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What to do When Your Teen Says, “I Hate You!”

“I HATE you!” is an all too common outburst during the teen years. Its almost like a right of passage. These are strong words, but your reaction doesn’t have to be. Here we explore how you can defuse and address such an outburst.

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If you find yourself as the recipient of this type of behavior after giving a limit to your teen, you are not alone.  The response is simple . . . but not always easy.  Here we will talk about what you can do in the moment as well as options for follow-up later.

{Please note: this article is referring to “typical” teenage verbal misbehavior in response to a limit.  If your child is threatening you or if you feel unsafe around your child in any way, you have every right to contact the police to protect yourself.  If you need support, contact your state’s 211 hotline.}

What to do in the Moment

This part is easy.  If your child says, “I hate you!” you simply do nothing.   Avert your eyes, busy yourself with something else or walk calmly away.  If you do this, the glaring silence that follows such a proclamation will draw a dose of uncomfortable attention to it.  Don’t follow him to his room.  Don’t sing the battle cry, “How dare you!”  Don’t soften the blow to whatever restriction or consequence that elicited the “I hate you!” in the first place.  Stick to your guns.  Let him cool off.  Take a deep breath.  Don’t take it personally.  Do some mental forecasting:  it won’t always be like this.

If your child goes beyond the impulsive, “I hate you” into person-directed cursing or derogatory language, a consequence is in order. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for verbal abuse towards parents or siblings.

What to do Later

If your child comes to you later with the same request or issue that led to the explosion, simply say, “The answer is still ‘no’.  Your ‘I hate you’ did not change my mind.”  You may have to go through this vicious cycle a few times before he catches on that you mean it.

There are some additional things you may want to say depending upon your child and the circumstances.  Limits are good, but they aren’t enough.  You want your child to learn more effective ways of communicating, but be careful here!  Don’t let him suck you into an argument that diverts you from the issue at hand.  Stay focused.  Watch for a teachable moment.  Remember, you are the adult; you don’t have to prove your point.  Your word stands firm and needs no defense.

Here are some follow-up statements and questions you can make that will help your teen develop better communication skills:

  • “You may have had a valid argument, but I never got to hear it because your words and volume put an end to the conversation.  What can you do next time to make sure you get heard?”
  • “I know you want more adult-like privileges.  That will require more mature responses when you are under stress.”
  • “I know you were frustrated.  What can you do to express that frustration better?”
  • “Shouting may make people take notice, but it won’t get people to really listen to you.”
  • “That kind of reaction builds walls between us.”
  • “I am sure that screaming like that feels good.  It releases tension.  Are there any other ways you can release your anger and tension that you won’t regret later?”

Bottom line: don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill; don’t engage around issues other than the one at hand; and find time to give them the training and skills they need.

Image by Kathy Bugajsky from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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