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Miss Grumpy Toes

Miss Grumpy Toes

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Dear Rachel,

My four-year-old daughter calls herself “Miss Grumpy Toes,” and we all think it fits perfectly! She hates to be told what to do. No matter how reasonable my instructions and requests are, my daughter gets mad. For example, the other day Miss Grumpy Toes was being rough with the baby. Of course, I told her to stop doing what she was doing. She turned around, folded her arms across her chest and marched off, frowning. As she passed by me, she said, “I DON’T LIKE YOU.” This is typical behavior for her. She always tells me she doesn’t like me when I tell her what to do. I have no idea how to handle this. Usually, I just look at her dumbfounded!

What should I do?

Mother of Miss Grumpy Toes

Dear Mother,

At least the youngster is honest. And she seems to have no difficulty in expressing her feelings! However, you are right to be concerned. For two very good reasons, a child is not allowed to say unkind words to a parent. The first reason is G‑d’s command to honor and respect parents. Even a four-year-old has to be prevented from behaving in an insulting or otherwise disrespectful way toward a parent. Allowing a child to be rude to a parent is like TRAINING her to disrespectful; every time the child engages in disrespectful behavior, the “disrespectful wire” grows bigger in her brain. Practice makes perfect, and soon verbal abuse will roll off the tip of her tongue just as surely as a song spins off the tips of the fingers of a seasoned pianist. With repetition, a behavior becomes a trait, and so a child who behaves disrespectfully again and again becomes, Heaven forbid, a disrespectful child. Not cool.

Beyond the injunction to honor one’s parents, the Torah places extreme value on interpersonal relationships. Bottom line, as Hillel said, we are not to do to others that which we don’t want done to us. A child must be helped to acquire this sensitivity, to become compassionate, kind, humble, appreciative and caring. Parents need to inculcate these traits both by their example and by their teachings. Impulsive, arrogant, insensitive, egotistical pre-schoolers (who are, by the way, normal at this point in their development) need to be gently educated (for the next twenty years) until they become more refined. Parents cannot just stand by and wait for their youngsters to mature. In fact, the Talmud explicitly warns parents not to ignore the misbehavior of their youngsters in the hopes that it will vanish on its own. Rather, parents are meant to intervene and do their best to guide the development of their youngsters.

So what should you say when Miss Grumpy Toes defiantly announces, “I DON’T LIKE YOU”? You should take the opportunity to help her build a feeling vocabulary. This is a body of words with which one respectfully, yet honestly, communicates one’s emotions to another person. You do this by naming your daughter’s feelings for her. For example, you can say, “I know you don’t like Mommy to tell you what to do,” or “I know you’re upset with Mommy right now.” That’s ALL you have to say for now. (If the child were older, further teaching could occur AFTER the child had completely calmed down.) Eventually, little Miss Grumpy Toes will be able to say to you (and others), “I don’t like when you to tell me what to do” or “I’m mad at you.” The honest expression of feelings will replace insults, name-calling and other disrespectful ways of conveying negative emotion.

If you would just say, “DON’T SPEAK LIKE THAT TO MOMMY!” or “DON”T BE RUDE TO ME YOUNG LADY!” you would simply be doing exactly what your daughter is doing—speaking hurtfully and disrespectfully when feeling upset. Instead of teaching your daughter how to express her feelings by naming them, instead of helping her feel heard, understood, cared for and respected, you would be alienating the child and harming the relationship. When you name your child’s feelings, you help guide her into her inner world. You help build emotional intelligence, an attribute that allows for greater self-knowledge, increased empathy, improved relationships and better behavior. It will take a lot of patience on your part, because children acquire their wisdom slowly. Still, helping them get started on the road to personal greatness is a parent’s privilege and greatest joy. Keeping the big parenting goal in mind in all the small moments is what makes it all work.

Rachel

Sarah Chana Radcliffe is the author of The Fear Fix, Make Yourself at Home and Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her Daily Parenting Posts.
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Lisa Providence, RI April 3, 2017

Mother of Miss Grumpy Toes, your 4-year-old daughter has serious problems when it comes to dealing with authority. You need to ask your daughter not only WHY she doesn't like you, but also why she hates being told what to do. It could be your words or tone of voice she doesn't like, but there's also the possibility she may have a behavior disorder that requires a doctor's attention.

Whatever the case, she has to learn to respect you and your authority, whether she likes it or not, and call her doctor to ask for expert advice. Reply

Heather Selig Arlington January 28, 2015

Thanks! "Impulsive, arrogant, insensitive, egotistical pre-schoolers". This about sums up my 5 year old daughter. She is very opinionated and can be disrespectful. But I am working on getting her to express her true feelings. I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am at work while she is at school and her dad was gone for the last 9 weeks. But sometimes this patience thing is hard! Thanks for the pep talk Reply

Gwen January 7, 2015

Politely Disagree For the first time I disagree with you. My 4 yo son was a monster when my twin daughters arrived. He was constantly angry and refused to mind me at all. He name called and slammed doors. My beautiful son became destructive and distant. He ruled the house, we walked on egg shells trying not to make him angrier.
Counseling did not help, trying to pacify him did not help. Discipline did. I would firmly tell him he could not act hateful to anyone and send him to his room...his very empty room. He could come out when he was calm and could talk with me about his behavior. It took weeks of consistent firm discipline. I would make sure everyday without exception to spend quality time with just him, crafting, the park, something. If he was rude to me we would stop and head home, or he would go to his room. I would tell him I loved him but he could not treat me mean. I stuck to my guns (lots of tears on my part!) We are best when we are a family unit and not walking on eggs. Reply

r tzfat January 7, 2015

just what I needed to hear right now, while trying to figure out how to manage my grumpy teen better. Reply

Anonymous Broooooklyn January 6, 2015

True love Thank you for this wonderful advice. Please feature Sara Chana Radcliffe more often on this site. She is our favorite parenting coach. My daughter bought her book, How to Raise Children without Raising your Voice. It changed the entire tone in the house and calmed everything down. {That and some homeopathic remedies.} Reply

Bernice Needham London, Ont/Can via chabadwestern.org December 13, 2014

miss grumpy toes Maybe she doesn't like the attention your giving to the new baby, this can be typical not only of children but also of husbands. As women we need to be sure we're spending quality time with the other children in the family. Emma spends more time with the new baby shouts loud and clear here. Little kids don't know how to say what there truly feeling so they just say "I don't like you". They don't know how to teach you want your doing wrong to them." Love covers a multitude of sin". I would try picking up both children and sitting with them in the same chair as much as possible, in this way showing love is a family affair and not just alone with baby. Reply