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When Your Child Says "I Hate You"

These chilling words distress parents in households every day.

These three chilling words distress parents in households every day. Parents are terrified that after all their hard work and caring, their child does not love them. Memories of any feelings of rejection from their own childhood cloud their minds and an old sadness and anger returns.

Luckily, when your child yells these words, there is an explanation that can help you relax. Your child loves you more than anyone in the world. He is just feeling very angry about something that is going on. Maybe you said no to a new toy. Maybe he is mad at his friend and he is taking it out on you.

Children have limited verbal abilities, so they have a hard time expressing their feelings. They do not know how to tell you, “I feel very angry because you will not let me go to the park.” Instead they blurt out, “I hate you.”

Something else occurs for young children. As they grow, and develop their verbal skills, they discover that language can give them power. Other kids will say, “I hate you” to them, and this has a devastating effect. It makes them feel unwanted and powerless. They then repeat these words to others to gain a feeling of power. Here are some approaches that will help you handle these sensitive moments.

Focus on your child's anger, not the seeming personal attack. It will help you to avoid overreacting.

Acknowledge your child's emotions, for example, “I can see that you're very angry.” In this way you help your child to get in touch with her emotions.

Connect his anger to the underlying cause by telling him the story of what happened. For instance, you might say, “I said you couldn't go on a sleepover tonight and you got angry.”

Teach her a phrase that you desire her to use. You can tell her, “When you're angry, say, 'I'm angry,' and I will help you.”

Educate your child about the effect of his words. You can explain that "hate" is a word that hurts people's feelings. Remind him of the times when someone used these words with him and talk about how he felt. Pointing out these concrete examples from his own experience, will help him to build empathy.

Avoid shaming her for her choice of words. Parents often react angrily to the phrase, “I hate you," and respond with common phrases such as, “How could you say such a thing” or “What’s the matter with you?” The problem with these remarks is that they give a child a bad feeling about herself and communicate that her feelings are not acceptable. Our goal with children is to set a limit without harming their self-esteem.

Never respond in kind. Sometimes parents are so hurt that they respond, “I hate you too.” Though it may be a natural urge, it has a negative impact on children. It actually can cause them to doubt your love. If these words do slip out, it is therefore crucial to apologize and say that you were feeling upset.

The best approach is to encourage your child not try to hide his feelings, and teach him how to express himself in the most positive way. Talking about his or her emotions and dealing with them effectively, will help him or her to have a happier life.

More from Meri Wallace LCSW
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