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 1st Grader a jerk.

Let me back up.

Bullying makes my blood boil.

A year ago I wrote about my son – then 5 years old – being spit on at school.  It got my wheels turning, how I really need to make an impression on them 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 2 months old, someone’s 2yo 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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  1. says

    Thank GOD. I was afraid this was going to be a touching post about how guilty you felt after blowing up or something. And I was all thinking, “wait. I called my kid a … ummm in our house, swearing is just different K… shithead yesterday. And Monday. And last Friday when he attacked me with a hardboiled egg. I said ‘don’t be a shithead sam’ as I peeled shell out of my hair. I didn’t submit it to #ThingsISaid because without those more than 140 characters of context, it sounds like child abuse. But yeah. Shithead works for us like jerk does for you. I calls what I sees. And yes, mine both have autism. And no, I don’t call shithead all the time. But when it needs saying, I do.

  2. Starr says

    I needed this post today. Sometimes my boys are jerks, and I never had a good way to tell them so until now. Thanks.

  3. says

    That “gentle hands” mom is clearly raising a grade-A jerk! I LOVE the talk you had with your son. You’re a great mom, and a phenomenal writer because you sho nuff sucked me in for the awesome ride on this one!

  4. Michelle D. says

    Few things irritates me more then when parents lets their kids hurt others and do nothing about it. My fiance’s aunt has a son that is the same age as our daughter (4) and she isn’t one to discipline at all. It causes lots of problems. Her son will hit my kid and his mom does nothing. It’s a constant battle. The only thing that comes close to my annoyance for those parents, are the one that don’t stand up for their kids that are the victims of these jerks. I never want my kids to think that it’s ok to let others treat them like that. Thankfully my daughter has a HUGE heart and is always nice and helpful to those around her. (Don’t get me wrong, she has her moments but, they are few and far between.) Unless you mess with one of her friends, then she will tackle you to get back whatever it is you took from her bff. :) Hopefully I get that lucky with my son. Anyway, I LOVE this post! Great job mama.

    • says

      I internally go nuts when parents let their kid hurt mine (or others). Every kid goes through a hitting/kicking/biting stage, but it’s how the parent(s) deals with it that matters more than the stage itself. It can be very telling.
      Thanks for sharing your story – I’m sure with a mom like you, your kids will be fine!

  5. Deidra says

    I also Love the talk you had with your son! And I may need to steal this… My son is having an issue with one of his best and oldest buds at school, the kid is pretty much acting like a Jerk! I feel that the term Bully has gotten thrown around a lot lately, but I think maybe this kid is bullying my son :( my son only wants to be friends so he’s made an effort to apologize to this kid… But I told him if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to apologize for. My son comes home everyday with a sad face and another sad story… My husband and I have been trying for the past few days to leave it up to our son to work it out… He’s 10. But I’m ready to go talk to the mom.. But I don’t want to make it worse for him. Back up my story to a week prior to this… My son was at this boys house with 2-3 other boys, and when I picked him up he was sad and said they were making fun of him, throwing a ball at him and calling him a retard.. I asked him if he said to stop and he said yes… But they didn’t. The one thing that makes my blood boil is someone calling another a retard! So, I turned the car around… I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. And pulled up in front of the two boys who he said were the ones who called him a retard. I had a ” little” conversation with them about calling friends or people in general a retard. I know I shouldn’t have and would have either been better going to the parents or having my son handle it… But Mama Bear came out! I feel that I may have made things worse for him. I want him to be able to stand up for himself and work this out on his own… But the mama in me wants to go kick some 10 yr olds butts and go yell at their moms for allowing this!!! “sigh” sorry for the long post, this has been on my mind for the past week and just trying to figure out how to deal with it.

    • says

      How frustrating.
      When the kid I knew was a school friend hit my son, I emailed his mom in a kind way asking if she knew more to The Story. She then interviewed her son, dug for more info, and it all got worked out.
      I hope your son’s issue works out, too. Best of luck.

