Dear Dr. Heather, I have a 3-year-old son and he is for the most part a good boy. However, he comes home from daycare upset because a friend at school tells him he isn't his friend anymore, or that he doesn't like him. My son takes it very personally and is starting to use phrases like "I'm not your friend" and "I don't like you" to my husband and me. How do we handle this? I tried talking to his teacher at school and she treats it like they are just typical toddlers. I just don't want this behavior to continue or get worse. We try time out, taking toys and TV away, but nothing seems to help.
Hi Stacey, I know it's really hard when your precious little guy starts talking like that. But don't take it personally. He's just trying out the strength and power those new words have. He sees how much impact they have at school, and wants to "try them on for size" at home.
Talk to him about the meaning you hear underneath the words....not the words themselves. When he cries about his friends saying those things, say, yes, it's hard when friends say mean things. I think your feelings are hurt. We don't like to say mean things in our family. But try not to dwell on it...the friendships of preschoolers are notoriously changeable.
If he says those things to YOU, try not to overreact, but use it as a lesson. I think you heard your friend talking like that today, but I know you can talk more nicely. If you're mad, say 'Mommy, I'm mad' instead. Can we try that again? It's important that you don't get emotional about it. Remember that he's testing out some new phrases. Staying low-key about it -- but setting the limit about what's allowed (and what's not allowed) -- will help him to learn how to use his words most effectively (and politely).
Otherwise, you run the risk of putting too much emphasis on those powerful words, and he'll be tempted to get into a power struggle with you about it.
Let me know how that works!