While in an airport restroom last week I overheard the following conversation between a sweet, patient mom (SPM) and someone who I assume was her crying, travel-weary toddler (TWT). The mom never once lost her cool or her kind voice with the little one.
SPM: Sit up on the potty.
TWT: I caaaannn't!
SPM: Yes, you can.
TWT: No, I caaann't.
SPM: Are you hungry?
TWT: Noooo. I need a driiinnnk.
SPM: OK. We'll get you a drink as soon as we finish going potty.
TWT: Noooo. I caaann't!
SPM: It will just take a minute. I know you can.
SPM: Good job. Let's wash your hands.
TWT (still crying): I can't wash my hands!
SPM: Come on. I'll help you. Rub your hands together.
TWT: I don't like you!
SPM: I know you don't.
Hearing this conversation made me smile. It was so classic. I remember like yesterday the sting of those last words, but I don't know a parent who hasn't heard them, and if they haven't they're in the minority. All parents are disliked by their children at some point and it doesn't take long for them to be able to voice it. I mean, really, this toddler was already experiencing those feelings!
The "I don't like you" line can be offered in many different forms. My youngest daughter used to tell me, "You're not my friend anymore!" On good days I usually replied, "That's OK. I'm not here to be your friend. I'm here to be your mother. But I hope we'll be friends again." But there were other days that it took everything in me to not spout back, "I don't want to be your friend either! I don't like you!" Emotions run high when parents are exasperated and tired.
So what's the point? The point is, don't take these verbal assaults personally. It's part of the parenting territory. Those little people you're raising have emotions just as real as yours. They just don't have the finesse to deal with them properly yet. It's a parent's job to respect their children's feelings, while still teaching them to be respectful and kind. Sounds impossible, but it isn't.
So how should you respond when your child says he doesn't like you or even hates you? Here are a few suggestions.
- Evaluate the overall situation. Is your child overly tired? Stressed? Stimulated? If so, cut him some slack and sympathize, as the parent in the airport bathroom did. Then try to meet the real need for sleep, calm, or less stimulation.
- Say, "I know you're angry, but in our family we still love each other, even if we're angry." This helps your child sort out his emotions and put proper names to them. Anger doesn't equal hate.
- If he can't calm down, or keeps screaming hateful things, remove him from the room and place him in time out. Play soothing music or something else that may help him calm down. After he's relaxed enough that you can converse with him, explain that you understand he was angry, but that it's never kind to tell someone you don't like them because it hurts their feelings. Brainstorm other ways they can express their anger or frustration without hurting people's feelings.
- Tell your child that you get angry, too, but that you never want to say things that make him feel sad. Apologize if you know you have said unkind things to your child and ask his forgiveness. And really, who hasn't? Set an example for your child showing him he can apologize when he makes mistakes, too.
Bottom line, it isn't the end of the world if your child says he hates you. It's an angry moment. It will pass and you know it isn't true. Try not to overreact. Use it as a teaching moment. Keep loving your child unconditionally and your relationship will move beyond this stage before you know it.
Has your child said he doesn't like you? What was your best response?