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!

If you liked this post, you may like these as well:

Give Children The Benefit Of Boredom

Give Children The Benefit of Boredom
Photo by Margaret Weir on Unsplash

Give children the benefit of boredom and find more time for yourself.

Yesterday, I took a shower in the middle of the day while my two sons bickered in the background. It was great! Why? Because until now I’ve saved my personal tasks for when the children are in bed.

Recently, I started writing early in the morning. Now, when I finally get both kids to bed, the last thing I want to do is tackle my neverending list of jobs. I’m exhausted.

Last week I had an epiphany. I should take care of myself and my needs during the day. I don’t have to keep my sons engaged and active every waking hour. In fact, it’s better for them to have some unsupervised, free time.

In our modern world full of productivity hacks and tools for time management maximisation, we’re working harder than ever. Yet, taking time to rest and recharge is essential for our mental health. It’s also critical for our children’s well-being.

“Over-scheduling can create increased stress and anxiety for both parents and children. Over the last several years there has been an increase in anxietyrelated disorders due to the stressors involved with over-scheduling.”

Rebecca Kieffer

As a former elementary school teacher of low-income, English language learners I was encouraged to make every second of my teaching day count. After all, I had to make up for huge gaps in knowledge and prepare my students for the high stakes standardized tests looming at the end of each year. As a bonus, my busy classroom routine cut down on behavioral issues. When my students were actively engaged, they had less time to goof off.

When I became a parent, I transferred this approach to my parenting. And it worked. I kept my sons so busy and active they didn’t have time to get into too much trouble. Even though I kept trouble to a minimum, I wasn’t allowing my sons to develop the interpersonal skills they’d need in the future. Children must learn how to resolve conflicts without adult intervention. It’s no good preventing disagreements at home because they will arise in the real world and children need practice resolving them.

The Benefits of Boredom

Give children the benefit of boredom
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Boredom gives children an inner quiet that helps with imagination and self-awareness.”


Boredom is beneficial for our children, but it’s hard for parents to let go and simply allow children to be bored. When I leave my children to their own devices for too long I soon hear raised voices followed by the inevitable, “I’m telling!”

Either that or the rough play escalates until someone gets hurt. Even now, as I write, I’m resisting the urge to intervene in the disagreement I hear next door.

My goal this summer is to allow my children to be bored often.

Because I know this will be challenging for all of us, I’m preparing my children for their newfound freedom. To do this I plan to build disconnected time into each day, give my children techniques for resolving conflicts on their own, and encourage solitary play time.

How To Prepare For A Summer of Freedom

Build Disconnected Time Into Each Day

During disconnected time no screens or digital devices are allowed. This rule applies to the adults, too. To prepare for disconnected time, my sons and I brainstormed a list of fun, screen-free activities. We wrote them down on a poster and I hung it up on the refrigerator. Now, when my sons come to me and complain of boredom, I refer them to the list.

Model Conflict Resolution

It’s important to show children how to resolve conflicts peacefully when no adults are present. Without the right foundation, they won’t be able to do this.

I wait for my children to be calm and happy before I model conflict resolution.

First, I act out a scenario. I pretend I’m my youngest son, and I ask my eldest if I can play with the Lego set he’s using. He looks at me and says, “No, I’m using it.”

I then grab the Legos and whine, “But I want to use them! It’s not fair!”

My children look at me like I’m crazy. Then, we discuss how I could’ve handled the situation differently.

They usually tell me I should have said ‘please’ and asked in a nice voice.

I then suggest the following compromise. My youngest should ask to have a turn once the eldest finishes playing with the Legos. Since my children are calm and happy, they agree with this idea.

We discuss the old adage, You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Then we practice using ‘honey’ in different scenarios. We each take a turn acting out a scene with vinegar, too. My sons love doing this. In our calm, happy state, they see how obnoxious this behavior is.

Of course, when my sons are in the heat of an argument they forget our conflict resolution session. But, because we’ve practiced, I can remind them of the techniques we discussed and they can change tactics to get what they want.

The second technique I use when my children are tattling on each other is to ask if they would prefer to resolve the conflict together on the peaceful step or go to their rooms for a 5 minute timeout and cooling off period.

Usually they opt to go to the peaceful step and resolve the conflict on their own (without me). Sometimes, my youngest is so upset he needs the cooling off period and my intervention. I offer to help, but only after he completes the cooling off period. By offering him this option before I intervene, he’s more motivated to work things out with his brother by himself. Eventually, he stops running to me at the first sign of a problem because he knows what my response will be.

