Unpopular opinion – when your teen tells you they hate you, it means you’re doing a great job. Honestly. I am not offended by this. The day our teenage daughter – or one of our three younger children – decides to hurl a passionate “I hate you!” at us is the day I’ll know we are doing this parenting thing right. Why is that? Because kids don’t hate you unless you are doing something they don’t agree with. Since kids are notorious for not understanding the dangers of certain situations, the occasional threat of hate probably means you just kept them from getting into serious trouble or even danger.
So, when your teen tells you they hate you, don’t take it personally. They don’t hate you. Just like you don’t hate them, but you know the difference between being frustrated, irritated, and driven mad by them and actually hating them. Kids are dramatic. Perhaps this is an Oscar-worthy moment, but just like the marriages of pretty much every Oscar winner ever (you have heard of the Oscar curse, right?), it’s fleeting.
I Hate You is the Teenager Equivalent of a Toddler Tantrum
Ah, the toddler years. Because I’m filled with unpopular opinions today, let me reminisce quickly about the newborn stage versus the toddler years. Give me every single newborn on the planet over toddlers. I love newborns (but ours also slept through the night almost right away…they miraculously all went to bed around 8 pm and didn’t wake up until 4 am for a feeding, and they were sleeping 10-12 hours a night by six weeks.
They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, and he does not believe me capable of functioning without sleep.) I love new babies. They sleep all the time. They just want to eat when they are awake. Babies can’t get away from you. They don’t talk back. They’re angels.
Toddlers? No, thank you so much for asking though. I did not love the toddler stage. The walking (running in opposite directions when you have twins), the learning to talk, the sass, the tantrums. The constant mess.
No, no, and no. I just do not love toddlers. I loved mine when they were toddlers, but I often found myself thinking, “So this is what it feels like to love someone so much you would die for them, but also not like them very much sometimes,” and I still maintain toddlers are the absolute worst. My best friend will tell you newborns suck the life out of you and toddlers are the cutest and most adorable, but she’s wrong (love you, C!).
When your teenager utters the phrase, “I hate you,” whether it’s under their breath walking away from you or loudly as they stomp off, it’s just their toddler tantrum grown up a little. Honestly, this is a situation so much like the time your toddler threw herself down on the ground in Target and had a fit because her Starbucks cake pop looked at her funny.
It’s momentary, and she’ll love you again before the day is over. She’s just pissed, and you are her safe place. Yes, that’s right – her hatred of you is her telling you that you are her safe place (unless you are abusive, an alcohol, or you killed someone…then she might actually hate you and that’s all right).
Teenage Emotions are Unrivaled
I say that as a mom of four kids who went through three pregnancies with a LOT of hormone-induced emotions (including that twin pregnancy the last time…wow. Talk about an emotional roller coaster). There is nothing quite like a teenager whose emotions are in overdrive. Boys and girls are both learning to deal with new things they’ve never before experienced. Their hormones are out of control. Their emotions are all over the place.
The highs are gloriously high, but that gift is balanced with lows that feel as if the world is coming to an end. Being a teenager is more pressure than ever, and it’s always important that we take a moment to remember our own teenage years. I remember my own teenage years like they were yesterday (they were not). Everything seemed big. Every breakup. Each fight with a friend. Every moment seemed big, overwhelming, and often isolating and lonely. And that was before social media, the internet, phones in our pockets…we grew up in a time when home was an actual safe place.
If school was difficult, we’d go home and feel safe and happy and content at home. Today, kids go to school and home and work and everywhere in between constantly connected to the people and things that make them feel like less. They are never turned off or away from the things that bother them, hurt them, and make them feel bad. They have no safe place. Their emotions are far more heightened than ours ever were.
What Do I Do When My Teen Tells Me They Hate Me?
Remember that it is not personal. This is the single best thing you can do at this moment. Your teen does not hate you. Your teen is mad at the world right now, and they don’t know how to verbalize that or express it other than to say the words that hurt you the most.
Do Not Respond Immediately
Whatever you do, do not respond immediately to your teen’s admission of hatred. Take a few moments to calm yourself down. Count to ten. Take a deep breath while counting to five, hold your breath while counting to five, and then release your breath while counting to five. Close your eyes. Remind yourself that this is not your teen talking to you, this is your teen talking through their emotions. The point is that you cannot respond immediately. Responding before you’ve had a moment to think about what you’re going to say is rarely helpful.
