Dear Elizabeth,
Sometimes my 6-year old daughter is very rude to me and says hurtful things especially when she has a friend over to play. She is usually a lovely child, and we have a good relationship but she has found things difficult since her mother and I split up a few years ago.
Do you have any suggestions about what I can do? I would appreciate you being very specific because sometimes I can’t find the right words to use.

Dear Michael
Firstly I would plan to have a conversation with your daughter when no one else is around-preferably when she is spending the whole day with you and at a time when she is calm and not rushed.

I would ask her what she would think if one of her good friends spoke to their Dad, the way she spoke to you. Say: ‘I want you to imagine that you are at your best friend’s house and you hear her say these things to her Dad: (Use examples of your daughter’s behaviour when she is being disrespectful or slightly rude). Then ask

  • ‘What would you think of your best friend if she did that?
  • Do you think you would like her more or less?
  • Do you think a parent should help their child to do things that will help them keep their friends?
  • Should a parent point out when a child says something that may make their friends dislike them?

Then you can tell her what she said when her friend came round that was hurtful to you. You may like to break the conversation down as follows:

  1. Empathise
    ‘I don’t think you meant to hurt me. I think you were feeling cross with me and you said something without thinking’
  2. Explain how you felt
    ‘I did feel hurt’
  3. Explain what she did
    ‘It is not polite or kind to say those sort of things in front of your friends, because I can’t talk to you about it, then.’
  4. What could she have done differently?
    ‘If you want to talk about anything, because it is worrying you, you can always talk to me when we are at my house. You can say, ‘Daddy can we have a talk about something that is worrying me?’ And I will always sit down with you and we can talk about it. There are lots of times when we are alone and you can talk to me then if you want to.’
  5. Make your expectations clear
    ‘I don’t expect you say rude things to me again in front of someone else, just because you are feeling angry with me.’
  6. Explain it’s OK to make mistakes
    ‘What you said was a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. I make mistakes too (give her an example of when you made a mistake). What you said hurt my feelings.’
  7. Explain how to repair the damage
    ‘When we make a mistake it’s important to admit it and try to make amends. To do something nice for the other person to make up, or say sorry. After an apology –it is all over, forgive and forget.’
  8. Ask, what could she do?
    ‘How do you think you could make amends for saying that to Daddy?’ (Let her come up with her own ideas such as saying sorry, or drawing you a picture)
  9. Forgive and move on
    After your talk, you can say ‘I’m pleased you have said sorry and now we wipe the slate clean and I won’t keep bringing it up. The most important thing is to learn the lesson and not do it again’.

Help her manage her anger

It may also help if you say, ‘Now, what can you do if you are feeling angry?’ (Explore ways your daughter feels will help when she feels angry. Add a few suggestions of your own: talk about it, draw a picture, take some time to be on your own, play music and dance, run in the garden etc.

Help her with social skills

Solving conflict is an important friendship skill. So, you could also ask, ‘How is it best to behave that will make your friends more likely to want to spend time with you?’ (Get your daughter to come up with ideas & you come up with ideas .. be polite, be thoughtful, take turns, be a good loser, ask them what they would like to do, have some good ideas for games, when you want something ask politely, always talk to people with respect and kindness, etc.)

I do hope that helps and good luck.
Best wishes,

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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