I hate you… These three small words can really provoke deep emotions and bring out the worst behaviour in us. We might end up saying and doing things that we later regret and wish we could take back. This also stops us from becoming a good role model for how to respond to negative words from others.

Most parents have heard these words and find it hard to know what to do or say, or NOT do and say, in this situation.

So let me start by saying that kids often get really sad afterwards because they don’t mean it. So if we make a ‘big deal’ out of it we might be in danger of labelling the child as ‘mean’, ‘bad’, or ‘hurtful’. So step back from it, be sensitive and thoughtful and plan how to respond instead of just reacting!

Some common reactions from parents:

When I work with parents who struggle with this issue I ask them what they do when their kids say this…

  • Reply ‘I hate you too’
  • Yell at them
  • Say ‘that is not a nice thing to say, you should not do that’
  • Punish them, send them to their room or lose television privileges
  • Tell them ‘that really made me sad / you hurt mummy / daddy’ etc.

All these responses really don’t help the situation and might even make it worse. Plus we don’t ‘show’ and ‘teach’ them what we want instead.

Why does it upset us?

  • Well no one likes to be told that they are hated by someone they love so much – it hurts!
  • Not fair – we might feel that we do so much for our kids that they have no right to be so unkind and disrespect us
  • We take it personally: what have I done wrong to get this treatment and raise a child who does this?
  • We get angry because our kids fail to comply with our expectations for what a ‘good child’ is, we feel they have failed us.

So what can we do:

Become assertive not aggressive. Be measured, not impulsive, with these tips:

  1. Don’t take it personally: most of the time it is more about how they feel on the inside than how they feel about us. We are just there and they lash out at us. We are a stable relationship for them so they feel that they are safe to say it and let their emotions show. They actually DON’T hate you… but they ARE upset about something in the environment, with themselves or with something that you have said or done.
  2. Help them translate their language – stay curious NOT furious: all behaviours are a form of communication. Often ‘I hate you’ is a code for something else. So, before you do or say anything – STOP and THINK: what is my child trying to tell me? Are they tired, overwhelmed, not heard, have they misunderstood what we are trying to tell them or ask them to do, do they feel unfairly treated? Are they in sensory overload right now, too much going on around them? So when they say ‘I hate you’, try to help them translate it. Try saying,  ‘I can see you are upset at me right now so I will give you some time to calm down’….’I get it, you don’t like me right now because I said you cannot have the iPad – I will give you some time to calm down – I will be over here when you are ready to talk’…
  3. Control yourself: before you do or say anything, STOP, take a BREATH and check in with yourself. Try to zone in to your emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, confusion etc.), accept that this is how you feel but you don’t want these feelings to control how you respond to your child about the situation. CLICK here to read more about ‘How To Mater Your Emotions’ 
  4. Ignore: what we choose to focus the most on we will cultivate and grow. If you give the situation and the words your full attention you will just make the issue bigger. The opposite will happen too. So, try to give the negative behaviour less attention by ignoring it and instead place more attention on when your child IS kind, well mannered, loving etc. CLICK here to find my FREE webinar about ‘Effective Ignoring’ 
  5. Afterwards: your child will most likely be sad and regret what he has said or done afterwards. Here a few important things to remember:
    1. If you have chosen to ignore the behaviour there is no need to make them say sorry. Ignoring IS a consequence, they have done their time. It is more important to reconnect and move on.
    2. Don’t give their sadness too much attention. I know that it is sad to see our kids sad but the more focus you place on it the more you feed it. Instead say, ‘thank you, I appreciate that you came back to me, now shall we go and read a book / bake a cake / go for a walk etc.’ CLICK here to read more about how to deal with our kids anxiety or sadness.
  6. Catch them being good: in order to diminish the words and behaviour we need to ignore it – give it less time and space to grow. Instead try to catch them being good. So when they DON’T say I hate you, give them your positive attention: spend time with them, do something nice together, listen to them etc. You can comment on all the small but nice things and qualities in your child that you like and love and want to see more of. This way you send a signal that he WILL get your FULL attention for positive behaviours and words.
  7.  In peaceful times: we cannot talk about why it is wrong to say ‘I hate you’ it in the heat of the moment. Then we just go hard against hard – join the tornado. Try to sit down and have a quiet and positive chat about how it feels when someone tells you ‘I hate you’. Talk about what they can say instead, i.e. how to express their feelings about the situation, i.e. ‘Mummy I am angry at you because you said NO’….

It is never easy to hear these words from the people we love and care for the most but by choosing how we respond we can role model how to deal with unkind words from others in a calm and positive way, and help our children to become better communicators.

Good luck

Mette Theilmann

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