  6. Shelly says

    That “gentle hands” thing reminds me of one of my friends that uses “no thank you” with her 2.5 yo. He will come over and strip something out of my kid’s hand (mine is almost 2 and about half his size) and she will say that. It drives me nuts because what is it that you want the kid to do? “No thank you” doesn’t tell the kid what they are doing wrong. When my kid is misbehaving like that, I tell him something like “No, taking that toy from E wasn’t nice and you need to give it back.” Sometimes he looks at me like I’m nuts, but at least it tells him what he did wrong and don’t just leave it at “no thank you”. Sorry… went off on a tangent….

  7. says

    I think I’m going to memorize that. You didn’t CALL him a jerk. You had a conversation about the definition of a jerk and helped him see WHY he shouldn’t DECIDE to act like one.

    Seriously, I think that was very well done!

    Gentle hands? WTF?
    Victoria KP recently posted..The RingMy Profile

  8. says

    I especially like what you said about using “Bully.” It’s used far too often, in my opinion. Being a jerk is exactly what you describe. You are purposely being mean or rude NOW. Bullying is a repeated, definitive occurrence. It’s more than just being a jerk (or some stronger words I would use with adults), and it should be treated differently.

    Thank you.
    Kristin recently posted..Glad I Saw It: Religious Bumper StickerMy Profile

    • says

      I think there’s a lot of shades of grey when it comes to being mean. Being forgetful, selfish, inconsiderate, rude, mean, a jerk, an asshole, a bully… some are a decision, some are an accident, some are repeated deliberate actions. I just want my kids to know the difference.

  9. Laurie says

    I love it. You made sure he understood the meaning of the word, asked if he liked being treated like that – you brought it home to him and made him understand – not an easy thing to do – especially with boys. Thinking about it, I might have gone one more step and asked him if hitting someone after they’d asked you to stop was ‘being a jerk’ – better if he identifies his own behavior rather than you telling him that it’s being a jerk. I am definitely going to file that technique away though – I have a 7 year old grandson who could probably benefit from it!!

  10. Maggie says

    Wonderful! I can’t stand that mamby pamby gentle hands bull crap. Everyone is afraid of offending their kids. Why? They’re kids. My Mom offended the bejeezus out of me when I was growing up and I think it did me nothing but good. Better to be told you’re acting like a jerk by your Mom than to actually act like a jerk to someone who turns around and punches you out. I really can’t stand the sense of entitlement that is being ingrained into kids today. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. If you’re acting like a jerk, you should be told as such. Great job…great piece. Thank you!!

    • says

      “mamby pamby” <– LOL!
      I agree that it’s better to have your Mom/Dad let you know you’re being a jerk before you get punched on the playground for being a jerk. Or, at least, I get to be the one to tell him, so if one day a kid punches him on the playground for being a jerk it just solidifies what I was trying to teach.

  11. Bethany Thies says

    Wonderful. You made it a teaching moment and not a name calling moment. There is a difference. Amazing post.

  12. says

    The best part of this is you talked them through it, not screamed “stop being a jerk, jerk!”

    My kids want everything explained to them. The other days my 7 & 8 year old girls lied about cleaning their room. so I sat them down, calmy explained to them waht lies were and what manipulation was, and at the end of it asked them “if you were me what would you think about the two of you?” without blinking or flinching, my 7-year-old blonde haired blue eyed baby said “that were lying little jerks”. My work was done. the room got cleaned and they didnt even ask to watch tv

    You kick ass Kim….a lot
    Lance recently posted..Karma PoliceMy Profile

  13. says

    When I was a new parent, I had a conversation with my cousin’s wife that really stuck with me. Her kids at the time were young elementary, and she said, “Lots of parents are afraid to come down hard on their kids in public. My kids know if they misbehave, I’m going to come down on them for it.” Her kids are now 8th grade and senior in high school, and wonderful, wonderful boys. I think of this often, cringing and worrying that other parents are going to judge me for being too harsh on my own children, but I grit my teeth and try to follow her example, so they get consistency.

    However, I don’t know that I’ve EVER had the kind of inspired moment you describe. I think I’m going to reread this post a dozen times and commit it to memory. :) You rock.

    • says

      I have no problem reprimanding my kids in public. because if someone actually listens to what I say to them (when it happens), I’m not just yelling at them, I’m explaining something to them. They aren’t just In Trouble.
      Thanks for such kind words & support.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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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