When Your Child Screams ‘I HATE YOU!’

A new video series from The Family Institute at Northwestern University sheds light on why “I hate you” can become a powerful teaching moment for lifelong relationship skills.

It’s a common enough experience, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less when your child screams in your face “I hate you!” and “You’re so stupid!” The outburst may come out of nowhere, or it might be the result of a conversation that spirals out of control. No matter how it happens, it cuts to the quick and your natural response might be a swift banishment to their bedroom, or worse.

It’s not acceptable when your child says something disrespectful, but it can also be a great opportunity to help your child learn emotional intelligence — a valuable life skill for success in every relationship they’ll have.

But how do you stop the kneejerk reaction of fighting back? Does that even work? And what does it look like?

The Family Institute at Northwestern University has created a couple of videos with scenes that will look very familiar to parents who have heard the dreaded “I hate you!” These videos are part of a whole series called Talking to Kids You Love, an easy to access library of 16 short videos that focus on very common challenges between parents and kids — even teens! — and reframe situations in ways that help parents strengthen their relationships with their kids.

We’ve all been there

In the video appropriately titled I Hate You! a son expresses strong feelings when he realizes that prioritizing video games over dinner means that he can’t have hamburgers like the rest of his family. After engaging a logical consequence and building confidence that her tween can make a sandwich for his dinner, the mom asserts her own needs to not be a short-order cook.

Even though her son voices his hatred, the mom responds instead of reacting. She’s calm when she tells her son that he can be angry and tunes in with empathy to guide him toward a more appropriate response. In the end, the son can experience whatever feelings he needs, but he can’t call his mom names, tell her she’s mean or that he hates her.

Our children’s strong responses can trigger us, causing us to react, rather than think, explains Aaron Cooper, Ph.D. “Our reactivity can lead to a regrettable exchange or a power struggle, when something that should remain small turns into something big,” he says. A therapist with The Family Institute, Dr. Cooper created Talking to Kids You Love in collaboration with colleagues Marina Eovaldi, Ph.D., and Benjamin Rosen, Ph.D.

Teaching moments

Parenting challenges seem to just accelerate at bedtime, especially when kids are mesmerized by electronic devices. This is a top time for our kids to lash out in frustration. In a video called Hurtful Words, a tween daughter tells her “so stupid” mom to “stop bothering” her. The mom’s restraint is admirable, though, and she recognizes that a power struggle will certainly cut into this teaching moment.

Instead, the mom takes a breath and shows her own vulnerability by telling her daughter how much it hurts her feelings to be spoken to this way. And, when the daughter later asks for a big favor, the mom engages in a logical consequence to show the daughter that she can’t intentionally hurt another’s feelings and then later expect to be driven to the craft store.

The mom even teaches her daughter how to repair the hurt feelings by offering an apology. This is powerful, since we can’t always expect our young kids to automatically know how to make good on their impulsive actions. This video is totally worth watching for the tips it offers and the backstory on why it’s so important to help our kids learn emotional intelligence and relationship skills.

The collection’s videos focus on very common scenes between parents and kids, including avoiding the trap of rescuing our kids, effectively responding to their distress, and even the hows and whys of modeling vulnerability, plus a lot more.

The Family Institute recognizes that we bring a wide range of experiences to our role as parents and not every response in every video will feel authentic to us. But taken as a general guide, there’s more than enough information and inspiration to help us find our way, even when faced with the “I hate you!”

Learn more about Talking to Kids You Love at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

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