It’s hard for a mother to imagine. That sweet, angel child that she rocked to sleep as an infant might someday say those three words that sting worse than any others: I hate you. Wait, what? “My kid hates me?” you wonder. The one who needed mama to slay the monsters under the bed, tie his shoes or brush her hair will someday say those words to the person who loves them unconditionally. However, they rarely actually mean it and the parents’ reactions to these words set the tone for the child’s long-term reaction.
Kristin Hardy, a counselor at the Trinity Christian Counseling Center in Mount Clemens, says parents need to remember that they aren’t always supposed to be liked by their children – that’s part of parenting.
The words could come at any age. Small children who want a cookie for dinner and are denied might claim to hate their moms or dads. Older children, overtired or stressed from the day might use the words out of frustration. Tweens and teens confused about their emotions might respond to a parent or another safe person in their life with these hurtful words.
How parents should react
“First, don’t take it personally. It is not about you at the moment. It is about the child trying to deal with how they are feeling,” says Hardy. “Second, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It’s best to walk away and take a break. Screaming, calling them bad names and punishing them only makes the problem worse. When you have both calmed down, talk about what really is the problem. Remember, it is not always about you.”
It’s also important that parents not diminish their child’s feelings by saying things like “no you don’t” or “I know you love me.”
Hardy says the kids will often say hurtful things to their parents when they are dealing with something they can’t understand. She says they are often processing something they don’t know how to react to, whether that be a change in environment or relationship, not getting their way, stress from the day or a decision they don’t agree with.
“Realize that the majority of the time, your child is really just saying this to get a reaction from you. They may be emotionally feeling out of control and you, as a parent, are the one person they know will love them no matter what,” says Hardy.
How to cope
Hardy provides the following tips for getting through the situation:
- Step away until you are both ready to talk
- Remain calm. Screaming, yelling and arguing will never solve the problem.
- Try to ask questions that help you discover the real problem.
- Remind the child that there are things in life that they might not understand, including the rules and decisions of their parents, but you are looking out for their best interest.
The “I hate you” outbursts are typically not a sign of something serious. Children often just need a parent to guide them through the confusing moments of growing up. If the child is exhibiting other issues of anxiety, depression or anger, it might be time to call in the professionals. Call your child’s pediatrician for more advice or a referral.