Doctor Love: My son says he hates me

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

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Dear Doctor Love,
My son tells me he hates me. He’s said it twice, and I don’t know how to respond. Do you have any thoughts on what I should do?
/s/Unsigned

Dear Unsigned,
Few things hurt a parent like hearing the words “I hate you,” from their child but they are only words, despite the intensity you think is behind them. Your son doesn’t hate you—he loves you. He just got angry and didn’t know how to handle it. Whether your son is a toddler or a teenager, you can help him learn better communication skills.
Toddlers are demanding little beings with no way to express their thoughts. He knows he’s angry because you took away his toy at bedtime but how can he let you know he’s angry? By saying, “I hate you.”
Let it pass. A negative reaction will only reinforce the outburst. Like certain swear words, when he doesn’t get a response from “I hate you,” he’ll find other ways to get his point across to you. This would be the time to begin to teach your son how to express himself without using phrases like “I hate you.” As kids grow, so do their verbal skills. School-aged children use words to gain power and “I hate you” is very effective against another child, both as offense and defense.
Let him know that as long as he talks to you without using hurtful phrases, you will listen to his point. Then it’s his turn to hear you out. He may not get what he wants, but he will be given the opportunity to plead his case and learning how to debate his ideas is a useful life skill. If you still get the dreaded “I hate you,” just smile and tell him you love him anyway.
If you got to the teen years without your son telling you he hates you, you are a very lucky mom. Teenagers are living, breathing angst and hormones, and they know how to get a maximum reaction from mom. The upside is that there’s calm after the storm. Or storms. After your son yells, “I hate you, you never let me do anything,” and slams his bedroom door, allow a little cooling-off period, then talk to him. Don’t shame him and don’t remind him you were sixty hours in labor with him. The best approach is to encourage him to talk and deal with his anger effectively, not by losing his temper.
There are parenting websites that can help you teach him positive ways to express himself even when he’s angry.

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