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Five things you should do when kids say, “I hate you!”

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“I hate you!” It’s a phrase that sometimes gets hurled at loving parents from children who are angry or throwing a tantrum. It hurts when kids say, “I hate you!” Although it’s possible that some lucky parents escape the hurt of this phrase, I haven’t. My son usually says it when he doesn’t get his way, or when he’s tired and hangry. In some cases, it’s accompanied by screaming and throwing things. Every time it happens, my gut reaction is to yell back sarcastically, “And I love you too!” It’s not really the best way to parent a six-year-old throwing a tantrum.

For the longest time, I worried about what this meant. Did my son really hate me and I the only one whose child screams such mean things to me? It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’m not. So, if you hear this on a regular basis, take heart. Knowing why your child is being mean, and what to do next can help calm the situation and ease hurt feelings.

Why Kids say “I Hate you!”

If there is one thing that I’ve learned as a mother, it’s that you can’t always expect your child to act like an adult. Unfortunately, children don’t often know how to verbalize what they are feeling. The simple phrase, “I hate you!” probably means, “I tired, sad, or frustrated.” It could also mean, “I don’t feel like I have enough control over my life and my choices.”

The phrase, “I hate you” is more about your child not being able to adequately express themselves, and less about their actual hate for you. If you’ve reacted poorly to this phrase in the past, your child noticed. They may also be using it to get your attention.

How to respond when kids say, “I hate you”

The moment your child starts yelling or being mean, it’s tempting to respond in kind. I have had my fair share of bad days when I have yelled back. So, you can trust me when I tell you, don’t do it. It never turns out well. Instead of working through whatever is going on with my kids, I end up in a yelling match with someone that needs me to be loving and kind. Use the following tips to help you respond appropriately when kids say, “I hate you!”

screaming girl and her mother

1. Don’t take it personally when kids say, “I hate you!”

I know. It feels personal when kids say, “I hate you!” But, it’s not. It’s just your child’s way of expressing difficult emotions. Take a deep breath. Center yourself. View this as your child struggling rather than them actually hating you. It’ll help you not to overreact.

2. Skip punishments

When we’ve been hurt, it’s tempting to enforce big punishments. Grounding. Taking away privileges. Instead of punishing your child for saying something mean like this, try simply telling your child how you feel when they say mean things to you. Your child is much more likely to talk about what is bothering them later if you don’t heap more hurt feelings on the situation.

3. Listen for clues and rephrase for context

When your ten-year-old blurts out, “I hate you!” It will almost always be followed with a modifier like, “I hate you, you never let me do anything!” That modifier can tell you what is really going on if you are listening. Your sweet baby (even the more grown-up variety) doesn’t hate you. Even if the modifier doesn’t come, you can always try to rephrase what you think is happening. For example, “It sounds like you are upset because I won’t let you go to the sleepover at your friend’s house.” Even if that isn’t exactly what is bothering them, it may prompt them into a discussion.

grumpy little girl

4. Set Ground rules

You can’t always control what your child says to you. But, you should set some basic ground rules for when your child is mad. During times when your child is calm, discuss how it’s never okay to hurt someone or break things while angry. These limits can help both of you stay safe when emotions are high.

5. Give them time

I don’t know about you, but when I’m upset, I need time to calm down. Don’t expect your son or daughter to want to talk or work things out immediately. Take your own time out, and come together again to help them work through their emotions. Both of you will appreciate the extra pause, and you’ll be ready to work through whatever is distressing or frustrating your child.

Don’t let high emotions rule when kids say, “I hate you!” Take a minute to breathe, understand where your child is coming from, and listen carefully for clues on how to help them sort out their frustration and sadness.

How do you respond when kids say, “I hate you!”?

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