The Day I Called My Kid A Jerk

It was a beautiful, sunny spring day.

The birds were chirping.

We had no place to be.

I was sipping coffee, watching my kids laugh and play in the driveway.

Which made it the perfect opportunity to call my first grader a jerk.

Let me back up.

Bullying makes my blood boil.

A year ago my son—then 5 years old—was being spit on at school. It got my wheels turning about how I really need to make an impression on my kids about how they deserve to be treated and how they need to treat others.

Then a few months ago, we had another situation which at first looked like bullying, but turned out to be an accident and a well-intentioned misunderstanding (not that his sister didn’t want to exact revenge, anyway).

I have since decided that instead of being all Hearts-and-Flowers and Gentle Words, I’m gonna be Real.

True Story: When my daughter was two months old, someone’s two-year-old son started hitting and kicking her as she lay in her bouncy seat, making her scream and cry. The mother (who was within reach of them both) sweetly called out, “Gentle hands…” as I dashed across the room, ripped that kid off my newborn, and pulled her up to safety. The kid wasn’t reprimanded, even though he hurt someone 1/3 his size deliberately. That phrase “Gentle hands” to this day makes me cringe.

My kids are old enough to understand Real. They’re almost 5 & 7 years old.

Now: back to the driveway.

My daughter was riding around, picking up gum balls that fell off the oak trees, and putting them in the back of her Radio Flyer.

Gumballs are like Jerks: Fine from a Distance…

…fine when contained. But NOT fine when unleashed in your driveway. Then? They can hurt you.


My son was following her around, slamming into her not enough to hurt her, but enough to bother her and scare her because she figured that one of these times he would hurt her.

She asked him to stop. She said, “No.” She asked me to intervene. I told him to stop. I told him, “No.”

He ignored us both and did it again.

I put on the breaks. I did not use my friendly voice.

Me: Do you know what the word “jerk” means?

Him: Uhhh….when somebody’s rude and had bad manners?

Me: It’s more than that. A jerk is someone who knows he is disrespecting someone, knows he is being rude, knows he is being mean, and keeps doing it anyway. Do you understand that?

Him: Uh-huh.

Me: Acting Like A Jerk is a choice. Acting Like A Jerk is a decision. Do you think it is a good decision?

Him: Nooooo……

Me: What you were just doing was Acting Like A Jerk. You chose to be mean over and over again to your sister. Do you think that’s nice? A good decision?

Him: Noooo…..

Me: Do you think your sister feels good about you being mean to her on purpose?

Him: No.

Me: Do you like it when people are mean to you?

Him: No.

Me: Then don’t Act Like A Jerk.

Him: Okay. (Turns to his sister) I’m sorry.

I think the word “bully” should be something all kids are familiar with, but not a label that gets bandied about too easily.

I think you can be a kid and make a mistake that hurts someone, but learn from it. Show you’re sorry and you won’t do it again.

I think we need to teach our kids that their behavior is their decision.

If my kid is Acting Like A Jerk, I’m gonna call him (or her) on it. I’m gonna point it out to him right then and there, and make him stop to think about how the person he’s being jerky to feels. Think about how he felt the times he was spit on, knocked down, hit in the face.

He hasn’t Acted Like A Jerk Since.

I hope he thinks about that conversation when he has the choice to Act Like A Jerk when I’m not around.  Or when he sees other kids doing it on the playground, in class, at recess.

And I hope he makes the decision to step in on someone’s behalf that day, just like I did on behalf of his sister.

I hope.

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The day I called my kid a jerk and the conversation we had about bullying that worked | real-life parenting tips for raising good kids

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  1. says

    Yeah, like Jester Queen, I thought this was going one way but you had a point and you taught such a sound, wise lesson. I think it’s the best description of a jerk that I’ve met and you did so right to call him on it. Clearly other parents need to learn some firmer more practical parenting techniques. Besides, I think we’re all taking different things away from this and learning so you’ve reached more people than just your son! :)
    idiosyncratic eye recently posted..Trifexta: Letter of ApologyMy Profile

    • says

      Now this comment just got me all shmoopy. Thank you for telling me that I’m teaching more than just my kid, I’m helping more than my own 2. That means a lot.
      And here I thought I might get reamed for being so honest about saying what I did to him. Sigh. You all get me.

