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When a Child Says "I Hate You!"

Updated on October 1, 2015
denise.w.anderson profile image

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life, and seeks to help others through theirs.

When we respond to the venom of hate with unconditional love, we apply the balm of healing to an open wound.
When we respond to the venom of hate with unconditional love, we apply the balm of healing to an open wound.

"I hate you!" the little girl shouted as her mother tried to coax her into leaving the activity being provided by the parenting class. The mother's bowed head and stooped shoulders were evidence that this was not the first time her daughter had lashed out at her.

The father walked away from his son's home with the words, "I hate you!" ringing in his ears. Only minutes before, they had shared their holiday meal in peace and serenity. How could this have happened?

"I don't know what to do!" the mother said to me in exasperation. Her daughter had shouted "I hate you!" just minutes before. "What am I doing wrong? I am trying to teach her correctly!"

In The Emotional Survival Handbook, the author indicates that "Hate is the result of finding something you do not like in another person, then dwelling on that dislike." When a child's needs are not being met, a feeling of mistrust develops. Left unchecked, it wells up into an angry outburst of hate. When we are pelted with the venom of hate, our automatic reaction is to recoil and strike back. We feel hurt, betrayed, and angry, and want to protect our own self-interests. We think of all that we have given and done for the benefit of the child, and now we are being rejected.

In an effort to control the outcome of the situation, we raise our voices and threaten punishment. We use our adult authority to belittle and demand, letting the child know that it is wrong to hate, and that they have no right to use that word. Before we know what has happened, we have turned our backs on the child, withholding the very thing that they are in need of most, our unconditional love.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

— KJV Matthew 18:6

Have you ever had a child say "I hate you?"

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This type of problem does not go away by itself. We have to do something in order to keep our relationship with the child from being lost in a battle of words and the heat of emotion. The following approach is helpful:

  1. Stop and breathe
  2. Reflect and listen
  3. Affirm with love

Read the paragraphs below for insight into how this works:

Stop and breathe

All behavior is motivated by need. Something has happened with the child that is not readily evident. The word weapons being thrown at this moment have been launched in self-defense. The child is hurting. There is unspoken fear and anger.

Hate is a strong emotion. It is a wall set up to protect our delicate feelings of self-worth that are in danger of being annihilated. The only way to keep this from happening is to push away those who are most intimate to us. Without them close by, they have no more power to cause us hurt. We surround ourselves with a shell that protects us from any more danger.

It takes a great deal of courage, strength, determination, and tenacity for a parent to stop at this critical moment. More importantly, it takes faith. We have to believe that there is a better way, that the delicate balance of our relationship with the child depends upon our ability to withhold punishment.

Stopping interrupts the exchange of power and preserves the relationship. Should we go forward at this moment, we destroy whatever trust we have built. Our ability to stop allows both us and the child to think about what is occurring and regroup for the problem-solving process.

Deep breathing slows the heart and clears the head. It gives us something to do while we are waiting for our brain to catch up with our body. It also makes us pause momentarily and regroup. We know that physically hurting the child is wrong. Spanking does not cure hatred, neither does yelling and screaming.

Our most important objective is to solve the presenting problem, not control the feelings of the child. The child has been thinking about the problem long enough that assumptions have been made. These may or may not be true, but they are there, and must be dealt with accordingly.

When we breathe deeply, we slow down our heartbeat and clear our cluttered mind.
When we breathe deeply, we slow down our heartbeat and clear our cluttered mind.

Reflect and listen

In order for us to gain an understanding of what is happening, we need to become a mirror, reflecting back to the child what we see and hear. Rather than reacting, we simply re-state what we hear them say or think that they are feeling. It might go something like this:

Parent: You hate me.

Child: Yes! You said that you would take me to the store and you didn't!

Parent: You are angry with me because I did not take you to the store.

Child: Yes! I needed to get some treats for my school class. Now it is time to go to bed, and I don't have any treats! The teacher will be mad at me, and so will all the kids! I can't go to school tomorrow!

Parent: You are upset because you don't have any treats to take to school tomorrow.

Child: Yes! I hate you!

Parent: I see. I promised to do something for you and didn't do it, now you do not like me anymore.

Child: Yes! Go away!

Now that the matter is out in the open. We can work on resolution of the problem. It may take some effort, both for us, and for the child. Most likely, the answer is not an easy one. We have to backtrack and find the root of the problem. This may mean putting ourselves out in ways that we did not previously anticipate.

We also need to be wary of the child's negative behavior. If we regularly have this situation happening, responding with understanding when they have an angry outburst, they will get the idea that is how to get our attention. It is far better to be sensitive to the needs of our children in advance.

At the present moment, it is necessary to work together on a compromise that requires action on the part of the child, as well as on us. That way, we work to rebuild the unconditional love that was temporarily lost. Our ability to listen determines how much of what our child is saying that we really hear.

The incident may have been precipitated by a single action, or a series of events that happened over time. When we pause to listen, we allow the child to express their feelings. We keep them talking until we agree on an understanding. We may have to set aside our own agenda long enough to engage the child in a dialogue.

When we stop trying to control the outcome we increase our chances of success by seeking to understanding the process.
When we stop trying to control the outcome we increase our chances of success by seeking to understanding the process. | Source

Daily Comfort*

“Do you love me?” I asked with hesitation, “Sometimes I just don’t know.”

“Of course I love you!” he said with a sigh, “I thought that I did show. I washed and I scrubbed and I worked today, and I brought you the last’s month’s take home pay.”

“Yes, you did, and I thank you so much, but the comfort I need is your loving touch, your smile and your words of ‘I love you.’ Then I’ll know that you love me as much as you do.”

