What To Do When Your Child Says “I Hate You”

No one likes to hear the words “I hate you” shouted at them. It's upsetting, hurtful and full of rejection.

Hearing these words from your child can be even more disturbing, especially when they are young. We wonder, do they fully understand what they are saying? Do they really mean it?

How we react to these words and handle these delicate moments is important.

Here's what to do when your child says "I hate you":

  1. Avoid overreacting.

    We can immediately react with anger on such occasions as the shock and power of those three words grip us. It’s best to avoid this kind of overreaction. What may seem like a personal attack, may be your child feeling angry or hurt but not knowing how to appropriately react.

  2. Appreciate their language skills.

    Young children are still learning new language skills. They may have a difficult time expressing their feelings. When we say they are not allowed to stay over in their friend's house, they are angry and hurt and may blurt out “I hate you” because they don’t know how to convey their disappointment.

  3. Acknowledge their emotions.

    Saying “I hate you” usually has several emotions under the surface. Help your child get in touch with their emotions by acknowledging their feelings. Let them know you understand they are angry. Connect their emotion to the situation by explaining, for instance, “You are angry because I said you couldn’t stay in Sarah’s house tonight.”

  4. Explain the effect words have.

    Hate is a very strong word which many young children don’t fully understand. Teach your child how words can be hurtful by reminding them of times they have heard these words and felt hurt themselves. Using their own experiences will encourage understanding and empathy.

  5. Avoid shaming.

    We may react angrily to hearing our child say, “I hate you” and respond with remarks such as “after everything I do for you,” or “how could you say that to me?” These kinds of phrases have a strong effect on a child which may make them feel bad about themselves or diminish the value of their feelings. Ensure you talk to your child without damaging their self-esteem.

  6. Don’t retaliate.

    Even though we are parents, we are also human and a natural reaction to hearing “I hate you”, is to bite back with “I hate you too.” This can have a damaging impact on our children, causing them to doubt our love for them. If these words slip out, it is important to apologise and explain you did not mean it.

Geraldine Walsh

Mum of two Geraldine Walsh happily works from home as a freelance writer chatting about parenting, wellness and mental health.

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