Once, when my son was about six years old — and furious with me for some reason or another — he went stomping up the stairs, yelling, “I don’t like you!” over his shoulder as he went.
About halfway up, he paused, turned back and upped the ante: “I’ve NEVER liked you.” And then up he went, punctuating his declaration with a solid door slam.
(Yes, his words stung a little, but I mostly couldn’t help but be impressed with the creativity of his burn.)
When your kid screams, “I Hate You!” (or “I’ve never liked you”) for the first time, it can feel like the ultimate rejection. All those sleepless nights they gifted you, all that projectile vomit you cleaned up, all those tantrums you endured and swimming lessons and piano recitals you sat through... they’re not allowed to hate you, right?
You probably already realise this, but it’s not really about you, says Dr. Barbara Greenberg, an adolescent and family psychologist in Connecticut.
“Don’t get scared when they say they hate you,” says Greenberg, author of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual. “It’s not about the parent in that moment; it’s about the child. It’s more about how he’s feeling than how he feels about you.”
And the fact that your child feels he or she can say that to you is actually an indication that they feel emotionally safe with you.
“I worry the most about children of any age who are indifferent toward their parents,” Greenberg says. “If they’re yelling at you, they’re still very connected to you.”
So, Greenberg’s best advice for dealing with a child who is yelling about their hatred for you? Let them say it. Stay calm, don’t yell back, don’t send them on a guilt trip them about how they’ve hurt your feelings. And, “certainly don’t chase him to his room when he’s in what I call a ‘hot state,’” she says.
If they’re stomping away from you, let them have their moment. Once they’ve calmed down and decompressed, you can talk to them about their underlying feelings. If they’re yelling it to you and waiting for a response, respond as neutrally as possible with something like, “I can see that you’re very upset. I’m here for you when you want to talk.”
In Psychology Today, parenting expert and child and family therapist Meri Wallace says to remember to focus on the child’s anger, not the seemingly personal attack:
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.”