He put his arms ‘round me and lovingly said, “I love you more than the roses are red, more than the sky and ocean are blue, more than you ever know I’ll be true.”

“Thank you indeed for the words so kind, I guess you think that I am blind. I see all the things that you daily do, but I just need to hear that ‘I love you.’ It brings me a warmth that envelops my soul and makes me feel that I am whole.”

“If that’s all it takes to help you feel good, than I’ll say it daily along with my food that you fix me for my evening meal. I’ll be generous with praise, since that’s how you feel.”

“Please do not give it with the evening meal, that’s the time of day when I feel like a heel. I’ve worked real hard and I am a bit stressed, the children are around and I just feel pressed.”

“Then I’ll give it to you in the room at night, when we have just turned out the light. We’ll take our time and relax a bit, and then I’ll disclose the whole of it.”

“I need it then, but I’ve come to see, that in the morning I need you to be loving and kind with a goodbye kiss, for when you are gone I surely do miss. So all through the day I will remember when you loved me, and I will feel good again.”

Affirm with love

Once we have come to a mutual understanding with each other, there is an emptiness that needs to be filled. We are both aching in our souls, and feel that we have been hurt and betrayed. In order to bridge this gap and re-build the trust that is needed, we express unconditional love. This can be done by:

  • Hugging or embracing
  • Giving a kiss
  • Speaking in soft, loving tones
  • Affirming the worth of the individual

We affirm each other's worth by saying words that indicate we expect each other for who we are, and not what we have done. Saying, "I love you," "You are important to me," "I'm glad that you are my child," or "Sit with me, I want to be close to you."

Unconditional love is shown through kindness, affection, and soft spoken words. Given freely and regularly, it helps our family members know that they are an important part of our family. Teaching and disciplining have much greater staying power when they are implemented in an environment of love and acceptance.

"Speak Life" by Toby Mack reminds us that we all experience times when we feel that our needs are not met, and something happens that makes us lash out at another person. The important thing to remember, is that we don't have to continue feeling this way. As we look for the good in others, speaking words that bring life, building each other up, we are much more able to work through the disappointments and heartache that are a normal part of our lives.

Share unconditional love today, for your emotional health!

©2015 by Denise W. Anderson, all rights reserved.

*Poem Daily Comfort written by Denise W. Anderson.


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for sharing your experiences florypaula. I think that every parent hears these words at some time in their lives. My oldest daughter ran away from home at the tender age of 11. I remember how devastated I was, and how her words cut me to the quick when she told me that she felt like Cinderalla, that I did not love her, and that she hated life in our home. We take it personally when our children are unhappy, especially when they reject us!

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 2 years ago

      Hearing these words from your child's mouth isn't easy at all. I don't have children but I have witnessed recently and the mother was devastated. When this happens parents tend to lose themselves and not know how to react. I said it once to my mother when I was really young (around 4 or 5 years old), because she was always asking me to help her with different things right at that moment, not a second later, even if I was telling her I will do it later. My mother started crying and I felt ... awful is an understatement. I think I understood back then that words hurt people, and I should be more understanding towards her.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I appreciate you pointing that out, MsDora. Awareness is the first step in changing our own behavior. So often we are on automatic pilot, not really thinking about the needs of others. As we raise our sights, we will see that we are in a prime position to meet our children's needs before they misbehave. Our family life will be much happier as a result.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      "All behavior is motivated by need." If we would be aware of that, we may not have the desire to react negatively. Rather, we would follow the very good pointers in dealing this childish attitude. Thanks for your practical counsels.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for the specific feedback on what was helpful ChitrangadaSharan. It is nice to know that the concrete steps are useful to readers. Philosophy only goes so far when it comes to parenting. We can all use more pointers. Your vote of confidence is appreciated!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, DDE. Sometimes, we face things we would rather not have to deal with when we are parents. I appreciate your comments.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is good to know that I am not the only one, Eric! No matter what our age, when we have strong feelings, we tend to express them in ways that are not pretty! Our ability to keep our cool when this happens takes some doing! Thanks for your input!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Single parenting is a long haul of difficulty, Bill. Getting our children to understand, as well as understanding our own feelings is sometimes more than any of us can handle. You are right, parenting is no piece of cake, no matter what our family situation! I appreciate you sharing your experiences here.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a difficult situation, MDavisTIERS. You handled it well by giving her the reassurance that she would see her father again. These types of situations are tough on our relationships with our children. They are so impressionable when young, and the events they experience stay with them for a long time. Thanks for reading and sharing with us.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent points to deal with a situation, when the child says, 'I hate you!'

      I agree with the three steps, a parent must take, to deal with this. A child might say these words for very simple reasons and a parent must try to understand, what made him/her say that. One must teach by example, with care and affection.

      I like the way, you explained with the help of dialogue and examples.

      Well written hub on an important behavioral issue in kids. Thanks and voted up as useful!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I understand your great meaning here. Children who say ''I hate you'' are sometimes frustrated with their parents. You made valuable points her.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent article on a very important aspect of "growing up together". Shoot my adult children use these techniques on me sometimes ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was a single parent for fifteen years and you better believe I heard those words from my son on more than one occasion. Sure it hurt...yes it was was necessary, for him to say it and for me to hear it. There is no such thing as perfect parenting, a lesson I had to learn daily as my son grew up.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 2 years ago from Georgia

      Good afternoon, Denise; a difficult subject that you've presented well. I'll admit that I didn't handle the issue well when my daughter was five. She was angry that I asked her father to leave the house. There was no way to explain to her about divorce, and I didn't want to fall into the trap of maligning her father. It wasn't his father abilities that were in question in the divorce.

      When she realized that she would see him, we would be civil, and she didn't have to love one and hate the other, we got through it.