What To Do When Your Child Says, “I Hate You!”

Hint: It’s the opposite of what you think

child shouting into microphone
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

“I hate you!”

My heart sank as my son uttered the phrase that every parent hates to hear. “I hate you!” This is a child’s equivalent of the f-bomb, a phrase dropped for maximum impact. Words aimed with precision right at a parent’s heart.

“I hate you!” my son shouted again. Then, he burst into tears.

What causes a child to say, “I hate you”?

Toddlers or young children say, “I hate you” when they’re frustrated or deeply disappointed. Young children don’t really mean it in the full sense of the word. They’re just expressing their inability to handle strong feelings.

“What they mean,” says Jeanne L. Williams, an Edmonton-based psychologist, “is, ‘I can’t handle this situation, and I don’t have the skills to respond in a more mature way.’”

Jeanne L. Williams

In my case, my son said, “I hate you” because I tried to help him with his bath. He wanted to bathe himself independently. Since knew how to shampoo his hair and wash his body, I let him.

Ten minutes later, I popped in to check on him. I found him standing in a pool of water in the middle of the floor with a towel draped over his shoulders. Why wasn’t he standing on the bath mat?

Then, I noticed some shampoo still in his hair. He hadn’t washed it all off. He’d missed a little bit right above his forehead.

“William, you didn’t quite get all the shampoo out of your hair. If you get back into the bathtub, I’ll help you wash it out.”

“Go away!” he shouted. “I want to do it myself.” He was hysterical at this point. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“I know,” I replied calmly, “but you need to get all the shampoo out of your hair before school pictures tomorrow. I’m happy to help you.”

“I hate you!” he cried. “Go away! I hate you!” Then, he tried to push me away and I lost my temper.

I overreact

Frustrated, I made my son get back into the bath to wash the shampoo out of his hair. Then, I sent him to his room for a time out.

Still hurt and not convinced I handled the situation very well, I got online to see what the experts had to say about the subject.

I googled ‘what to do when your child says, “I hate you”‘ and found an excellent post. My son’s timeout gave me a chance to read the article and calm down.

Step 1: Focus on what is making your child upset

Jeanne Williams, a Canadian psychologist, suggests looking at this as a ‘downstream problem.’ “Think of a flowing river. The event that precipitated it is upstream. If you dwell on what happens downstream, like taking away privileges, the issue upstream will just keep flowing.”

If we seek the true reason for the outburst, we can address the root cause of the issue.

I felt better when I read that because I knew the true cause of my son’s outburst. He was disappointed he couldn’t surprise me by doing everything himself.

Just that morning my son had done all of his jobs independently. I made a big deal out of it because he was making progress toward getting ready by himself. I was proud of him.

My son was seeking the same positive reaction again and I spoiled it by coming into the bathroom too soon.

When I had a chance to calm down I understood exactly why my son was so upset. I had stolen his joy. He had wanted to surprise me. He was anticipating a proud, happy reaction. Instead, I’d ruined his surprise and had even been displeased with him.

Step 2: Respond with love

Natasha Daniels, a clinical social worker at Hill Child Counseling in Arizona, says, “It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to counteract ‘I hate you’ is to say, ‘Well, I love you.’” A negative reaction will give the child the power they seek. If we respond in the opposite manner, we will take the power out of our child’s words and model the behavior we wish to see.

So, what did I do after researching the issue?

I knocked on my son’s door and found him lying naked on his bed, sobbing. I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. I then said I understood why he was so upset. I had stolen his joy and ruined his surprise. He continued to sob quietly.

I apologized to my son and explained that I just wanted his hair to look nice for school pictures. Then, I told him how proud I was that he was becoming so independent.

I said that I would always love him and want to help him because I’m his mom.

My son and I cuddled for a moment and then I helped him get dressed.

The Takeaway

I now know to downplay the dreaded phrase, “I hate you” and to respond with an “I love you” instead. It’s more important to look for the cause of the outburst and address this than to focus on the child’s emotional outburst. If we give too much importance to the phrase “I hate you” it will only encourage our children to say it more often.

Hopefully, if I keep responding with love and stop making a big deal out of “I hate you” my son will drop it from his repertoire. I’ll just have to be ready for its replacement. Thank goodness for the internet!

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Why Gamify? How to Use Game Dynamics to Make Learning More Fun

“What’s 4×8?” I casually asked my son after breakfast one morning.

“That’s easy, Mom.”

“So, what is it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do this right now.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not part of my homework.”

My son eventually gave me the answer, but the painful experience was not the way I envisioned a quick little multiplication review after breakfast. In fact, I would call my attempt an epic failure (to use my son’s lingo).

My son could count by 4’s, but he didn’t have his multiplication facts memorized. I tried the old-fashioned flashcard technique and was met with resistance. I even loaded a multiplication app onto the iPad, but he still couldn’t answer my rapid fire questions. I needed a new strategy.

A few weeks later I came across Gabe Zichermann’s Ted Talk How Games Make Kids Smarter. This was my first introduction to Gamification. I got really excited about its potential applications for education. Gamification could make learning more fun and allow me to speak my son’s language at the same time.

What is Gamification?

In his book, Explore Like A Pirate, Michael Matera, defines gamification this way:

Gamification is applying the most motivational techniques of games to non-game settings, like classrooms.

