A couple of recent posts (this one in particular) reminded me of this question, which I haven't seen asked. (I searched, too.) I've dealt with it a few different ways myself, which I'm not happy about, because I think one of the keys to dealing with it properly is to deal with it the same way every time, thereby making this kid's tactic uninteresting and not useful, so they don't keep doing it.

I would love to see a few really good answers... By preference, things that actually worked (as opposed to theoretical advice) to get your child (or children you have taught or looked after) to either stop saying this (because they find it doesn't get them what they want) or to take the sting out of it for both of you (it hurts both parent and child when the child says mean things to the parent). And it would be interesting to know the age at which your kid started saying it and the age at which they stopped (or if they stopped), partly because different ages call for different responses.

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    Remember, we don't let them drive, vote, sign contracts, etc., because we don't think very highly of their judgement just yet. They think you're "mean" because you're not giving them what they want. What they want may not be what they need.
    – Marc
    Jan 4, 2014 at 4:16
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    Does that mean "Yes, I am." isn't an appropriate response? :) Jan 5, 2014 at 15:37
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    @JamesSnell: Actually, that is what I tell my kids when they tell me I'm mean. They very rarely tell me I'm mean.
    – Meg Coates
    Jan 5, 2014 at 19:28
  • I have a work friend who also says this, very cheerfully, whenever she gets this, but I've never seen her with her kids, so I can't tell whether I like it or not. By which I mean: for her kids; I know it doesn't fit my daughter's personality. (I thought it sounded cool, so I tried it, and she asked, with tears in her eyes, "Why would you want to be mean to me?" I thought "Good question" and apologized, backtracked, and tried something else. But I can see it might fit some other parent-kid personality combination. Jan 6, 2014 at 4:58
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    My mother used to say "I know! Now pick your lip up off the floor" :D
    – major-mann
    Jan 16, 2014 at 14:28

8 Answers 8


I've heard that one! My response was always, "Mmm." In one small sound I conveyed that I had heard them, I wasn't going to argue with them (they are entitled to their opinion after all), and I was not changing my mind about whatever it was they were unhappy about.

"You're mean!" is a child telling you he is angry and that he disagrees with you. He is using inflammatory language that is designed to upset you, to engage you in defense, to divert you, or to get you to change your mind. If you engage (even by explaining your reasons), the tactic has worked and he will continue to employ it.


I have had my own daughter tell me this as well as a few of the kids I have either cared for or taught in a classroom over the years. While it is rude of them to say, and could be hurtful to the adult, the first thing is to remind oneself from whence the comment is coming - a disgruntled child angry at being corrected or not getting his or her way. They rarely really feel that way over-all (even the adolescents who usually use stronger language to essentially say the same thing).

The way I dealt with it was to say, in the moment, "You have a right to think that and I understand you are frustrated. It is my job to teach you . . . " fill in the end with whatever is most appropriate for the situation . . . "to pick up your messes - so, you still need to pick up the blocks before we can get out the sand table"

Later, after the anger had passed, I would say, "you know it hurt my feelings a little when you said I was mean. Do you still think I was mean?" Then, I allow the child to say whatever they need to, paraphrase it and then say, "Since my job is to teach you the right things to do and how to. . . I don't think I was mean. But I do understand you were frustrated and didn't like that you had to . . . Is there another way you can tell me you are frustrated about something next time you are feeling that way?"

It worked pretty well - I've only ever had one toddler tell me I was mean more than once - come to think of it, I never had to have that particular conversation with an adolescent (in more grown-up terms) more than once (surprising though that is - even to me).


My child will turn 3 in April and hasn't said this exactly yet to me but she will have an emotional outburst out of anger and will shout, "I'm angry!" or "I'm frustrated" when she is frustrated. This is a result of us defining our emotions when the parents feel it themselves. When I feel frustrated, I say aloud, "I'm feeling frustrated" to get me to calm down and to define the feeling for her so she knows what it can look like and what might provoke a person to feel that way. We also define positive emotions (proud, happy, excited).

We have always taken the approach of talking about our feelings so I ask her why she feels angry to learn her reason or a recap to dig further. I do not disagree and say, "that shouldn't make you angry" or "I don't think I'm mean." I think that is invalidating their feelings.

My daughter watched Disney's Brave and the daughter says to the mom, "You're a beast!" so she was saying that to me for a bit. I knew it was in jest and knew where it came from. But I would still respond with, "Oh yes Merida said that to her mom because she was angry with her. It really hurt the Queen to hear that. Merida should have talked to her mom about it instead of running away." She stopped saying it when she forgot about it and we haven't seen the movie for a long time now to remind her.

