Its inevitable. There will come a time when that picture perfect child of yours you know the one with the fat cheeks and angelic eyes looks at you with anger flaring from his or her nostrils and shouts, ‘I hate you Mommy!’ If you’re lucky, you won’t have to hear it for a very long time and by then: the angelic appearance will have long worn off. However, most parents hear this shrill, heartbreaking slap in the face during the toddler or elementary years. Depending on your child and your reaction to it, you may hear it more than once as well. In handling the situation, it is ultimately important to set aside your own disheartened and heavy feelings for a few minutes. Not necessarily, to ‘never let them see you cry,’ but so you can be clear that it IS NOT a statement that will be tolerated in your home.
Let’s discuss the best approach for hearing it from your young child. It could be because you refused to buy them a candy bar during grocery checkout. (Damn those marketers for putting them there) Or it could be because they, in that very moment, believe that you are the opposite of fair and just. It also could be (and most likely so) because they are frustrated, angry, over stimulated or just plain exhausted. Firstly, realize that children do not understand the expanse of the word hate. They also don’t understand the expanse of the word love. What they do understand is how they feel. In the moment that they hate you it is because they are feeling something strong, that they don’t understand that they feel YOU are responsible for. So rather than running off like a sappy teen dumped by her boyfriend for the umpteenth time stand tall. Use your best parenting voice to explain to them what is going on. You should start by being compassionate (very hard when your heart has just been ripped out). Something like this, ‘I know you are angry that you can’t have the candy bar, but saying that you hate me is hurtful and unacceptable language for family to use.’ Essentially, this acts like a mediation by proving that you are understanding, but also proving that you will not wilt like a flower.
Additionally, when a child says they hate you it is important to take the time to discuss hate. You obviously don’t have to do it in the heat of the moment. But talking about it when tempers flare and teaching your child the power of words is an important life lesson. They can’t take it back, and they didn’t really mean it but they do and should apologize! You don’t have to make them feel miniscule, but you should help them to understand the impact of their actions and words on people they care about. If you don’t, you will end up with a child that is righteous, angry, and disrespectful. In you’re talking about hate and feelings give them tools. Saying you can’t do this, you shouldn’t do that or just plain no are fine sometimes. Yet not giving them other tools or solutions that work for them doesn’t help them to solve any problems with their emotions. Ask them what they were feeling. Then explain that it is okay to be angry, to state their feelings, but that it was wrong to ‘hate you!’ If they don’t seem too concerned about your feelings, don’t worry too much. Compassion for others develops over time.
As your child gets older, you expect them to understand the ramifications of their words. Many parents preach the ‘sticks and stones’ hubbub. WRONG! Why? Because words do hurt and often they hurt more than anything else in life does. Trying to pretend that they don’t sends your child the wrong message altogether. Instead, breed a child that is respectful of people’s feelings and uses their own emotions as a barometer of how to treat others.
The older child will no doubt use the ‘H’ word because they know it gets to you. Your teen, grounded for eternity and not allowed to attend the party of the year will definitely feel like they hate you. And they might even say it more than once. (Reminder: they don’t!) However, you need to establish the rules and stick to them. It is best to not stand in question of your judgment or decisions for your child just because they are manipulating your emotions. Children learn pretty young in life that while mom and dad seem to be in charge they are ALWAYS questioning their choices and conduct as parents. This can be easily be manipulated by throwing in the hate you’s, your not fair, your so mean, you don’t understand and other common statements. Guess what? If it works, they will continue to do so. If it doesn’t work they will eventually learn that their ill willed efforts to break your heart are not worth the guilt and suffering that it causes them. And yes, they do feel badly about hating you.
Teenagers need parents rather than friends. Just like they hate some of their teachers, especially the ones that are stricter and assign more homework, they also hate parents who enforce rules and act parental. Rather than being heartbroken by the words see them as a completely positive reinforcement that you are parenting well. You know, you could even respond, ‘thank you!’ This pretty much ensures that they won’t say it again, because the last thing they want is for you to feel right or proud. Arguing with a teen is also like arguing with a drunk. There is no need to bring the right or wrong of the situation and the hurtful implications of ‘hate’ into an argument about whose turn it is to take out the trash. Yet you should share the lesson when tempers die out. We are each responsible for our words at any age. Once they are unleashed, they cannot be retracted and the far-reaching singe can be felt in every inch of your body. This is especially true when angry, hurtful words spark from your child. Luckily, for them and for you there is also forgiveness; which is another important lesson you can teach your child when they say one of the many things they momentarily feel but definitely don’t mean.