How to Respond When Your Child Says "I Hate My Parents"
Updated March 04, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Most kids have said it. In fact, if your child has yet to say it, it is likely only a matter of time. The phrase "I hate my parents" is a statement that most parents hear at least once in their lifetime. How do you handle such a statement? The response you provide is likely what will correct or egg on the behavior.
As parents, you and your partner (or co-parent) are responsible for addressing the "I hate my parents" claim logically rather than emotionally. If you have trouble with addressing the issue without feeling excess anger of your own, you might seek professional help in the form of a counselor that can walk you and your partner through exercises that help you to keep your cool.
In order for your children to learn how to keep from exclaiming hurtful things, you as the parent must learn how to do the same. Understanding where these kinds of statements come from is crucial to getting to the core of the issue. It is only then that you can respond in the best manner.
Why Do Children Say, "I Hate My Parents?"
There are a variety of explanations that shed light on a child's cruel words. Know that despite his or her claims made in the heat of the moment, your child does not truly hate you. In fact, he or she probably loves you more than anything else. There are a number of reasons that those words could have been uttered, none of which involve actual hate. Those reasons include difficulty dealing with emotions and simply trying to make you feel how he or she feels.
In reality, emotions are a hard concept to tackle for young people. Even adults struggle with keeping their reactions to emotionally challenging situations within acceptable social standards. It is easy to get upset and say something that you don't actually mean. If adults make this mistake, how can we expect children not to? As parents, you are responsible for teaching your child how to avoid saying hurtful things.
Your child might be feeling angry, sad, or hurt. However, they are not equipped with the necessary skills to tell you how they feel, so instead, they say, "I hate my parents!" It is a hurtful statement, but not one that holds a lot of meaning - at least, there is no meaning in the words themselves.
Meaning, rather, comes from the way the statement is said. How the words are said can give you some insight as to why they came from your child's mouth. Pay attention to how the words are said: are they angry or sad? Understanding how your child is truly feeling is the start of knowing how you should react.
Your reaction should not fall under the second reason why your child said those dreaded words. When your child says this phrase as an attempt to get you to feel like they feel, they are likely waiting for a certain reaction. The anger-fueled words might initially make you angry. Since this is what your child is likely looking for, it is best not to respond in this way. Responding properly is key to preventing the statement from being repeated in the future. You are setting an example with how you respond.
A Parent's Response
Being informed that you are hated by your child can induce any number of reactions. Some parents get angry. Others are instantly saddened. You might even freeze up. It is important to understand that how you respond teaches your child how to respond as well. Lead by example.
Before you say anything in response to your child's declaration, remember to take note as to how he or she is feeling. Getting a read on his or her emotions can dictate how you should respond. The words you say can be helpful, but your demeanor is equally important.
Whether your child is angry or sad, it is imperative that you remain calm. Act as an example for your little one to follow. If you get worked up it is likely that your child will respond in kind. Take a deep breath if needed and then get on your young child's same eye level. You might squat, pick him or her up, or sit down together so that you can communicate face to face.
What is it about communication with a child in this way that helps the situation? Simply put, you are no longer talking down to your child. Instead, you can talk on the same level and make him or her feel as though you are listening to what they have to say. Getting on his or her level also makes them feel as though you aren't just an authority figure - you're mommy or daddy and you care. It is important that you actually listen and have the body language to prove it.
Once you and your little one are on the same level, you can express your understanding. You might say, "I understand that you are feeling angry," or "I can see how sad you're feeling." If you know exactly why your child is feeling this way, help to explain it to them. This could include saying, "You're upset because I won't allow any more screen time and that made you feel mad." Your child might know that they are mad, but are unsure why or how to express that anger in a structured way. By teaching your child to express their feelings in the most straightforward of ways - by saying it - you can help them to identify the cause of their anger and encourage the skill of talking about their feelings.
By helping your child to identify the cause of his or her anger you can better prepare them to handle emotions in the future. Many adults today keep their feelings bottled up because they were never taught how to explain what they feel. Failing to address emotion at any age can be difficult on relationships. It is important to communicate to your child the importance of sharing their feelings, but it is also imperative that you talk about how their words can affect others.
During your conversation, you must address how saying that they hate someone can hurt the feelings of others. Try to have your child imagine how he or she would feel if those words were directed at them. Walk through it with them so that they can stand in someone else's shoes and better understand the hurt that words can cause. Talk about those feelings and how to handle them. It is a big teaching moment in the life of a child, so be sure to put your focus on them and the situation at hand. This is not a conversation to be had while glancing up from social media scrolling or while making dinner. It must be taken seriously.
When your child is feeling angry, tell them that they can simply say, "I'm angry." You can take it a step further and teach your little one to explain why he or she is angry. At a young age, it is the role of the parents to help your child deal with his or her emotions in a constructive way. You can talk about bad ways to handle anger and good ways. It can even become a game of sorts so that your child wants to learn. If he or she is still currently upset, teach them how to call themselves. For example, when your child expresses anger, sit with them and take a few slow, deep breaths. The more a parent works with their child on this kind of response the more the child will be able to do it by themselves.
By guiding your child in the most effective ways to manage anger and other emotions, he or she can do better to handle them. This will help to prevent any future exclamations of "I hate my parents." While assisting your child in dealing with their emotions can make these kinds of outbursts less frequent, it is important to remember that children are people and far from perfect. They might grow up to express emotion in a healthy way, but it is a long road to get there.
Future Lessons in Kindness
Teaching children to communicate their feelings is a lifelong skill that needs to be practiced. Handling the "I hate my parents" situation properly can expand into other life events as well. It provides the opportunity to address feelings and prevent other similar bad behavior. When a child has a better grasp on feelings, he or she not only understand their own but might see how others feel as well.
A child that understands how words can hurt is one that is less likely to inflict emotional hurt on someone else. By responding to outbursts appropriately as a parent, he or she can learn to better control their reactions to emotions. Raise someone that understands kindness by reacting to your child's negative behavior with kindness.