  2. says

    Thank you so much, Kim. I read and commented yesterday, but last night my six year old was complaining about the toddler’s behavior. I used your discussion about what a jerk is and how sometimes people choose to be jerks to get him to understand that some toddler behavior is innocence and some is acting like a jerk. He totally got it, which is AWESOME because the six year old is the one who is going to need the “stop choosing to act like a jerk” talk soon. Daily, probably.
    Yay for you, yay for blogs, and yay for me choosing the right parents to read!
    Naptimewriting recently posted..oooooh, bitesized awesomesauceMy Profile

  3. says

    Gentle hands?! GENTLE HANDS?! I would’ve put my gentle hands all over that 2 year old in a not-so-gentle way. Okay, outrage over, back to the story. I’ve told my 6 year old he was acting like a jerk before…because he was. I tried to emphasize the distinction between saying he’s acting like a jerk and actually calling him a jerk which I think was just one of my lawyerly technicalities to make myself feel better. He didn’t understand the distinction but I think he got the point. Again, gentle hands?!
    Jennifer – Treading Water in the Kiddie Pool recently posted..ApologiesMy Profile

  4. says

    The good news is that your kid is less of a jerk than mine. (This is only good news for you, not me.) I’ve tried this exact tactic with L but he answers that he does in fact like it when people are mean to him, that it makes him feel good, etc. In other words, he keeps acting like a jerk.

  5. says

    Good grief, you got a LOT of responses to this! I’m just seeing this now. So, on calling your kid a jerky, totally appropriate the way you did it. Like you, I don’t tolerate that behavior in my kids. Whatever you gotta do to make them get it, do it (within reason, of course), go for it. Plus, you were more saying that his behavior was jerky.

    I had a similar incident with my 9-year old just this morning. He accidentally hurt a girl just before spring break. I told him that when he sees her today he should ask her how she’s feeling and apologize (again). We hadn’t seen her since she left the playground that day in tears (though we did call her over break). He sort of grunted. I told him that someone who doesn’t apologize when they do something wrong (particularly when it hurts another person) is mean. He said, “Mom, you just called me mean!” I said, “no, I said if you don’t ask her how she’s feeling and say you’re sorry then you would be mean. But since I know you will do those things, you are not mean.” Let’s hope he follows through.

    I feel strongly about teaching my kids about the right and wrong ways to treat people! It’s been on my mind a lot lately and in fact I just wrote a post about it last night. It’s so hard to raise them to do the right thing. I mean, they are kids. But we have to keep trying and trying until they get it!!!

    Your kid is not a jerk, nor are you for calling him that. You are an excellent mother for calling him out on his behavior. Not enough people do that these days!!!

    Okay, I’m fired up. can you tell. I’m done ranting now.
    Steph at The Healthy Mom recently posted..Say “excuse me” when your burp!My Profile

    • says

      I love it when you rant.
      Because we all have stories like this. I know we talked about this, but I thought people might curse me out for telling my almost 7yo he was acting like a Jerk. But you and others are doing the same thing, feel the same way, are opening up to me and sharing important stuff. Which is awesome.

  6. Noey says

    I’m just now catching up on some of your back posts, so I’m sorry this is posted so long after you wrote and posted this! But I just had to say Good Job to you! You didn’t call your kid a jerk. You made him think about why Acting Like A Jerk is a bad choice. Totally different and totally spot on.

    Also, gentle hands by backside! More like “Don’t hit the baby! You’re bigger and will hurt the baby!” while pulling the offending hitter away! I’m so tired of wimpy parenting. You CAN discipline a child without being abusive. It’s not hard!

  7. Amy Mullen says

    I just read this whole thing to my 9 yr old because you explained “jerk” so well. He can be quite jerky to me and his three little sisters. I told him he was being a jerk. Googled “my son is a jerk” (did I really do that? Lol!) and found this!! I love it!! Thank you for your honesty and for being so real. It helps moms when other moms are honest.

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