What to Say When Kids Roll Their Eyes

Aug 17, 2020

Kids have every right to get irritated. After all, there are things we do—like barging into their rooms without knocking, interrupting them when they are busy, and barking orders at them—that are legitimately irritating.

But when they roll their eyes or use snarky tones of voices, they are handling their irritations in a way that isn’t productive.

These types of communication are passive aggressive and they fail to communicate exactly why the person is upset. More importantly, they fail to communicate what the person needs in order to feel better.

So instead of allowing your children to wallow in self-righteous victimhood and make you the enemy, teach them to wrap words around their emotions and identify what they need.

Teaching our kids to calmly and politely use words to express their frustrations and identify their needs is one of our most important jobs as parents.

What can we say when kids are rude? Try this …

“You just rolled your eyes at me, so I can tell that you are irritated. The trouble is, I have no idea why. I’d be happy to try to help you with whatever it is you need, if you can express yourself politely.”

This prompts your children to identify their emotions and invites them to think and ask for what they need, which is the essence of emotional intelligence.

Building this skillset will serve your children in every relationship for the rest of their lives.

Beyond that, confronting their behavior head-on allows you to draw boundaries around how they treat you while modeling emotional intelligence yourself.

Here is another thing you can say:

“You are rolling your eyes at me. Instead of rolling your eyes, try saying something like: I’m irritated because you keep barging in here … if that’s what is upsetting you. If you don’t use words, I’m left guessing at what you want, and I will likely guess wrong.”

Or …

“I don’t know if you realize this, but you have been rolling your eyes at me a lot. It doesn’t make me feel good, and you should know that it makes me want to stop spending as much time with you.* What exactly do you need from me that would make our relationship work better for you?”

Sometimes kids just don’t realize that they have the power to hurt their parents. Of course, some of the time, being hurtful is their intention, but one way or another, stating how the relationship makes you feel sets a powerful example.

Tolerating your children’s rudeness is a drag, but how you respond to it can leave a lasting impression.

If you repeat these words often, and follow through by distancing yourself when your children are rude, they will know how to act down the line when they have a relationship with someone who isn’t treating them well.

And this lesson is worth its weight in eye rolls!


*Update: Several readers were concerned about saying, "...it makes me want to stop spending time with you." Be sure to read part two to this blog for clarity on this issue, and for more guidance on dealing with children who are rude.

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