Since my son would happily spend an entire morning playing Minecraft, I decided there must be something to this gamification idea. If I could somehow make memorizing times tables as engaging as ‘Rayman Adventures’ it would be a win-win situation.

Matera, a World History teacher, uses gamification in his 6th grade classroom. When an Amazon reviewer wrote that if he could put his son in any teacher’s class it would be Matera’s, I was convinced to read his book.

The human spirit awakens when we are inspired and challenged to confidently go beyond our limits. The power of play brings back the natural yearning that exists inside all of us to learn. — Michael Matera

Why Gamify?

When children play games they are using skills that are involved in building fluid intelligence and developing problem-solving abilities.

In her article, You Can Increase Your Intelligence: 5 Ways to Maximise Your Cognitive Potential, Andrea Kuszewski, a behaviour therapist and cognitive scientist, wrote about five elements involved with increasing fluid intelligence (your capacity to learn new information).

These five primary principles are:

  1. Seek novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things the Hard Way
  5. Network

By playing games, children are able to use all five of these principles at once. Therefore, gaming is a powerful, fun, and efficient way to promote fluid intelligence.

I was convinced. Now it was time to design a game to motivate my son.

Game Dynamics

First, I did a search for game dynamics. I found the following list to get me started:

  1. Create a Quest or Mission
  2. Assign point values to set tasks
  3. Include a time element
  4. Decide on Progression
  5. Allow unlocks for the completion of certain tasks
  6. Award Badges
  7. How to achieve an Epic Win!

Next, I had to apply these game dynamics to my own game design with memorizing multiplation facts as the objective.

Michael Matera mentions the importance of “fusing together the ideal amount of content, choice, and challenge” in game creation.

I knew I could spend days or even weeks trying to create the perfect quest for my son, but I have recently learned to let go of perfectionism and just get started. So I did.

I knew I could tweak my game as I went along and maybe even involve my children in its improvement.

I jotted down a few ideas and then presented them to my children one morning. I was definitely winging it.

The Mission

“Good morning warriors!” That got my sons’ attention.

“You are about to embark on a dangerous quest to defeat monsters, explore new territories, and race against time to find the Lariliean gemstones. Each gem will destroy a monster. If you deliver all 10 gems to Queen Alondra you will save Candyland.”

Yes, I know my quest was totally corny, but my children were intrigued.

My youngest wanted in on the action so I adapted the quest for him. He was supposed to practice reading the ‘tricky’ words his teacher sent home. I decided to give him 5 words to learn each week. He would get a gem when he could read them 3 days in a row.

The Reward (points, badges, in this case gems…)

I told my eldest he would ‘find’ a gem each time he passed a multiplication test. I pulled out some gems from my craft box to entice my son. Each gem was worth 100 points so my son needed to earn 1,000 point to save Candyland.

When he passed a timed multiplication test, I let him choose a gem. Then, we went online and looked at images of monsters. He got to choose which one he wanted to defeat. We printed it out and I let him decide how he wanted to vanquish the monster.

The Time Element

I gave my sons one week to complete each mission (e.g. one multiplication test or one set of 5 ‘tricky’ words). When they earned their gem they would unlock the next level (a harder multiplication test/5 new words).

Multiple Lives

Each of my sons started with 5 lives (5 chances to pass the test). If he ‘died’ on his first attempt he would practice and try again.


This was easy for the multiplication memorization. Ollie started with his 0’s and 1’s and progressed to his 2’s, 3’s, etc….The final goal was to complete a mixed multiplication task for an epic win!

With my youngest I chose the 50 most common sight words to read. For his epic win, he would need to read me all 50 words.


We are now in the middle of our quest. If given a choice, my sons would still prefer to play Minecraft, but I am pleased with the progress they have made. When my eldest completed his 8 times tables last week he was so proud of himself because he had to work so hard to pass.

Now I am off to do the parent homework Michael Matera set in his book, Explore Like a Pirate. Won’t my son be surprised when I ask him to show me how to play ‘Gods of Olympus’ this afternoon…

Teaching Letters and Sounds to Young Children

Early Phonics Instruction

Our local school uses a phonics program that links reading and writing. It’s a nice program and works well when children are ready to write, but I prefer to start phonics earlier in a fun, informal way.

Why Do I Start Teaching Phonics Early?

When children are developmentally ready it is easier for them to grasp letter sounds outside of a school setting.

I knew my three-year-old was ready, when he suddenly became interested in the first letter of his name and he started spotting the letter “W” everywhere we went. I decided it was time to teach the letters and sounds.

My favourite program is Zoo-phonics because each letter is associated with an animal, an action, and the sound. This is good for kinaesthetic learners and just plain active three-year-old boys (like my son).

There are many other similar programs available to suit younger children. You can even make up your own phonics program incorporating your child’s interests (e.g. vehicles). I would include the sound, letter character, and action if I were to create my own.

My rule of thumb is to spend no more than three minutes of instruction with a three-year-old (4 minutes with a four-year-old, etc). Children this young have a short attention span and it is critical to keep phonics instruction fun and informal.

When I introduce Allie Alligator for letter “a”  I chase my son around the lounge using my arms like snapping alligator jaws while I make the sound “a”, “a”, “a”. This is fun for him and he doesn’t even realise he is learning his letter sounds.

Let me know if you find an original way to introduce the letters and sounds. If you keep it fun and informal, your child will be more than ready to read when the time comes.