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Responding to & Coping with the “I Hates…”

The phrase “I hate Mommy!” is quite common in young children. Usually it is expressed when Mom is the one who…

  • Reminds me of a rule
  • Stops me from doing something I want to do
  • Won’t give me something I want

The preschool-age child struggles with the intensity of huge feelings—frustration, disappointment, anger—by using the new and powerful tool of language. The preschooler has learned that there is great power in relationship, as well as, words, and he is working to manage the power of his larger, faster, stronger body.

We help them most when we can give names to the desires and emotions underlying their “hate yous” and offer ways to cope.

We help ourselves when we translate the phrase “I hate mommy” into it’s real meaning “I don’t want to” or “I don’t want this.”

To illlustrate, I will use an example within a co-parenting context. Children in all sorts of family structures will use “hate you” language, but for those parenting their children in different households, this language can deliver more of a sting or lead to feelings of guilt.

Scenario: It is bedtime and you get a “hate you” when your 4-yr-old son can’t have Daddy do the tuck in. A response that names the emotions and offers ways to cope might sound something like, “You’re wishing Daddy was here to read to you…” Pause. “Which book would you pick for him to read tonight?” Pause. “Since Daddy’s not here, do you think you’d like to read it to me or your teddy bear for tonight?”

It could be that you empathize with your little one: “It’s hard when we can’t have the people we love around us. I’ll be here if you want some company.”

This work is complicated by our own emotions and desires. Adjusting to co-parenting is not an easy season in life for anyone. Trying to maintain a calm loving presence calls on every skill and coping strategy we have in reserve. Whether co-parenting or not, if the “hate yous” are really hurting you, this is when you need to find and use your best support network and do all you can to take care of yourself. Thank you for including us in a small way in that network, and please continue to ask for what you need.


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