How to Respond When Your Child Says, "I Hate You!"

Brace yourself for the day your child says she hates you.
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It’s likely that at some point in your parenting career, you’ll hear the words, “I hate you,” come out of your child’s mouth. Perhaps it’ll happen even more than once. The way you respond to that horrible phrase will make a big difference in how likely you are to hear those words often.

The most important thing is to stay calm and try to avoid taking those words personally. Here are five ways to respond when your child says he hates you:

1. Ignore It

Quite often, the words, “I hate you,” are used to gain a reaction. Showing a big response - whether you yell, argue, or weep - will show your child that his words can control how you feel and behave. Pretending you don’t hear him can prevent your child from getting what he wants - your attention.

When to use this response: Selective ignoring is a helpful response when your child clearly wants attention. If he screams he hates you in the midst of a temper tantrum, responding to his words will reinforce to him that saying mean things is a good way to capture your attention. Ignore his words whenever they seemed to be used as an attempt to gain your attention.

2. “I Know You Feel Angry.”

Preschoolers don’t have the verbal skills to say, “I’m starting to feel frustrated so I’d prefer to take a break before I become really angry.” So in an effort to get the message out, they often use words like, “I hate you.” It’s the fastest and easiest way for them to communicate that they’re upset.

When to use this response: As your child slowly gains the verbal skills to express himself, saying, “I know you feel angry,” teaches him to label his feelings. Eventually, he’ll learn to say when he feels angry or anxious, and he’ll find more socially appropriate ways to express those emotions.

3. “It’s OK to Feel Mad but Saying Hurtful Things Isn’t OK.”

Such spiteful words aren’t always said out of anger.

Instead, “I hate you,” may become a replacement for name calling.

Sometimes kids use the ‘h-word’ as a manipulative tactic. Perhaps your child says it every time he doesn’t get his way. Or maybe he says it to his brother in an attempt to guilt his brother into handing over his toys.

When to use this response: If the “I hate you message” has become part of your child’s everyday conversation, make it clear that his words are unacceptable. It’s especially important to address the issue and teach your child empathy to prevent him from telling siblings, peers, or other people that he hates them.

4. “I Love You and It’s My Job to Keep You Safe.”

When you tell your tween she can’t go to the dance or you tell your teen he can’t use the car, you may get an occasional, “I hate you,” in return. It might even be followed up by, “You’re ruining my life!” Such responses are indicative of normal teenage dramatics.

When to use this response: Remind your child that your rules are meant to keep her safe - not as a way to ruin her social life.

A quick reminder that your goal is to raise a healthy, responsible child may not be met with favor at first, but someday, your child will grow to understand why you set limits and followed through with consequences.

5. “OK, But You Still Need to Clean Your Room.”

When you say, “Clean your room,” and your child responds by saying, “I hate you!” he may be trying to put off his chores. The longer he can get you to argue about his rude choice of words, the longer he can delay doing what you said. And if he can succeed in getting you really upset, you may forget your instructions altogether.

When to use this response: Responding with a calm, “OK, but you still need to clean your room,” will show him that his efforts to derail you won’t work. If he continues to put off following your directions, give him a warning and follow through with a consequence when necessary. But don’t let his hurtful words distract you from ensuring he completes the task.

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