Friday, September 28, 2007

What to do when your 6 year old child says "I hate you"

I have always known that Anna is a bit ahead of the curve in maturity and brain cells. Bearing that in mind I have also always known that eventually and inevitably the day would come when she said those dreaded words.

I hate you.

I wasn't expecting the day to be today, and I wasn't expecting her to be the ripe age of 6 1/2. I certainly did expect those words to be hurled at me from the throws of prepubescence, and I was even more certain that they would pop up during some premenstrual debacle.

Those are words that I know well. Too well. I cannot tell you how many times those words were said to me in anger as a child. I think what hurt the most is when those words were handed to me with apathy.

Anna said that she hated me, then told me that everything was my fault... and after that I can honestly say that I don't remember much. I told her she was to stay in her room and not come out until it was clean and that I did not want to talk to her.

I went down stairs in a haze. I walked in circles until I was crushed under the pressure and weight of those 3 words. I cried. I can honestly say that it grieves me.

So I did what I always do when furious or hurt, I cleaned. After I worked offf a little grief I decided to google 'what to do when your 6 year old child says "I hate you"'. I read various sites that stated that at this age they are not aware of the meaning of those words and say them because they are angry, but don't mean them. Sure, I know that younger children say these things to their parents, and I know that hypothetically they don't mean it. You can't say that about Anna. She's very intelligent. Though I know she may not realize the consequences of this act I can tell you that she meant them with every fiber, even for a brief moment.

This site said:
The unanimous chorus from experts: Don't take it personally. Kids say these things when they're frustrated or angry. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Of course, distancing yourself when your kid seems to be dissing your mothering skills isn't easy, but letting your child think that you're all too happy to get rid of him -- or worse, that you hate him, too -- isn't okay. Since the under-9 set are literal thinkers, they won't detect the reverse psychology at work, and you might end up undermining your child's trust...

...Easier said than done, of course, but if you're upset, wait until you've calmed down to say anything. "When you get emotional, you lose 50 IQ points," says Ray Levy. "But later on you can say, 'It hurts my feelings when you tell me you hate me.' Usually when kids are calm, they're pretty remorseful."

Even though I agree with the last part of the statement above, I do not feel it is OK to "just let it go". Not at Anna's age anyway, no matter how literal she is she is also very logical and emotionally driven. I feel at this age is entirely appropriate for Anna to understand the kind of fallout that can occur in this situation. I sat at my computer thinking about what I would say to her. On one hand I could gloss it over " and not dwell on it, as the article above insinuates, as well as all of the other sites I visited. On another I could explain how horrendously this has affected me at the risk of making her feel guilty, in order for her to understand how devastating this can be for a loved one; and for her to understand that she must never do this again.

Then I read this blog post... THANK GOD. Finally something that addresses the state of the mature child and what it means to be 6 years old. Shauna, the blog author quotes from a book that helped her immensely :
The six-year-old is a complex child, entirely different from the five-year-old.Though many of the changes are for the good -- Six is growing more mature, more independent, more daring and adventurous -- this is not necessarily an easy time for the little girl or boy. Relationships with mothers are troubled -- most of the time Six adores mother, but whenever things go wrong, it's her fault. It used to be, at Five, that she was the center of the child's universe; now, the child is the center of his own universe.
Yes, exactly. OK. I value my children's opinions. I expect them to be able to tell me what that think and feel. All I'm asking is for a little courtesy. I want so much for my kids to have what I didn't which is an opinion... but I need to be able to draw the line at hurt and disrespect , and I need to be able to tell them that it's not OK.

Anna eventually came downstairs about an hour after the incident and apologized for saying those words and that she didn't mean them anymore. I sat there with my mouth open for a moment, trying to compose my thoughts. She didn't mean it anymore.

I explained to her that it hurts me that she felt that way at all, even if it was just for a moment. I said that hate was a very strong word, and though I was glad she was sorry , it's hard to take that word back. I also said that hate is the strongest negative word you can say to someone you love, and when you say it- even though you will probably be sorry later- it stays with a person.

I explained that though I have been angry with her many times, I have never hated her and would never EVER say that to her. I explained that telling someone that you hate them and that you wish that they had never been born are the worst things yo could say to someone you love or care about. I told her that my mother told me those things more times than I can remember, and it still hurts to this day.