We also have a zero tolerance for tantrums. We do not entertain any requests if she is throwing a tantrum. We ask her to calm down and to ask again. When she is calm we listen. There is of course the difference of noticing when a child feels slighted and a tantrum from being spoiled from something. Absolutely consistency is key. Many times they do something repetitively to see if they get the same response (just like dropping things from the high chair) :)

EDIT: Also, I had read something before about not bothering to reason with children under 7 but I always gave a reason. Since she was a baby I would say that the #1 rule was she was safe and #2 was she was having fun. So when she cried (and was not yet expressing her emotion at that point to add feeling to the crying), I would just ask, "what's number one?" and she would say "Sydney's safe." So she knew it was out of love and not me trying to spoil her fun. This has worked very well for us to shorten crying bouts. And I followed with a reason as well, "it's dangerous" or "when your legs get longer, that will be something to try". Now she is becoming a stiff negotiator.

  • I like your edit. That is a really good idea. If you can get them to understand why you are not letting them/making them do something enough to say it out loud and recognize it themselves it almost leaves no room for a tantrum. Aug 9, 2017 at 4:19

I corrected the accusation "you're mean!", because it's not an accurate statement.

It would be mean to stop you doing that just to upset you. You know that isn't my reason.

Other times, I provided a form of agreement and support, typically to something like "that's not fair!"

I know, you want to X.

And then the hardest thing, not adding "but you can't because Y." Just sharing their disappointment.

I pretty much never heard this from my own kids. I never used any of the forms of discipline that encourage parents to act as though they don't care when the kids are upset, or tell the kids that they have chosen a timeout or the like. My kids didn't always agree with the rules or the decisions made by the adults, but they knew and know that they weren't made without thinking of their feelings or in deliberate opposition to their feelings, which is what I think "you're mean!" is all about.

  • as you like... its just that it was my favorite answer, but it took me a long time to parse it, so I wondered if everybody else was also puzzled which was why it didn't get votes
    – user6365
    Jan 16, 2014 at 17:39
  • seems to be working!
    – user6365
    Jan 17, 2014 at 2:18

Whenever my three year old says something negative like that ("you're a mean mama" "I hate you" "I don't want to play with you" - none of which happen very often) I always respond with, "well, I love you, and I'm sorry you feel that way, but it's ok for you to feel however you feel. You still have to x." He always drops the mean language immediately.


Kids have this great intuition for finding their parents’ exposed nerves and deliberately prodding them. If a child is chronically telling parents “you’re mean” I would take that as a sign that he or she has learned that it’s an easy way to get an emotional reaction from them, even if it’s an angry one. (“I can’t get the second scoop of ice cream that I want and deserve, but at least I can feel powerful by pissing off this person who is twice my size.”)

My preferred response to this kind of taunt is to calmly say “Yes, when you grow up, you can tell your therapist all about what awful parents you had” and then move on.


I correct them. I am kind and as patient as I can be, but I do correct it.

I might say something like "When we are upset, is it okay to say unkind things to others? Do you want unkind things said to you when other people get upset?" I also wait between questions of course for responses & we work through the thoughts. "Would it be okay with you every time I didn't like what you were doing if I insulted you?" I also explain that I understand the intention of what they said was to try to hurt my feelings. We talk about what underlies that. They are angry most likely obviously, but anger comes from hurt or frustration always. So we discuss which one it is, and how we can better share how we are feeling without resorting to lashing out. Most importantly I do not react angry or hurt. They are little. They are not going to be given the power, by me, to elicit anger or hurt at will like that. My staying calm & clear & using it as a time to teach while letting them know I am unaffected, I also let them know they do not control my feelings. I do. So they are less likely to try to employ that tactic in the future and we can use that to reinforce in them. that they too are in control of their feelings and their reactions.


What I've found as a parent is that sometimes my children perceive me as mean when I'm setting appropriate boundaries for their own good, and sometimes they perceive me as mean because I really am being mean.

I think the important thing is not your child's reaction, but knowing for yourself why you are doing what you are doing. If you are acting out of love, in the child's best interest, and can justify why you are making the choices you are making, then it's OK if the child doesn't always perceive that in the moment. No one likes to be checked, and children will often push back against even the most reasonable instruction. You can't let everything they say to you throw you into a crisis. If you know you're in the right, then hearing "you're mean" won't bother you, and if it doesn't bother you, you'll either quit hearing it, or quit paying attention.

On the other hand, if you really are acting out of anger, or in a power struggle, or because of hurt feelings or perceived lack of respect --and I think we've all been there --then it can be a good opportunity to reevaluate and maybe change your response.

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