You know your teen does not hate you, but it’s unhelpful to point that out. Do not make your child feel as if their emotions are not valid in this moment. Instead, tell your child that you understand they are upset/hurting/sad/angry/whatever emotion at the moment, but then make it clear those words are not acceptable. For example:
“I know you are feeling hurt right now, and I get it. I have been there. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been sad and upset. However, your words hurt. I understand you are angry with me right now, but your words hurt.” This tells your teen that you respect their emotions and feelings, and it lets them know you are not mad at them for feeling that way. A person’s feelings are not wrong. Their reaction to their feelings might be wrong, but their feelings are personal – not wrong.
Tell Your Teen You Love Them
It’s more important than ever to tell your child you love him or her in this moment. They may not believe you, but that’s all right. They’re feeling unlovable right now, and telling them you love them very much is important. Tell them. Now.
Suggest Taking a Break
Now that you’ve told your child you are hurt, you understand they are frustrated, and you love them, walk away. Make it clear you are not abandoning them or ending these but that you are simply taking time to calm down. Give it a time frame if you’d like. Whatever you do, tell y our child that this conversation is important. However, you need time to calm down and you’d like them to take some time to think before further conversation is had.
Retry Your Conversation Later
Give yourself 30 minutes away from your teen. Let them think about the situation, and then you think about the situation. Once you’re both calm, agree to meet in a neutral space to discuss it further. It’s much easier for your teen to discuss issues like this when they’ve had a chance to calm down and think. No one ever feels as heated as they do in the moment. Right now is a wonderful time to remind your child that you love them, and then speak your mind. Be calm, quiet, and patient. Listen to their side of the story and explain your side. Let them ask questions. If you can, come to a conclusion.
Never Discipline Your Child for Their Feelings
Here’s where things tend to get a little hairy. There is always a question of respect and boundaries. Did your child make you feel disrespected telling you that they hate you? Honestly, that’s a personal feeling – and your feeling is not wrong.
For example, I don’t know that I’d feel as if my child were being disrespectful telling me they hate me so much as they are being emotionally reactive. In that mindset, disciplining her for saying “I hate you” to me wouldn’t sit well. If she said “I effing hate you, you stupid b***h,” then she’s being disciplined because that’s deliberately disrespectful. However, being hurt in the moment and saying I hate you when your emotions are running high isn’t always meant as disrespect.
However, you make that call. At the end of the day though, make sure your teen knows it is not their feelings you are disciplining them for. It’s their disrespect, broken rules, etc. The most important thing you can do for your child is to teach them they are never going to be in trouble over their feelings. Even if you disagree with their feelings, feelings are highly personal and they’re not wrong.
Helping Your Kids Cope With Their Emotional Issues
Emotions are so hard sometimes. They’re even harder when you’re young and have no idea how to control or manage them. You learn from experience, and teens don’t have that much experience. These are trying times, but they are also teachable moments. Remember, we all make mistakes. It’s what we do after we make a mistake that defines us. Learning from your mistakes and doing better is what it’s all about. Your teen can use this lesson – and the sooner, the better.
What Not to Do
Teaching your teen learn to cope with his or her emotions is a daunting task, but it’s made easier by knowing what not to do in the moment. Do not:
- Tell your child to stop overreacting
- Tell your child they are wrong
- Insinuate to your child it is not that bad
- Tell your child they’re being ridiculous/dramatic
What To Do
Leading by example is a wonderful way to teach kids to handle their emotions. You might think your teenager ignores everything you do – you are so uncool to them – but they’re watching. They might even think you’re kind of cool (read – a little bit kind of somewhat on occasion like twice a year) sometimes. Regardless, they’re watching, and they are absorbing everything you do. If you’re not leading by example as it pertains to appropriately handling emotions, they’re not learning anything.
- Practice breathing exercises with your teen. Let them know that the best way to get control over their emotions when they feel out of control is by breathing in and out, slowly and deeply, and using counts of four or five.
- Teach your child that taking a break is all right. It’s so imperative to teach your teen to ask for a moment. If they feel their emotions have control over them, let them know it’s all right to say they need a few moments to collect themselves before they have a discussion.
- Let your child know that responding immediately is rarely the best way to handle any situation. Sometimes, the best response is no response in the heat of the moment. When he or she has had time to clear their head, their response is much more likely to go over better.
- Teach your child they are not responsible for other people. They are only responsible for their own reaction at any given moment, which means they need to learn how to appropriately react.
It’s All Right
It is all right to feel sad. It’s okay to brush it off and not feel that bad at all. It is also fine to feel disappointed. The moral of this story is that feelings are very real, and no one’s feelings are wrong. If your teen tells you he or she hates you, just understand they do not mean it. Emotions are scary, and being a teenager is hard. You’ll both get through it.