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Verbally Abusive Behaviors from Children

January 26, 2023 Cheryl Wozny

Verbal abuse can come from individuals of any age, including children. Unfortunately, the understanding that kids can be cruel is too common for many parents. So, why do children resort to verbal abuse to handle difficult situations? The answer could be due to learned behaviors or a developmental phase. 

Why Are Kids Verbally Abusive?

Children can be a joy to have around. These youngsters can help you see the world from a different perspective. However, their blunt honesty can sometimes come across as verbal abuse to others. Some kids rely on verbally abusive behaviors for many reasons. 

The motivation behind kids using verbal abuse tactics can include: 

  • Family members exhibit similar behaviors
  • A desire to fit in or impress a peer group
  • Unintentional, hurtful comments 
  • Trying to gain control in a situation wherein they are powerless
  • An underlying health condition

Family Members

If a child grows up in a home environment where verbal abuse is common, they will see this behavior as a typical relationship tactic. As a result, kids will often mimic their parents and caregivers, continuing the cycle of verbal abuse without realizing it.

Peer Group 

Children with low self-esteem or a strong desire to fit in with their peers may resort to verbal abuse of other kids. This type of behavior will often come out when the peer group engages in teasing or bullying, and the child will join in, hoping to be accepted. 

Unintentional Hurtful Comments

Although kids can say cruel things to each other, not every comment is meant as verbal abuse. Each child is unique and will have contrasting ideas of what makes them upset. For example, sometimes a child will comment on their peer, which is considered verbally abusive, although the individual didn't mean it to be that way.

Gaining Control 

Some children who use verbal abuse know how to use it to gain control over a situation where they feel powerless. In many cases, kids will use verbal abuse tactics on their parents and caregivers to test boundaries and try to gain control of a situation.

Underlying Health Condition

Children with underlying health conditions may lash out and verbally abuse others around them. For example, a young child with Tourette syndrome or autism spectrum disorder may blurt out profanities or hurtful comments to other children before realizing their impact. 

Is Your Child Verbally Abusive?

No parent wants to know their child is a bully and intentionally hurts other kids. However, parents like me have received that dreaded phone call from school you don't want. In my situation, I had a child who would blurt out hurtful comments to other children without remorse. 

Unfortunately, my child did not understand how their words could hurt other kids since they didn't feel they were wrong in their comments. In addition, my child was slower to mature and develop empathy than the peer group, making it challenging for them to realize that words can be harmful. 

Although my kid's comments were unintentional, they still created challenges with making and keeping friends. Thankfully, with tools from my therapist and continuous work with my child's teachers, this behavior was a developmental milestone we worked through. 

Not every child who is verbally abusive is intentionally trying to hurt someone. However, if your child exhibits this behavior, you must address the situation and help them realize how wrong it is. You may need to change behaviors at home or seek out a therapist to help, but it's possible for your child to alter their actions. Therefore, by managing verbally abusive tactics in children, you are helping to keep them from growing up into adults who rely on verbal abuse in their relationships.

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2023, January 26). Verbally Abusive Behaviors from Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2023/1/verbally-abusive-behaviors-from-children



Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

February, 28 2023 at 4:13 pm

Hello DM,
I am Cheryl Wozny, author of the Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog at HealthyPlace. Thank you for sharing your account with verbal abuse and children. It can be hard to navigate youngsters as they often don't know how to act and look to adults for guidance.
For me, there was a time when my two older children acted awful to me and I had to limit my communication with them. Thankfully, as they grew and matured, and with some help from a therapist, they realized their behaviors toward me needed to change.
I encourage you to visit our Resources page here: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer… for some ways to find assistance in your region. Even talking to someone can help you process your feelings.
I wish you and your entire family health and wellness through your journey.

DM
February, 22 2023 at 2:20 am

Although I raised my two eldest children with love & respect, they only became verbally & emotionally abusive towards me when my extremely narcissistic mother decided to become more “active” in recruiting them as her allies. I could have never imagined my kids as behaving that way towards me as children & teens, it was only when they became adults that my mother’s influence on them ramped up, after I’d been permanently disabled by a bad car accident. My mother & adult kids seemed to greatly resent my sudden inability to answer their every beck & call as an intractable pain patient with some disabilities. My mother had began treating them as her “allies”. The situations became almost beyond belief for those who’d never heard of or dealt with such behavior before themselves.
I tried not to discuss it, except for with my great therapist, who’d heard my eldest child shrieking at me in a frightening manner, when I called her from his office one time.
He gently explained that my eldest child was no longer safe for me or my youngest child to be around, as she often made up unbelievable stories about me, attempting to make anyone who knew me believe that I was crazy, a drug addict, a monster, or other outrageous lies. She even posted a story on my facebook page depicting me as the most dishonest, abusive, & crazy person ever.
Fortunately I’d known most of my friends for many years, & most expressed having felt very bad for me, knowing that she was “unstrung” for lack of a better word. After she tried to hit me, screaming obscenities in my
face, as my mother sat by, pretending she didn’t see or hear it. My grandchildren, twins, were almost three at the time, & they became hysterical, sobbing uncontrollably & clinging to me as she ramped up her crazed screaming, ranting, & attempts to attack me.
Anyone who didn’t know me might have believed it, yet my daughters friends consoled me about her behavior, making me wonder if they’d already seen her “bad side” for themselves. All of her friends who were around at that time cut ties with her, as she’d began bullying anyone who didn’t bend to her constant demands & crazy accusations.
Its still hard to believe that my children, who I loved & cared about so deeply could have ever turned on me (& their much younger half-sibling), for reasons that defy any understanding or sanity. I’ll always love & miss them, as the people they’d once been, but they did all they could to break me. It finally broke me down when they started seriously verbally abusing their three year old sister for no reason except to hurt me, & both of us.

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