“I Hate You, Mom! I Wish You Were Dead!” — When Kids Say Hurtful Things
There are few things in the world that hurt a parent more than hearing their child say, “I hate you.” The words cut like a knife. The child you love so much and have sacrificed for in so many ways now hates you.
“I hate you, mom! I wish you were dead!”
“You are the worst mom ever!”
“I can’t wait to get the f— out of this house! I hate it here!”
These words leave parents feeling a combination of hurt, anger, and resentment. Parents will naturally think to themselves:
“Don’t you appreciate all that I have done for you? How dare you speak to me that way!”
It’s so easy to take this as a personal attack because when we give up so much for someone, we almost always expect good things from them in return. Doesn’t my child understand the sacrifices that I have made for them and that I love them?
Here’s the truth: your child probably doesn’t feel like they owe you anything for all the great work you do as a parent. Most kids don’t, in part because they perceive the world very differently than we do.
What Hurtful Words Really Mean
Let me be clear: it’s very important to understand that these hurtful words your child is using are not about you at all. Taking it personally often leads to a big emotional reaction from you, which reinforces the bad behavior. This tells your child that they’re powerful—and have power over you—which helps the behavior continue in the future. After all, who doesn’t want to feel powerful at least once in a while?
Kids often spout off hurtful words like these when they have a problem they don’t know how to solve, whether they’re angry, stressed, or dealing with feelings about something bad that happened at school that day. Not being able to handle their problems leads your child to feelings of discomfort—and pushing your buttons and getting a strong emotional reaction from you helps to make up for those feelings of discomfort.
Don’t get me wrong, your child isn’t consciously aware of this in most cases. Nevertheless, causing you to be upset helps them to compensate for their inability to handle the problem they’re facing at the time. Some kids also say hurtful things as a means of trying to get what they want. If they can hurt you, you might feel bad or doubt yourself and give in. So in some cases, it’s a way to achieve a more tangible goal.
I think it’s also worth noting that kids often use a lot of faulty thinking to justify their behavior. In other words, they think that if they perceive someone as being mean or if they see something as being unfair, that makes it okay to be hurtful towards the offender.
What Not to Do When Your Child Says Hurtful Things
First, the don’ts. Reacting to what your child says by being angry or upset is normal—after all, you’re only human. While an emotional reaction is a very natural thing, it often leads to ineffective choices. Here is a list of what not to do when your child says mean and hurtful things to you:
Don’t Say Hurtful Things Back
Your natural reaction might be to say something like:
“Well, I hate you too!”
“Well, I wish I never had you! What do you think about that?!”
But saying something hurtful in response sends your child the message that you are not in control. It also models ineffective problem solving for your child. In other words, it shows your child that the way to handle verbal attacks is to launch a verbal counterattack.
Don’t Scream or Yell
Screaming, yelling, or even raising your voice will lead to the same ineffective outcome as saying something hurtful. You will show your child that you are not in control emotionally—that you are their emotional peer. And again, you are modeling ineffective ways to solve problems or conflicts with others. Not to mention, you’re essentially giving up your power to the child. Do you really want to do that?
Don’t Say “You can’t…”
A lot of parents respond to their children by saying something like, “You can’t talk to me that way!” Well, the truth is, they can. You can’t control what words come out of your child’s mouth—that’s something they have complete control over at all times.
When you say, “You can’t” to your child, it can incite a power struggle as your child might think, “Oh yeah? Try and stop me!” and on and on they go. Try to choose other words instead. (I’ll give you some examples of more effective verbal responses in a moment.)
Don’t Try to Reason with Your Child in the Heat of the Moment
Oftentimes, parents will lecture or try to reason with their kids to get them to see things their way. Some parents might say, “Well, someday I will be dead, and then what will you do?”
Others might point out all the things they do for their child to convince them they should be more grateful and respectful. That vast difference in perception between you and your child that I mentioned earlier means there’s a very good chance you won’t be able to get them to see eye–to–eye with you. You’re effectively asking them to get up to a level they just aren’t at right now.