I explained that those words will stay with me and in my heart forever... and that the reason why I was telling her this was for her to understand and learn from this situation.

I want her to learn that it's NEVER OK to tell someone you hate them, especially not the people you love. That it's OK to tell me she is angry with me, and I will acknowledge her feelings. It's OK to express anger, hurt and frustration. I respect her as a person, I respect her feelings.

I explained all of this and the fact that those words were unacceptable. She sobbed on my shoulder. We hugged and I told her I loved her, and she held on to me for what seemed like dear life for over 10 minutes.

My heart hurts a little less and I am hoping that over time that abyss will close and heal itself to the tiniest of fractures.

I know the joys will out number the sorrows. I have faith that the brilliance of her love and understanding will fill those little cracks with so much light that they will be unseen to the naked eye. Hopefully no one will know they are there but me.


Csara said...

Your post broke my heart and I feel tears burning my eyes. I'm glad you had such a productive conversation with your daughter and hopefully she will never utter those words to you again. HUGS!

Emma said...

Mary, your post struck such a chord with me, since Miss M and I went through exactly this situation last week. I tried really hard not to take it personally, but it's SOOOO hard! We had a long conversation after we'd both calmed down and I think she has some idea of how it impacted on me. As you say, I expected it at about 12, not 8.

I guess these are the times that show us how fabulous our kids are the other 99.99% of the time!

Kelly - PTT said...

Kids don't always blow off steam in appropriate ways (nor do adults). The challenge is to figure out how not to take it personally - and that's easier said than done.

I'm a believer in waiting to cool down, and then sharing your true feelings. Kids don't always get the fact that their words really can wound. And obviously she doesn't want to do that to you.

Seems to me that you're doing an awesome job handling a very emotional situation.

kailani said...

I'm on my way out the door to work but I had to stop by and find out what happened.

I would be heartbroken if GG ever said that to me whether she meant it or not. Yes, they're just kids but they are old enough to know what they're saying. I'm glad that you explained to her how you felt and the repercussions of saying things that hurt. Hopefully, she'll think twice next time.

Glad to hear that it ended on a positive note!

Ash said...

Oy. Is this what I have to look forward to?

Daddy Forever said...

If my seven-year old said that to me, I would be hurt and upset too. I would give her the cold shoulder and eventually she would apologize, but it would still hurt she said it to begin with.

Lucy said...

You're such a good mom for putting so much thought into your response. My mother would have just slapped me. I haven't heard "I hate you" from my girls yet, but I have heard "I don't love you anymore" from my four-year-old, which I know is different.

Anyway, well done.

maggie said...

I know I've heard I hate you once from each kid. I've always just kind of passed it off. I usually say sorry you feel that way. I love you though and walk away. I remember that feeling as a kid emotions are so intense and you can't express them.

I'm sorry that you hurt so much. I'm sorry that your mother said those words to you. No child should hear those from their parent.

Marci said...

Dear Sis,
I know too well how those words can hurt. I have been guilty of using them and have had them used on me by the kids. My hat is off to you on how you took care of the issue. You are a much better mom than I am. One of the things that I tried to teach the kids to find another word. They have the right to be mad and they can express themselves, but when words are said, it's too hard to take them back.
The girls are so lucky to have you as their mom.
Love you

shauna said...

I love reading posts that this that let me know I'm not alone. Thanks for visiting my site! :)

Julie said...

Wow! How emotionally exhausting! I remember those years. Mine are 17,20 and 22 and only one ever said those words to me. One threatened to stay with his dad and it's just all so heartbreaking. They manage to find ways to break your heart even without meaning to. The child that never broke my heart is just so like me and that causes more tears then the other two have given me combined.

Jenny said...

Wow. I'm so sorry. I think I would be heartbroken.

wolfbaby said...

btw your egg donor sucks

as for the other it hurts.. i don't know how well i would have handled it...


Pamela said...

I had clean your room fights with my girls.

looking back... I wish I would have just shut the door and let them be.

Pamela said...

You handled the "hate" discussion very well.

I think it is hard for kids to distinguish between hating how things are turning out - and hating the parents who are processing the situation.

She sounds like a smart kid....
maybe next time she'll remember to say
"I hate it when you make me clean my room."

Mom in Mendon said...

Were it not for your own childhood hurts, this wouldn't have bothered you so much. You were probably trying hard to keep that very thing out of your home and suddenly, wham.

