When your Child Says: I Hate You!

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When children feel disappointed,  frustrated, angry or a host of other difficult emotions, they may lash out and shout “I HATE YOU!”

That small phrase packs quite the emotional punch – especially the very first time we hear it.

Last summer, while on vacation, my four year old son asked for a toy at a store and I declined to buy it. Promptly “I hate you” came flying my way. I had never heard it from him before and it was quite the surprise.

“I hate you” is often code for something beyond what we are hearing and may actually mean something more like:

  • “you are really not understanding what I need right now.”
  • “you are not listening to me.”
  • “we are totally disconnected right now.”
  • “I feel hurt.”
  • “I have big feelings and don’t know how to explain them.”
  • “I wish you would see things from my perspective.”
  • “what you want and what I need are not in sync.

parenting tools for I Hate you moments

As parents we give so much love, of course hearing “I hate you” can feel really hurtful. It’s tempting to be reactive or dismissive and say things like:

  • “Fine! I hate you too”
  •  “Whatever”
  •  “Nah, you don’t you are just saying that”
  •  “Go ahead, hate me all I want but I’m not cooking you dinner!”
  •  “How dare you say that, go to your room!”
  • “Haha – good one, I’ve been waiting to hear that!”

The problem is none of those words help restore connection or help children learn to deal with overwhelming emotions.

Responding calmly to “I hate you”  isn’t always easy but in that moment, our children really need us to be sensitive, compassionate, loving and empathetic. I remember reading once something that helped me a lot when I heard “I hate you” that first time.  It was something like “When your child hates you, go ahead and have enough love for the both of you.” (I don’t remember which book it was but credit to whatever awesome person came up with that goes here!) My own version is: Conquer hate by being loving enough for both of you.

Luckily, I remembered that on that day and after a few deep breaths I said something like  “Wow you must be really upset right now.”  Tears started flowing and a tiny, shaky voice shared with me “I’m really mad that Jorgy died” (My inlaws dog had passed away that same day and we found out over the telephone) “now you won’t buy me the toy I really like” and more tears came about. The tears I believe were hardly to do with the toy and so much to do with loss and grief… “Sounds like a really tough day?” “YES” he answered huffing and clearly hurting. I asked if he would like a hug and he did. We left the store and there were more tears, more talking about the dog and more hugging.  A few hours later he told me he didn’t hate me but he hated that Jorgy had died.

Some positive ways to respond to “I hate you”:

Say nothing but stay close: your child may have more upset feelings to unload.

Try saying something gentle and understanding:

  •  “you must be really hurting” 
  • “my words weren’t what you wanted to hear”

Reflect what you think is happening:

  •  “I can see that what I said/did/ may have been very upsetting to you.”
  • “I hear you. You hate me right now.”
  • “Ok. You didn’t like what I just said/decided.”

Accept that time to cool off  may be needed:

  • “I want to listen to you when you feel ready to share with me.”
  •  “I’m here for you, when you feel ready.”
  • “I think you want space, so I will go now AND I’m happy to listen to you whenever you want to talk.”

Hearing “I hate you” is not easy and there are no magic words to say back to erase it, but listening, empathizing, connecting and remembering to be loving enough for the both of you can transform things back into a positive opportunity to listen and communicate.

Have you heard the three little words “I HATE YOU?” how did you react?

Peace & Be Well,

Ariadne

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

13 thoughts on “When your Child Says: I Hate You!

  1. My almost 4 yr old daughter has been saying this ALOT lately. It’s usually accompanied by “you’re stupid”. She blurts it out as soon as I or anyone of her sisters says or does anything she doesn’t like. It’s very frustrating. I’m glad I found this article.

  2. my 9yr old has started the comment u dont love me…when i tell him do he just keeps repeating it and he wants to live at dads. dad and i have joint custody 1wk w dad 1wk w mom. he has gotten violent w me and screams things like dont make me angry or ill have to hit u. ice spoken w hia father and he insists tht it doesnt happen there. the kids also state dads said they dont have to live w me and other comments similar so i feel depressed cuz im lost at wat to do. help!

    • Hi CaliocoKitty

      I’m going through something similar with my boy. He just turned seven and he seems to want to be with his dad more. We’re 1 week off, 1 week on as well. And he yells and screams at me and says I hate you and I know he does not talk to his dad like that. I may be a bit harder on him but I”m also the parent that does more for him in the sense of going places, tantalizing his mind and doing things that I think help him grow. Dad is more of a low-key guy that likes to watch a lot of tv. :/ I’m saying all that to say that it’s frustrating to know I do so much and yet I’m the parent that get’s all the crap. Makes me not want to do as much…

      • Kat, thanks for sharing your story. Seven is such an incredible age but it can also be emotionally demanding. It sounds like you are a very attentive mama, don’t forget to take time to yourself to recharge!

  3. My son just turned 4 and has been saying “I don’t like you” when he’s frustrated for some time, But yesterday he started saying “I don’t like you. Die now.” I’ve been reacting calmly and firmly, and I hope it is just a phase. I am acknowledging his frustration, but haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet, and I think he’s partly just tired. Your article is great – so helpful. I definitely have enough love for both and will continue sharing it. Thanks!

  4. My 3 year old said this out of the blue. This article was pretty unhelpful to me unfortunately. I listen, I’m with her all the time and have a lot of patience. Couldn’t help but feel hurt by this. She told me she “wants a different one mommy”.

  5. My 3 yo sometimes comes out with I don’t like you… Usually if upset about being told no to something . I always tell her that I love her, that she may feel like that right now but that I love her no matter what.

    The first couple of times I heard it, it was hard and I remember trying to tell her that had hurt my feelings but this way is much better. It’s taking the comment for what it is, frustration, not really disliking mummy.

    • Nicole, yes as much as it is hard to hear those words, letting our children feel what they need to feel in that moment is really a way for them to move past the feelings and ultimately feel safe that their frustrations can be honored. thanks for sharing your experience!

  6. My son (6) tells me “I hate you” a lot lately. Always because his demands is impossible and I can’t give in. So far, I’ve stayed calm. But what happens when he is 16? Then “I hate you” will not be so easy to shake off.

    • Audrie, it can be hard to hear that “I hate you” sometimes it is helpful to use this as a clue that the relationship between parent and child needs some extra attention. Could you set up a special date with your son, go to a park together to ride bikes or just to run around, it doesn’t have to be anything that costs money, just really time spent together. It’s tempting to worry about the future (part of the parenting thing) but if you could focus on the here and now, cherish your son for who he is and what he is able to do now, try to empathize when he is frustrated, “you really wish you could have …and I really can’t give it to you, if I were you, I’d be upset too. sorry buddy and my answer is no.” Sometimes, just letting them know we actually do understand they are disappointed is enough… you might just be able to build back up a really loving and connected relationship now, well before you get to 16!

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