Encourage Solitary Play

‘Children need time to themselves — to switch off from the bombardment of the outside world, to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests and gifts.’


The first step for encouraging solitary play is to show your child how fun it can be. To do this, designate an area for ‘special play’ or put out a selection of toys and craft materials that only come out during solitary play time. Things like Legos, blocks, crayons, costumes, boxes, paper plates and tissue paper are fun materials that will encourage creative play. You can also put out a box of special books that only come out during solitary play time. To mix it up a little, send your children into the garden with a shovel and encourage them to dig holes, make mud pies, or catch insects to study.

By making solitary play a routine part of the day, you’ll give your children permission to daydream and discover personal interests. If you keep them busy, you don’t give them the freedom to pursue their own ideas or think creatively about play.

By allowing your children enough free time to be bored, you’ll give them a chance to tap into their creativity. Free play will also provide opportunities to develop the interpersonal skills our children will need in the future.

If you need more encouragement to leave your children alone or give them more independence, you may want to read the following articles:

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning At Home

How To Motivate Children Who Are Resistant to Learning

You Want to Keep This One in Your Parenting Bag of Tricks

“No! I don’t want to…” wailed my five-year-old as I pulled out the word list his teacher had sent home for him to practice.

“Why don’t we play beat the clock?” I suggested in a chirpy voice. “It’s really fun!”

“No! I don’t want to do it!”

I sighed, resigned to the fact that nothing I could possibly say would convince my son to read the word list. He had totally and completely set himself against it.

Playing the Boob

Then I remembered a trick from Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-year-old. Granted, my son was no longer four, but I had a feeling this parenting trick was going to work.

Dr. Karp calls it “playing the boob.” On his website he says:

We all pretend to be klutzes sometimes when we are playing with our kids. It makes them laugh, feel clever and strong (by comparison to their inept parent) and makes them want to be more cooperative. Sound odd? Embarrassing? Unnatural? Well, actually it’s a silly idea that’s super smart…

It’s genius!

Beat the Clock

I pulled up the stopwatch on my phone and handed it over to my son. Sitting down at the kitchen table with his reading list in front of me, I asked him to push the green start button and then I started to read.

“D”… “ay”, “d”… “ay”. I sounded out the first word dragging the sounds out as long as I possibly could. Finally, I put them together. “Day” I said with a big grin. My son laughed.

Slowly and painfully I read my way through the word list finally finishing 46 seconds later. I told my son to press ‘stop’ and then I bragged about how good my time was. 46 seconds! Isn’t Mommy a fast reader?

By that time, my son couldn’t wait to have a go. He knew he was going to beat me. Since he had already heard me read the words the task now seemed manageable.

When I timed him he finished in 20 seconds flat. Then he started dancing around the kitchen overjoyed that he had read faster than I did.

As the youngest he doesn’t often get to ‘win’ or feel bigger and better than the rest of us. “Playing the boob” (despite its ridiculous name) is a brilliant technique for encouraging cooperation and motivating children.

What young child doesn’t long for the opportunity to be better at something than his/her parents?

On the happiestbaby.com website, Dr. Karp lists several way to play the boob. He encourages parents to be babies, to be blind, to be klutzes, to be pompously incorrect, to be ridiculous, and to be weak pushovers.

I’m now devising ways of using this technique to get my children to do more housework. I wonder if they will take over the mopping if I slosh water all over the kitchen? Somehow I don’t think so.

Common Vowel Teams to Practice at Home

I use this technique to practice digraphs with my son (a.k.a. special friends, vowel teams, etc.)

Dr. Seuss’ classic, Hop On Pop, has several of these vowels teams and is a fun resource for children to see the words in context.

Here are some common vowel teams to practice with your early reader:

ay – play, say, may, stay, hay, spray, day, way, bay, ray

ee – see, three, tree, seen, green, sleep, jeep, beep, need, keep

igh – high, thigh, light, bright, knight, night, fright, might, sight, flight, tight

oo – too, poo, moo, zoo, food, pool, moon, spoon, brood

oo – look, book, took, hook, shook, foot, look, crook

ow – blow, show, low, snow, row, know, slow, flow, throw, bow, glow, mow, tow

oy – toy, boy, enjoy, Roy, deploy, royal, loyal

oi – foil, soil, oil, toil,

ou – out, mouth, round, sound, found, shout, loud,

ow – plow, sow, allow, wow, bow, cow, how, now, pow, row, vow

‘r’-controlled words (Bossy ‘r’)

ar – car, far, start, part, smart, star, sharp, tar, tarp, bar, hard, yard, card, spark, dark, park

or – or, for, sort, fork, horse, short, sport, snort, worn, torn, born, door, floor

ir – girl, dirt, whirl, bird, twirl, sir, fir, third, swirl, thirsty, squirm, squirt

ur – fur, blur, burp, spurn, turn, hurt, nurse, purse, church, lurch, burst

air – hair, fair, air, chair, lari, stair






A Gameful Approach to a Growth Mindset

How to Help Your Children Embrace Challenges

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

“I can’t do it! It’s too hard!”

