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Parenting Tip

Parenting Tip: Little Kids Don’t Do Grey

September 8, 2017

Alice Kaltman, LCSW, founder of Family Matters NY shares a quick tidbit related to parenting and family life. We know you’re pressed for time, so here is a nugget of simple, and hopefully helpful advice (or reassurance!).


Parents of fussy babies are told, it gets easier once kids start talking. With words, kids can tell you what they need, what’s bothering them. No more need to interpret the cadence of cries, the time-lags between squeals. Don’t worry, once your kid has language it will all be easy breezy.

Well…not exactly.

If a parent is lucky, every now and then their kid will express needs clearly and directly. But more often kids exaggerate or even lie. They can be downright mean and nasty. They HATE the food they adored the day before. Their beloved caregiver YELLED at them and called them STUPID. You are the MEANEST parent in the world and they HATE you FOREVER.

Don’t take the bait. Don’t take the ranting and ravings personally. Remember kids are beginners in the art of modulating emotional responses. If you stay detached and observant, you’ll get clues as to what’s really up with your kids.

If your kid says, “I HATE YOU. YOU’RE THE WORST DADDY EVER!” Don’t immediately make it about you, and respond with, “That hurts my feelings.” Don’t be a naysayer who diminishes with, “Don’t say that. That’s a mean thing to say. You don’t really hate me.” Instead try to keep your emotional tone measured. Try beginning with empathetic observation. Something like, “Wow dude, you’re really mad at me,” or “Those are some angry words you’ve got,” will work better than defensiveness or shaming.

Let your kid blow off some steam. Afterwards it should be okay to give your grown up interpretation of their verbal barrage. A toddler’s ‘Hate’ is often a stand-in for Worry, Confusion, Frustration, Sadness, or Loneliness. Offer new vocabulary to match their feelings. Teach them grey area words for complicated emotions. Be the older and wiser one. Let them be heard, even if what they’re saying isn’t quite music to your ears.


alice_headshot_100-1Alice Kaltman, L.C.S.W. has been working with parents and kids since 1988. In 2006, she co-founded Family Matters NY, a parenting coaching service for Brooklyn and Manhattan families, providing support through workshops, referrals, and private sessions. Alice lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn with her daughter and husband. Aside from her articles for ACGIB, Alice’s thoughts on parenting can be found at Babble.com  and on the Family Matters NY website. She also writes novels for kids and short stories for adults. You can follow her on Twitter @AliceKaltman or write to her at info@familymattersny.com