When Your Kid Says "I Hate You!"
Well, last night…I officially became that parent. Sadly, it was a day that I dreaded and knew would happen someday. Probably because I see it as some sort of “right of passage” for us parents and caregivers. And no, I am not talking about the awkward question of where babies come from or anything of the sort. I am talking about the biggest, dreaded three words that we cringe to hear from our kids: “I HATE YOU!”
That’s right, last night….in the midst of all of his frustration because I sent him to bed before the movie ended, my sweet loving 6 year old son yelled out, in between a pause during his little fit, “I HATE YOU!”
Did I respond? Oh as sure as you are reading this, oh YES I DID! I took a slight deep breath to gather my heart. As calmly and as soft a tone as possible, I looked him in his eyes and I said, “And goodnight to you too sweetie.” And my son stormed to his bedroom tears flowing.
Within seconds, he came back in the living room to gather his belongings. He persisted with his little fit of louder cries and Harlem Shaking.
I thank the good heavens above we are out of the horrid tantrum phase.
He jumped up and down like an excited animal at the zoo trying to get the attention of spectators before I calmly went over, grabbed his blanket and placed my palm on his shoulder and guided him to his bedroom to lay him into bed. While in his room, I covered him with his favorite blanket, said our prayers, and ended it with “I love you honey, and good night.”
About 10 minutes passed by as I continued to watch the movie alone. Hey, I was not going to be punished too. This was the first time I watched the latest version of The Jungle Book. But I went back to my son's bedroom, where I found him resting quietly on his bed but not sleeping. He closed his eyes quickly, and slowly opened them as I called his name and walked over to his bed.
I addressed the ugly "H" word, and said, “You were pretty angry with me, huh?”
He responded, “Yes.” Covering his eyes from the embarrassment.
When I asked if he thought it was kind to say such a ugly word to me, he said “No. You hurt my feelings and I was frustrated.” He reached his arms around me, and said “I’m sorry, Mom.”
At this moment, I went on to tell him that in our angry and hurt feelings, we should not say hurtful things because it may not always be something that we can take back. He acknowledged his wrongs that led him to getting sent to bed – constantly being redirected during the movie, a sign for which I knew meant he was tired. I hugged him one last time, kissed his cheek. I told my son, “I love you” and he replied “I love you too” before he rolled over and closed his eyes.
Parents and caregivers, our littles ones are going to be PRETTY upset with us. They are going to say the dreaded “I hate you” at some point in their lives. Maybe even more than once. But understand that they are expressing their pretty upsetting and angry feelings in a way that makes sense to them. I know that my kid doesn’t hate me. And in fact, when I searched through his feelings, he drew me back to my own childhood and when I told my own Mother for the very first time the exact same thing. I was pretty angry with her, and I can only imagine that she felt as bad as I felt in that moment last night.
But you know what? I am so thankful and grateful that my Mom didn’t shout back at me “I hate you too!” I am so glad that she just took a minute to separate herself from me. The reason is, even in our knee jerk reaction to shout it back because we are pretty upset or hurt that our kids could say such a thing, it could create some ambivalence as it would seem that your love is only conditional on them being good or only if they are happy with you. So at all costs, avoid getting into your feelings and shouting this back at your children. Remember, you are modeling the behavior that we hope our children develop well into adulthood.
I also encourage you parents and caregivers not to shame your children. If they shout the dreaded three words, this is NOT the time to ask “What’s wrong with you?” or “How could you say such a thing after all that I have done for you” or any other variation. Why? Because this can impact your child’s self-esteem.
Instead, take a moment to gather yourself. Stick to your limits that you have set, and reconnect with your child after a few minutes when you are both back in control of your feelings and emotions. Then, address the issue that led up to hearing the dreaded three words. Remember, you are addressing the behaviors. In my case, the behaviors were me having to redirect my son five times during the movie about bouncing on the sofa and being disruptive and rude to others (even though it was just me). I was able to teach him a lesson on not only listening and following directions, but also social responsibility to be respectful to me and others.
And just remember, if (and when) you hear the dreaded three words, it is a way for them to express the BIGGEST of their emotions in the BIGGEST way that they can to say to you, "I'm REALLY, REALLY angry! So give them alternatives and empower them to express their anger without hurting others and label and identify the actions and connecting emotions (e.g., "You were angry at Mommy because I sent you to bed before you could watch the movie, and I didn't give you any more chances, huh?"). This is a way to set limits, without damaging their self-esteem too.
Just in case you’re wondering… this morning my son woke me up with the biggest hug and kiss, a HUGE “Good Morning, Mom.” Of course, it was followed by a request to bake blueberry muffins. And even as I type this entry, he is GLUED right at my hip playing with his dinosaurs and action figures. I know that as the day goes, he may get upset again at something that I tell him he can't have or do, but you know what...I am not worried about the "dreaded three words" coming back. Maybe I'll see a monkey dance here and there, but it's nothing we can't get through...together.