My 4 Yr Old Son Said "I Hate You, Mom" What to Do?

Updated on March 26, 2012
J.✰. asks from Spring Branch, TX
31 answers

So twice now, when my almost 4 yr old son is really angry with me, he's said "I hate you Mom." What sort of reaction or consequence should I have or give? Both times I told him how much it hurt my feelings and that it is not okay to say that about people that you love. The second time was right before bed. I asked if he hated me when I read him a book or if he hated me when I gave him a piggy back ride. Of course he said no b/c he loves those things. But I don't think I can really reason with an almost 4 yr old.

What do y'all think? I want to be better prepared if there is a 'next time' .... I want to nip this sort of phrase in the bud.

He learned this phrase likely from me and from a book. I know. I know.I should model better .... "I hate driving Dad's truck" he's heard me say. And there was a book where the dog said "I hate my bow." "I hate my chain." "I hate the bath." .....

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Wow what a surplus of answers! Thank you ladies so much for all of your wonderful answers! I am amazed with the wealth of knowledge this website's women (and men) offer!

@Amy J - oh no I have NEVER said such phrase to any person or pet. My only time I can think I've used the word "hate" is maybe decribing how I hate driving Dad's truck or how I hate all the mud. I don't use the word often at all. But never to an actual person.

We had a talk today about choosing the right words and I told him that if he caught me saying the word "hate" then he should tell me about it, because it's not a nice word to say (I really rarely use it! I almost asked him the other day where he learned that phrase when I realized that I did say it about the truck and the mud, plus that darned book!) So today we practiced saying "I am so angry that you said that." or "I am angry that you won't give me more candy." instead of pointing out that you hate one particular person, because "really, you dont hate me and you don't hate dad." I also told him that I love him all the time no matter what. We also said that sometimes we do hate THINGS, like mud in the house or commercials.... but that even so, it's not a nice word to use, so let's try not to use it. So I used a lot of y'all's advice mixed together. We'll see what a "next time" will bring. Hopefully we can work on saying "that makes me angry" instead, or "that mud is so annoying." Thanks again for your input. I value each and every one of you!

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answers from St. Louis on

I always responded but I love you and left it at that. All that statement means to me is he is angry at me and lacks the vocabulary to properly articulate it. I am not going to punish my child for not being fully educated. I will teach them new words when they are calmed down.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

When my kids would say this to me my response was "I don't care, you still have to go to bed" (as an example) OR "Good. That means I'm doing my job right" (this was more often used as they got older).

They don't HATE you ... they are mad, or want their own way. Well tough darts farmer, you still have to do what I say.

The more I said I didn't care or good ... the less they said it :) they didn't get the result they wanted with it so they gave up on it :)

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

When my daughter was little and told me she hated me, it was usually because I made her do something she didn't want to do ro I punished her for some misbehavior. I simply told her that I was sorry she felt that way, but it didn't change anything, and let it go. She got over it pretty quickly.

5 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

This is so normal. He will continue to periodically say I hate you until he's much older. You need to toughen up so that it doesn't hurt your feelings. I suggest that you give him a hug and say something like "I love you enough for both of us." And/or "I see you're angry. Tell me you're angry instead of I hate you." Teach him how to more appropriately express his anger.

The more you allow his words to affect you the more he will say them because to say them gives him a sense of power. He can make you feel bad. He's angry and this is one way to let you know. All of this is unconscious on his part.

An effective way to stop behavior is to completely ignore it. My grandchildren are in grade school now and I most often ignore what they said. If they insist on my noticing then I do say, "I see you're angry. That's OK. I still love you."

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My kids have said that to me. Usually when they don't get a toy at the store, or something like that. What I say is, "well, even if you feel like you hate me, I still love you no matter what". I have also explained to them that the word hate is not really a nice word. It's ok to feel angry or upset about something, but it's not ok to say you hate someone or something. So far it has worked for me. I don't think you should punish or get too upset about it. Just reassure him that you love him no matter what.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

"I'm sorry to hear you feel that way, I love you. Now please...(repeat your request)" I don't think you need to discipline for these words, just don't give them power.

