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When children say hurtful things to parents, it can be tough. However, a mental health expert is sharing that it may not always translate the way it sounds.
"'I hate you!' Oh, those dreaded words coming out of the mouth of your preschooler, grade-schooler or teen. This in no way reflects negatively on your parenting skills, not does it mean that your child hates you. It might in fact indicate that your kids have gotten the message that it’s okay to feel and express," says Terry Warburton, the Clinical Director of Recovery of Hope Counselling in Winnipeg.
It is common for parents to react when hurtful words are thrown their way. But a better way to move forward is understand what lies underneath those words.
"We love our kids so much, through the good and the bad. When these moments happen, we need to remember to translate what our immature, frustrated and overwhelmed kids are meaning. Those moments are probably not the best time to give them a lecture on using respectful words."
Sometimes mean words like 'I hate you' from a child simply means they're feeling frustrated.
"If we are translating “I hate you,” let’s look at what it really means. What if we trade the word “hate” for “need.” I hate you really means I need you. Is it possible that is what our child is trying to say? I think so."
If parents can understand that a child is in need of help, it can change everything according to Warburton.
"By this point, we have probably already been triggered with anger and defensiveness and want to correct, discipline or punish our child, and remind them how inappropriate and disrespectful they’re being. But being the adult, let’s take this to another level."
While it can be hard to step back in an intense verbal moment like this, taking a moment to gain perspective can allow the parent to proceed with grace. How do parents continue after these hurtful words?
"Maybe we could say something like, 'I know you are angry but I still love you and I am here,' or 'I get it that you hate me right now, but still love you.' To understand why this type of response is needed is to remember that our child is not capable of logical thought while in the midst of big feelings. To try to teach a lesson at that moment will take too much emotional energy for you as the parent and will not land for the child. Don’t do it because it's futile," she says. "Most importantly, remembering that your child needs you will help to lead you in the right direction and help you to understand what your child needs. As our child’s big feelings settle in the context of the safety, they are feeling with us, then we might be able to move into comfort them, and then eventually talk more about what happened."