When you’re a new mom gazing down at your precious bundle of joy you never imagine the day when your little darling will stand in front of you screaming the words “I hate you”. It’s a knife through the heart when it happens. And unfortunately, it will happen to most of us. So as the parent, how should you respond? Here are some tips for surviving this dreaded phrase from your child.

It Didn’t Happen How I Thought

In the back of my mind, I always knew the day would come. I just pictured it differently. I thought when my daughter was older, maybe thirteen or so. Going through teenage hormonal drama, we might have a fight that ended in “I hate you” from her.

Instead, my daughter was five. And frankly, a pretty volatile kid. A kid who gets passionately angry when anything doesn’t go her way. To be honest, I’ve heard the distressing phrase, “I hate you” from her more than once. Here is how I’ve learned to respond.

It’s Not About Love

There is no question that having your child scream “I hate you” at you is distressing. You may be wondering if it’s true. Or if you’ve failed them somehow in terms of making them feel loved and loving towards you as their parents. Or you may just think your kid is being a brat. I guess it depends on how personally you take it.

The good news is, your child loves you. Probably more than anything else in their little world. The bad news is, your child is very, very angry at you.

Or maybe that’s not bad news. Sometimes we have to do things our kids don’t like. Things that make them angry. Maybe angry enough to say they hate us. Sometimes being a parent sucks. No surprises there.

Why Do They Say I Hate You?

For some kids, especially the very young, their ability to verbally express their feelings is limited. Instead of saying, “I’m so angry you won’t let me have a treat!” They just say, “I hate you.”

As kids get older, they learn more words. They also learn how powerful words can be. Which means they learn to use them as weapons. Is mom or dad not giving them what they want? They know just how to hurt you. So, “I hate you” becomes a way to be hurtful when they’re feeling angry or frustrated with you.

In either case, the bottom line is it’s not personal. They don’t really hate you. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt you to hear it.

How Should You Respond?

1. Stay Calm

Honestly, I sometimes fail at this. I have trouble not getting emotional and matching my kid angry voice for angry voice when an issue comes up. But I’m working on it. If you can stay calm in any discipline situation I can pretty much guarantee you will handle it better.

This is where it helps to understand why your child is saying “I hate you”. And that it isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as a personal attack.

2. Say I Love You

When my daughter says “I hate you” I often respond with something along the lines of “That’s OK. I love you enough for both of us.” For other ideas for an immediate response, I love this list from CafeMom on the best comebacks when your child says “I hate you”

If you say this calmly enough it can have a surprisingly quieting effect on an angry child. But it’s not a fix-all. You’ll want to address your child’s method of dealing with their anger.

3. Help Them Find the Words

If your child is saying “I hate you” when they feel angry it’s a good time to teach them better ways to express their angry feelings.

You can try giving them the right words. Some good phrases might be:

“It sounds like you’re really angry with me”

“You must be really mad right now.”

“It sounds like you don’t like what mom and dad decided.”

Paraphrase what you think your child wants to express without using “I hate you”.

4. Provide a Correction

Even with the understanding that you shouldn’t take this personally, you also don’t have to let the “I hate you” stand uncorrected. Once you empathize and help your child express themselves and calm down, you need to let them know what they said is not ok.

I hate when my kid says “I hate you”. I’m sure you do too. And it’s something I want her to know is not acceptable. Once your child has had a chance to calm down, have a separate conversation about what words are and are not used in your house. You might try, “I know you were angry, but we don’t use that word in our family.” And express to them how hurtful that phrase is and why we don’t use it. 

No parent wants to be on the receiving end of the dreaded “I hate you”. But the truth is most of us will have to deal with it at some point. I was surprised at how early it came up. If you’re dealing with this issue in an older child, I encourage you to read this Age by Age Guide to Dealing with I Hate You.

The Bottom Line

Your child is normal. Saying “I hate you” to a parent is normal. And you can handle it. With these tips and your expert knowledge of your own kid and what they’re really trying to say. You’ve got this!

 

Has your child ever said, “I hate you”? How did you handle it?

 

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