt trips (ie: well someday I’ll be dead and you’ll wish you had . . . )

It’s not always easy to take the high road in the heat of the moment. 

But lashing out, name-calling, yelling, or using profanity, trying to hurt their feelings the way they hurt ours only pushes them further into alienation.

It tells them that THIS (how you are behaving) is HOW to communicate in tough situations.

It also further reinforces their own feelings of inadequacy. They may feel like they shouldn’t even try and bother to be “good” or to do the right thing. They may feel they are always destined to fail. Or they may feel like expressing their feelings is a waste of time.

That’s a dangerous place to put a child.

What to say when your child hurts your feelings

So we’ve discussed a lot of things to not do when your child hurts your feelings. But what should we say and do?

First, we have to try and stay calm. Take some deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. The slower your breath, the lower your heart rate will get and you will naturally get more relaxed. Don’t just say the first thing that comes to mind; that will often be retaliatory and vindictive. It’s natural (but wrong) to want to hurt them as they hurt us.

Acknowledge their feelings without trying to “correct” them or judge them. It may not be what they are really feeling, but whether or not it’s really what they are feeling is NOT our place to decide.

I also think that consequences should be for more drastic behaviors and actions rather than just saying or doing something that hurts our feelings. If kids become uncomfortable expressing themselves to us, that can lead to some really bad decisions as they get older.

Kids know we are the boss.  So there’s no reinforce that in this type of conversation. So, avoid pulling rank and just talk to them like you would a friend who hurt your feelings.

In short, if we want them to really hear us, we have to listen to them and speak to them with the kind of respect we want them to use with us (even if they didn’t at that moment).

After all, we are the parent and they are the child. By default, that means it’s our job to help them learn and to not simply get to do what might feel good at the moment.

The crucial role non-verbal cues play in your communication

man with a cap and vest with his arms crossed with a sour expression on his face what to do when your child hurts your feelings Middle Class Dad

In the heat of the moment, parents have to be extremely aware of not only what we are saying, but how we are saying it. So, pay close attention to:

  • The tone of your voice (no sarcasm)
  • Your volume (yelling will only scare them and/or cause them to yell back)
  • Facial expressions
  • Body language (avoid crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, or pointing)
  • How fast you are speaking (hint: it’s probably faster than you think it is)

These cues have a significant impact on how our kids will hear what we say.

The real cost of not taking ownership of our own actions

One of the things that are common with parents is thinking they have to be perfect in the eyes of their child.

So, as a result of that misconception, we sometimes pretend we are perfect or that we don’t make mistakes ourselves. Obviously, like all human beings, we DO make our own share of mistakes. Our kids are smarter than we often give them credit for.

So by pretending we didn’t make that mistake or lose our cool in the heat of the moment, we are literally telling them that it’s OK to not take ownership of our mistakes.

When we send them the message that it’s OK to not own our mistakes or take steps to be responsible for our own actions, choices, and statements, we’re sending kids a dangerous message.

We are telling them it’s OK to hide, lie, or justify doing and saying bad things.

So, as parents, we have to be “real” with our kids. We do also have to be age-appropriate, but the age of the super-mom or super-dad where all mistakes and shortcomings get swept under the rug are gone. That never really worked in the first place.

When I was a boss at Whole Foods Market, I made plenty of mistakes with my employees.

Guess what made (most of) them respect and like me more when I screwed up? Apologizing to them for the mistake. Yes, by taking ownership and apologizing to someone who was technically “below” me, I actually made most of them think more highly of me and more committed to helping me run our store.

The EXACT same thing happens when we are accountable to our kids when we mess up. 

Apologize (without trying to justify or excuse it). Take ownership. There’s no more powerful of a lesson than telling our kids that we need to take ownership when we make mistakes.

The power of acknowledging when your child does something right

If our kids only ever have “real” conversations with us when they are in trouble, that puts them in a tough spot.

So as you work together on parenting and growing together as a family, there WILL be times when they get it right. There will be times when they process their feelings and express them in a positive manner.

Don’t just accept it or feel good about it, acknowledge it!

Praise your kids when you notice them intentionally choosing their words better when they are frustrated. Acknowledge the behavior at the moment so they feel encouraged to do more of it.

Don’t however, just say “good job”. 

We don’t want kids to just do and say the “right” things to win our approval. We want them to do it because of how it makes them feel. When they feel they did or said the right thing, they feel better about themselves. Ultimately self-esteem is built not by teaching them to win our approval but by helping them to feel better about themselves.

How do you deal with an angry disrespectful child?

There’s a big difference between a child who hurts our feelings unintentionally (as with the case of my daughter) and one who routinely is angry and disrespectful.

The root causes, however, can often be the same. Many a parent has heard the phrases “I hate you and I wish you were dead!” or “You are the worst Dad on the planet!”

An angry and disrespectful child has something inside of them that is frustrating and they simply lack the tools to express it or to understand what they are feeling.

So rather than simply punishing them or lashing back, we have to help them (and ourselves) by getting to the real root issue.

Make no mistake, I don’t mean there should be no consequences for bad behavior. But just punishing them doesn’t fix the underlying issue. In many cases, it will only cause them to be craftier in hiding their emotions or bad behavior.

Often anger and outbursts, unlike when just your child hurts your feelings, are a cry for attention.

When we give kids our attention, especially if we lose our cool, we are giving them the attention they want. So, we are encouraging them to do more of it.

To curb the behavior, we have to:

  • Stay calm (leave the room for a moment to collect yourself if necessary)
  • Be firm, fair, and consistent in how and when you discipline
  • Model the behavior with them and your spouse that you want to see in them
  • Let them know clear expectations and consequences (vague is an invitation for confusion and frustration)
  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Try and figure out what the underlying source of frustration is (which may have nothing to do with the current argument)
  • When everyone is calm, talk through the “real” problem

Learning How to Discipline a Child Without Yelling (click to read on my site) isn’t a skill we were necessarily born with. We have to work at it every day.