Wiping my hands on a dish towel, I walk into the living room just as my son is pounding his fists on the piano keys.

How am I going to handle this one?

What is a Growth Mindset?

If you are a parent, you have likely encountered Dr. Carol Dweck’s ideas about people having either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

According to Dweck,

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. [Alternatively], In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

As a parent, I try to encourage my children to have a growth mindset.

One way I do this is by asking them to share something hard they have done each day.

My sons share their hard feats with pride and I always tell them about one of my challenges as well.

But when confronted with a challenging situation (like playing a piano piece with both hands together for the first time), my sons still have meltdowns.

How to Handle a Caveman

Right now I have a crying, red-faced 8-year-old boy on my hands. A lecture on the benefits of a growth mindset is not going to help.

He just wants to go play. In his eyes, he has served enough time on the piano bench.

Dr. Harvey Carp says it best on his website, The Happiest Toddler on the Block:

Many parents try to console their flailing, angry tot with logic and reason…but often that only makes things worse. That’s because even calm children often struggle to understand our long-winded explanations…and when they’re angry or frustrated, they may not be open to hearing even simple soothing comments.

Now my son is no longer a toddler, but I still recognize when he switches into caveman mode. There is no reasoning with him. It is time for stealth tactics.

Time for a Gameful Approach

In her book, Super Better, Dr. Jane McGonigal, a game designer and the first person in the world to get a Ph.D. studying the psychological strengths of gamers, says that a gameful approach can help you access your “heroic qualities, like willpower, compassion, and determination” (pg 1).

I believe this approach may also help children strengthen their ability to cope with difficult tasks.

Dr. McGonigal writes that being gameful means:

Bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games – such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination – to your real life. It means having the curiosity and openness to play with different strategies to discover what works best. It means building up resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success. (Super Better pg 3).

My purpose in adopting a gameful approach with my children is to help them take these skills and apply them to difficult school assignments, demanding extracurricular activities, and any other challenging situations they might face.

Making the Connection between Video Games and Real Life

So we return to my frustrated 8-year-old son at the piano.

I casually ask, “What is the hardest thing about survival mode in Minecraft?”

My son stops crying and looks at me as if aliens have suddenly possessed me (probably because my usual technique to get him to practice is to threaten to take away his Ipad time while he unhappily plays his piece the required amount of time).

He finally decides the body snatchers have not invaded our house and he answers my question.

I hear all about the skeletons, zombies and even spiders that attack at night when a gamer is in survival mode.

And I really listen.

“Why don’t you give up when all the bad guys start killing you?” I ask.

“Because I know I can figure out how to defeat them,” he answers.

“So, defeating a zombie is a bit like trying to play the piano with both hands.”

My son looks at me defensively.

“It’s a challenge. And something you won’t be able to do the first time you try it.”

I Issue a Challenge

“I think you will make at least 10 mistakes when you play your piano piece today,” I tell my son, “but hopefully tomorrow you will only make 8, and then 6, and then 4…”

“I won’t make 10 mistakes,” my son interrupts.

“Of course you will. It’s really hard to play with both hands the first time you try.”

Now I have him. I have issued a challenge and he is ready to prove me wrong.

And he does. He gets through the piece. He makes a few mistakes, but he feels good because it’s nowhere near the 10 mistakes I assumed he would make.


As I researched this article I came across a post suggesting that the gamification of children is bad.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of now. Our kids become obsessed with getting A’s — they dream of the next test to prove themselves instead of dreaming big…A by-product of this is that we’re making them dependent on the validation that we’re giving them — the gamification of children.

Whilst I agree that we shouldn’t encourage the gamification of our children, we certainly should encourage a gameful approach to challenging tasks.

As our children face challenging tasks and situations let’s change the language we use with them.

What if we reframe hard tasks as challenges and opportunities for growth?

What if we look at teachers, parents, helpers, and friends as allies in the game?

What if we use power-ups (mini-breaks like drinking water, deep breathing, even doing pushups) to give us the energy we need to persevere?

And, what if we give our children a secret identity to help with the challenge?

My son is now Ollie, the piano buster.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures tomorrow after school…

Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash

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…