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How to respond to a child when they say “I hate you!”


Shutterstock | Ana Duque

Cerith Gardiner - published on 04/24/23

Those three words can cause a lot of pain, but can be dealt with easily and effectively.

Hearing “I hate you” from your own offspring can be like a knife to the heart, especially the first time you hear those three little words. But with a little calm and perspective you’ll be able to pull that knife right out and focus on the love your child has for you.

First, you’ll no doubt have told your child that the word “hate” is very strong, and in fact as Christians we are all called to love. So as your little angel grows they know how powerful that word is. Unfortunately, they’ll also know that when they’re angry, if they say “I hate you,” you’ll be hurt … really hurt.

So imagine this scenario: You’ve told your child that they have to turn off their screens and do their chores. However, think about the situation if your child is exhausted, had a bad day with their friends, or is feeling hormonal. There are a whole load of possibilities where they will overreact, and snap back at you with the “hate.”

It’s important to remember, they do not hate you. In fact they love you so deeply that you’re the person they can feel free to take all their frustrations out on. (Please don’t forget this when you’re at your wits’ end.)

But how do you respond to all that supposed hate? Well, after raising four children, coming from a huge family where the kids outnumber the adults in multiples, and teaching for many years, I can share what has worked very effectively and consistently for me. And I’d say, kill it with kindness.

Now, it’s very important here not to be a walkover. By kindness I mean being factual, and gentle, but not to give too much airtime to the hate.

If little Jack shouts “I hate you!” try replying with, “that’s a shame as I love you” and carry on doing whatever you were doing. I wouldn’t over discuss it. I would certainly not say how hurt you feel, as your child will know how to attack your Achilles’ heel, and then they’ll use it the next time you’ve annoyed them, and the cycle will continue.

After a few times of hearing your “I love yous,” your child will get no satisfaction from shouting “I hate you.” Admittedly, they might try to find alternative ways of hurting you — after all, it would be unreasonable to expect kids to control their emotions. But it will certainly help not having to hear they hate you when you love them so unconditionally.

(For those parents dealing with more deep-seated issues, it’s important to seek advice from a medical professional.)

Catholic LifestyleChildrenParenting
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