If you struggle with that, take a moment and review some key tips and steps you can take today to be a better parent tomorrow. Just click the link to read that on my site.

How do you discipline a child who won’t listen?

When a child doesn’t listen to us it means:

  • They don’t feel heard or understood by us
  • They don’t respect us

If they don’t feel like we are really hearing them, they are likely going to get angrier and keep expressing themselves in increasingly inappropriate ways. They won’t listen to us because they don’t feel like we are listening to them. Then the whole situation will just escalate.

To really hear your child, stop that conversation and just say “It feels like I might not be really understanding what you’re going through. I know that’s frustrating and I’m sorry. Can you please explain it to me so I can understand better what you’re going through?”

When a child feels heard they feel safe. When they feel safe and heard, they will be less likely to act out for attention and less likely to say things that hurt your feelings.


What to do if your child is disrespectful

If, however, a child doesn’t respect us, it’s likely because we have failed to set clear boundaries, guidelines, expectations, and consequences.

Or if we have, we haven’t followed through on them and the child has learned the rules are meaningless and they have come to see you as a pushover. Make no mistake, while every kid will fight against boundaries, guidelines, and rules, they desperately need and want them, even if they will never tell you that.

So if you find yourself in the boat where you realize you have been too permissive of a parent or have been too much of a pushover, don’t beat yourself up. 

The past is done, but the future has yet to be written. In the here and now, you can make a change anytime to become the parent you want to be and the one your kids need and deserve.

So start by communicating clear, simple guidelines and boundaries. Make sure your kids know the consequences of not doing those things and then HOLD THEM TO THOSE.

Yes, as with any type of change, they may yell and scream and act out, but don’t cave, even if your child hurts your feelings!

If you are in a public place when this goes down, by all means, leave. It’s never OK to willingly unleash a kid’s bad behavior onto a room of strangers. But stick to your guns and they will come to learn you are serious and respect you more (and act out less).

It will take time if you have spent a long time allowing them to get away with behaving badly and essentially calling their own shots. Be patient. Be kind to yourself and them.

If your child struggles with one or more of the 7 Worst Child Behaviors, check out my easy solutions to get your family’s peace of mind back on track!

How do you teach empathy and kindness?

Empathy and kindness are ultimately what we need more of on our planet.

Empathy is NOT sympathy.

Sympathy involved pity and feeling sorry for someone else. By its very nature that puts us above them. Empathy, on the other hand, is where we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, without judgment. We imagine what it would be like and how we would feel if we experienced what they are experiencing.

The best way to teach kindness and empathy is to model that behavior in ourselves.

We have to show our kids a model of what we expect and want in them (from all walks of life). If our kids see us shutting down and not communicating or saying and doing things that hurt our spouse’s feelings, we are literally programming them to be the same way.

Ask questions. If one of their friends did or said something mean, ask your child what they think their friend was feeling at that moment. If the child has a troubled home life ask your child how they would feel in that situation.

Again, being empathetic towards another’s situation doesn’t excuse bad behavior or mean there aren’t consequences for it.

But it does help us understand what motivates people to do certain things. When we learn and understand the root of people’s behavior, we’re one step closer to helping them rather than simply punishing them and wondering why they don’t start acting better as a result of it.

What to do when your child hurts your feelings? Try being kinder to them and really trying to understand what they are feeling.

How to teach mindfulness to kids

Practicing mindfulness is also a great way to inspire kids to be kinder and more empathetic.

Mindfulness simply is a way of being more present to the moment and the people we are with. It’s being kind to ourselves and others and can give kids the tools to better understand and communicate what they are feeling.

So how do we teach it to our kids?

First, we have to practice it too. After all, you would try and teach your kids how to play guitar if you didn’t at least play a little. So, to authentically teach them mindfulness, you need to practice it too. 

Adding some mediation to your daily routine is a great way to get started, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes.

We also need to, as Tony Robbins says, Trade our expectations for appreciation. In other words, don’t go into anything expecting a certain result. When we place expectations on others we are setting ourselves (and them) up for frustration and disappointment. So, simply appreciate a result when it happens rather than expecting it.

Some simple tools to model and show mindfulness:

  • When you have conversations (with anyone) put your phone down
  • Look people in the eyes
  • Focus on what they are saying, not what you want your response to be
  • Try and feel what they are feeling
  • Breathe slowly in through the nose and out the mouth as you listen and focus
  • Practice being grateful for all they have instead of mostly focusing on what they want

Make no mistake. Mindfulness will not suddenly will your kids to behave perfectly. And it’s not even what to do when your child hurts your feelings, at least not at the moment. 

But it IS part of an overall practice of improving our own behavior which, in turn, will improve their behavior.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about what to do when your child hurts your feelings?

In this post, I walked you through my experience in how I dealt with my middle daughter who really hurt my feelings by not going to a father-daughter dance.

I explored my own feelings of hurt, ego, and pain and how I dealt with it.

As parents, we will all have moments where our child hurts our feelings, does or says mean things, or otherwise disappoints us. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle it.

Parents, like children, aren’t perfect. We learn, we grow, we process, and we communicate. Hopefully, this helps you know what to do when your child hurts your feelings.

If you liked this post, check out my 21 Confidence Building Activities for Kids (click to read on my site). Self-esteem and self-confidence are key components to helping curb bad behavior.

My post walks you some simple, but crucial steps to help impart better self-esteem with your kids.

Jeff Campbell

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