Nothing makes a parent crumble faster than the first time a child says “I hate you!”. Normally, those soul crushing words are first yelled when a perfectly lovely child doesn’t get her way. Even the toughest parent wants to cry and give whatever is necessary to turn your child back into the loving toddler who would tackle you with hugs and kisses.
If your child is young, there is actually a lot of good news. What you are dealing with is not so much a child who actually hates you, but rather a child who is too young to have enough of a vocabulary to quickly and easily communicate to you how very frustrated and angry she is at the moment. Very young children may express their frustration by pitching a tantrum.
Slightly older children have usually learned a tantrum is not effective. They are making an attempt to be more mature (believe it or not) by using their words instead of their bodies to express their frustration and anger. The problem is saying “I’m mad!, just doesn’t seem strong enough to them for the level of negative emotions they are feeling. To them “hate” is the most negative word they have learned, so that is the word they throw your way.
If your young child has just yelled “I hate you!” towards anyone, you need to quickly put a stop to the practice. Here are a few easy things you can do that worked well in our home:
- The words “I hate you” were permanently banned in our house. In fact, I encourage you to attempt to erase the word “hate” from the vocabulary of your family if at all possible. Hate conveys a lack of love. Since we are to love everyone, it is better to use other words when expressing negative emotions. (Brussel sprouts are the possible exception to this rule!)
- We immediately suggested alternative phrases for her to use when she was very,very angry or frustrated. “I don’t think I have ever been this angry before.” “I am so frustrated I could scream and people in China would hear me.” Anything that feels descriptive and possibly has a slight element of humor will work well. The phrase should be respectful of the person to whom it is being said, although conveying the severity of the feelings the child is having.
- We provided healthy ways for our daughter to work out the physical aspects of her anger. I’ve mentioned before a giant inflatable Bozo the clown was a permanent fixture for awhile. He would bounce back when you punched him (a re-make of a 1960’s toy). We would also take her for a walk or run. Anger produces chemicals in the body that are created because of the fight or flight mechanism in our brains. Young children do not have the reasoning abilities yet to work through their anger only through thinking. Allowing the body to appropriately do what it was designed to do (“fight” Bozo or run off the anger), helps the child calm down much faster than if he sat stewing and “thinking about it” in his room.
- After she calmed down, we had an age appropriate discussion about what had caused the anger in the first place. I honestly don’t remember the incident, but the discussion can vary from why the initial request was denied to a review of appropriate ways to ask for privileges or items.
- Consequences should be set after this initial incident for any further uses of the words “I hate you!” Remind your now calm child, the phrase is unacceptable language in your home as much as curse words would be. Inform him now what he can expect for future consequences if the words are used again in a situation where he is angry or frustrated.
If your child is older, he has learned the phrase is a way to push your buttons. You may even find the expression is being used more frequently in an attempt to manipulate rather than to express real frustration.
In this situation, you have a child who is developing a heart issue. His heart is becoming immune to the feelings of others. His wants are becoming more important than showing love or giving his parents the respect the Bible commands. The steps above can be modified for an older child, but as soon as possible you need to have a deep conversation with the child.
- Take your child to a favorite ice cream spot or restaurant. Try and pick a “good” day when feelings are not already out of control. Begin by apologizing to your child for not training him to correct this ungodly habit. (Yes, I really do believe we need to admit when we make a parenting error in training. Our apology teaches our children many important lessons about humility, forgiveness and grace.)
- Take time to explain to your child why constantly saying “I hate you” is harmful to him. Help him understand how those words damage relationships, break things that can often not be repaired and can encourage him to escalate his anger in other even more inappropriate ways. Remind him of God’s principles. Explain to him how his words are beginning to reflect certain issues with his heart that concern you. If he mentions Jesus overturning the tables, explain why this particular incident was an appropriate way for Jesus to express his anger. Remind him how Jesus reacted during his arrest and trial and how frustrated Jesus must have felt, yet how calm and godly he acted.
- After your child understands the issues, let him help you brainstorm alternatives for his behavior the next time he becomes angry or frustrated. Since this has by now become a bad habit, you may need to come up with ways to reward incidents when the words are “swallowed” before being said or when new more appropriate language and behavior has been observed for a period of time. Any bad habits are difficult to break, but I think sometimes those involving our speech are the most difficult. When habits are concerned, I am open to a little encouragement for new more appropriate habits as well as consequences if the bad habit is practiced again.
It will take some effort on your part, but your home can be “hate” free in no time. Remember, if your decision provoking the “I hate you” was wise and godly, do not give into the behavior and change your mind. Doing so will only encourage the child to use those words again as a “weapon” in her arsenal for trying to always get her way.