These thoughtful replies to rude comments are helpful without being harsh
It’s going to happen. Your kid will say something out loud (and loudly) about another person/kid, and it’s going to be embarrassing/rude. Your knee-jerk response may be to apologize and put your child in time-out with the hopes they recognize their inappropriate comments were wrong and they shouldn’t do it again. But is that really going to help in the long run?
“The point of discussing a rude comment with your child is to teach them why something is rude and to teach them appropriate morals and values,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast. “This is why being rude back doesn’t help; it teaches them to continue being rude. Explain how what they said was hurtful or disrespectful, and with what is appropriate to say or an appropriate way to behave.”
With that in mind, here are some inappropriate comments that your kid might make, whether on purpose or by accident, and some smart responses you’ll want to have in your back pocket for a teaching moment.
1. “I don’t want to play with those kids. They are weird!”
If your child is at a playground and in the sandbox, you might encourage them to play with the other children—we’ve all been there. But what if your child isn’t interested and verbalizes it? Therapist and life coach Daniel Rinaldi says you can respond by saying:
“I’d like for you to keep an open mind and include everyone when you are playing. Different interests and ways of doing things make the world an interesting place. If you give other people a chance, you might find you have things in common.”
2. You’re at the grocery store; you tell your child they can’t get the sugary cereal, and they say, “Why are you so stupid? I hate you.”
Depending on your child’s age, they might resort to “stupid” and “hate” because they don’t know how to describe exactly how they are feeling. In these situations, clinical social worker and therapist Christina Granahan says you can respond by saying:
“It’s perfectly okay for you to be angry or have other feelings about me saying ‘no’ to you right now, but it is not okay for you to call me names.”
You can add that you will talk more about this at home and you thank them for being patient in the interim.
3. “Why are they so fat?”
As kids begin to see that people come in different shapes and sizes, they may ask out loud, why is that person so fat? According to Jennifer Kelman, LCSW and JustAnswer mental health expert, a simple response to your child is to let them know that you love their curiosity and then educate them. For example:
“Some people are tall, and some are less tall, some people are smaller, and some are larger in size, and that is what is great about people. We are all different and we can learn new things from others.”
Kelman adds that if this question is asked directly to another person, you can let that person know that you are sorry if their feelings have been hurt and that your child is learning about the world and is showing their curious mind.
4. A child says “Get out of my way” to someone in a wheelchair.
Dr. Saltz has a smart reply parents can utilize in a situation where a child disrespects an individual in a wheelchair:
“They are in a wheelchair because they are having some difficulty with walking which is hard for them. We are never unkind or disrespectful in general, but especially to someone who is struggling in some way.”
Additionally, Saltz adds you’ll want to tell your child to apologize and instead ask if they need help, and if they say they don’t, they can simply move around them.
5. A child says to someone with a limb difference, “What happened to your hand? It looks weird.”
“I want to go back to earlier when you said the person’s hand looked weird. Their hand didn’t look like my hand or like your hand—lots of people will look different than you and me. That doesn’t make them good or bad. Sometimes the word ‘weird’ can sound like it’s bad. You can always ask me about things you notice.”
Heitman says the most important part about crafting thoughtful replies to rude comments is to acknowledge your kid’s feelings and intent and then coach them.
6. “Why does your breath smell so bad?”
This question may come up while spending time with a friend or family member. Kelman suggests responding by saying something like the following:
“When we eat, it can leave an odor in our mouth, and this is why we brush our teeth regularly so that our mouth is clean and fresh. Perhaps they haven’t had a moment to brush their teeth after they ate, but it’s not nice to comment on someone’s breath, especially if you are in public.”
Depending on the child’s age, you could tell them that sometimes it may be appropriate to pull the person aside to let them know, but otherwise, it is smarter to be quiet.
7. “Why does Grandpa look so old?”
This type of inappropriate comment is bound to come up when a child sees an adult that looks older than their parents or those they’ve seen before. Kelman says you can say something like:
“Grandpa has lived a long time, and as we get older, we start to look a little older, just like you don’t look the same as when you were a baby. We all grow and change, but it’s not nice to tell someone they look old just like how you don’t like being called a baby.”