Although mine are grown,I remember the first time I heard it from one of them. She was probably four or five and I was surprised. I said calmly but firmly, "You don't have to like me, but you do have to do what I say--so you can eat those cherries somewhere besides the living room," as I ushered her and her friend out the door.

At another time, I talked about "hate" and I reminded her that our family tries not to use that word freely.

BTW, of course I wanted my children to like me, but you have to teach them correct principles. When they mature, they recognize that you tried to do right by them.

It's good to see mothers who want to show children love and tenderness.

Anonymous said...

It is heart breaking when your six year old discovers and uses the word "hate", especially when they direct it towards you. The person who cares and loves them the most.

I am a mother of 3, two of whom are already grown and off to college and one (6 year old) at home who is currently in the "I hate you" stage.

While I agree with you that the "hate" word projects a negative and hurtful outcome, I believe it is important to allow your child to express there feelings. While at the same time, after everyone is calm, to share how those words or word has effected you as a person. I admire the steps you took to talk to your child.

However, I disagree with you on never wanting your child to use the word "hate". I believe children should be allowed to express his/her feelings. This way they learn that they can be open with you no matter what and in any given situation. This will be important as they mature into adulthood. By not allowing your child to express themselves, they learn to hold in their feelings, which can be self destructive.

Of course, repitation and consistency is important in getting this across to a child. As we know they tend to forget things rather quickly at any given time. :)

The one thing, we as parents must know and trust, is that everything we teach our child, stays with our child. There will be times when you swear they are not listening nor do they hear you. Trust that they do, because when they grow into adults you will be blessed to see all hard work HAS paid off!

Mert said...

Anonymous, thank you so much for your input... it's very timely! My friend Kelly at Pass The Torch recommended a book to me: Parenting with Love & Logic. So far the book takes the very approach you are describing, which is loving your child through encouragement (which allows them to express their feelings) and not judgment.

Though I try very hard to make sure I allow my kids to express themselves I do become a drill sargent at times. Through reading this book (which I'm only on the 3rd chapter of) I have realized that the problem isn't my daughter... it's me. I'm learning!

Thanks againg for your input, ~mert

Mert said...

Having had a full day to think about my previous comment I decided that I needed to amend it a little.

i do NOT think that it's OK for family members to go around telling each other hurtful things like "I hate you". When this incident first happened it had occurred to me that Anna possibly didn't know the true meaning of the word hate. i explained to her that hate meant (at least to me) the absence of all love and respect. She then told me that what she had actually meant was that she was very angry with me.

NOW that I can deal with. i tell her all the time that she is free to express her opinion, but she can do it while using appropriate words. As in: I am really amd at you right now, i don't want to talk right now, you make me mad, you hurt my feelings.

I realize that teaching her to do so encourages her to use words taht are closer to her actual emotional state- rather than to go to extremes with words because she can't control herself enough to use appropriate words.

I don't feel that the the world's view of permissiveness is a good thing. If my daughter feels like calling me an asshole, is that OK? No. it's not. Am I to believe that in a world where a parent speaking to their children in this manner would be considered abuse, but it's OK for kids to do these things to people because they need to be able to express their feelings? ( and no, i would never call my kids something like that). Isn't that twching my children duplicity? that kids can do whatever they want without consequences?

How am I teaching my children anything good if I permit them to just yell out anything they feel because they need to "express themselves"?

I think there is something to be said for teaching kids that it is OK to express their feelings. But i would be doing my children a disservice if i was so permissive as to just let them say what ever they wanted. that's not how the real world works. People need to be able to control themselves and while i encourage my girls to express their opinions I think i am also responsible to teach them tact and respect.

This "hate" thing (though i am definitely not a perfect person or what I would call a good example of a Christian) does not line up with what the bible says about loving each other.

i CAN teach my kids to express themselves with out using extreme words like cursing and words such as hate. i can teach them that i love and respect them enough to let them be who they are without hurting other people horribly with their words.

Again, in the real world we are not allowed to just go off on a a rant and verbally abuse people.What kind of world would we live in if there were no consequences to our word and actions? i don't want to know.

So, i will continue to love my kids enough that they call tell me I am a dork or that I have made them angry, but I refuse to allow them to hurt people because I showed them it was OK to treat people that way.