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answers from Detroit on

I really wouldn't make a big deal of it, to be honest. My daughter is 4 and sometimes these things come out, when she's really angry about something and at this age, they really have limited means of expressing themselves. The more you react, the more he will learn the kind of power he has over you and it can turn into full-blown manipulation if you allow it.

Usually I've just told DD, "Look, I know you are really angry with me right now and that's okay. I still love you and you still need to do as I say." And then I don't pay any more attention to it. I will just walk away and leave her alone. I don't put her in time-out, I put myself in time-out. It usually only takes her a few minutes to come around and tell me she is sorry, she really does not hate me. And I just reinforce that it's okay to be angry with someone but we need to choose different words. Sometimes I will say, "What I think you meant to say was (insert appropriate phrase here)."

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answers from Pittsburgh on

NO need to wait for next time. It's the right time for a visual demonstration.

Cut a heart out of paper.
Crumple it.
Have him try to flatten it back out.
Point out to him that you can still see the damage to the paper, even after you try to fix it. Tell him real hearts are like that. Words HURT people and they can hurt people long after they're said.

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answers from Eugene on

My reponse to this is:
Okay, but no matter what, I love you forever.

I think your son is trying this phrase on for size. Anyway, what's wrong with hating some things? I hate being sick, driving in the snow, having food allergies....

Rather than nip the phrase in the bud, I'd make sure he knows your love for him does not depend on his feelings, momentary bad behavior or failings.

Your son is only 4 and is just discovering his feelings. Let him figure them out. As he gets older, he'll learn there are appropriate ways to express our feelings so we don't hurt other people.

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answers from Chicago on

my son parker will be four in july, he has said this to me a few times he has also said i dont like you and i dont love you any more and for each of those comments i give him the same response.... well mommy loves you little guy and i carry on with whatever im doing. tho it does and has hurt my feelings he doesnt understand what hes saying fully he hears and learns from other people "mostly cousins" and at first i would tell him it hurt my feelings but when a child is mad angry or upset because of something you did or say they almost want to make you feel the same way so it didnt work then i just killed it with kindess the last time he told me this i did as i said above "well mommy loves you parker and i always will" about 15 minutes later he came up to me crying and said i love you mommy your the best in the whole wide world..... thats when i knew what i was doing was working. every child is different and they all learn at different rates times and stages in life... this is just what worked with my son so it may not work with yours. dont take it too personal because he really doesnt understand exactly what hes saying.... try to approach him with that i still love you attitude "because you know you do lol" goooooood luck :)


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answers from Philadelphia on

Whenever my young children said that to me, I responded by saying, "well, ok, but I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH." and let it go at that. When my children grew and became teens, I heard that much more frequently and at that time I told them, "Maybe you do right at this moment, but I am your Mom, and as your Mom, it is my JOB to (help, protect, say no to things that are not appropriate at this time, keep you safe,etc) so hate me if you must, but I will always and forever do my JOB

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answers from Honolulu on

He doesn't hate you.

There were times my son said that... but, it was in order to get me to go an hug him and basically, at those times he said that... he actually WANTED me to soothe him, or help him. Because yes, he may have been angry or irked about something... or when he feels jilted.

I don't punish my son when/if he said that... because, I KNOW he knows better. BUT... also, I KNEW why he said that. And we always talk about things... to see where he is coming from and/or why, saying things like that is not nice. Still.

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answers from Tulsa on

When my 5 year old says that to me I just tell him it isn't nice and that I love him and I don't address it any further. I know he doesn't mean it and he is just mad that he is getting in trouble. He doesn't say it that often and I'm sure if I made a big deal about it he would say it more to try and get a reaction out of me.

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answers from Cincinnati on

I highly recommend reading the book "The secret of parenting: how to be in charge of today's kids- from toddlers to preteens- without threats or punishment" by Anthony E. Wolf. "I hate you." "You are mean." "You don't love me." are favorite phrases of the baby self. Wolf explains that every person has two separate modes in which we live our lives. The mode the world sees which he calls the mature self and the mode that basically lives at home and never changes which he calls the baby self. The only thing the baby self is interested in is achieving what it wants. As we grow up, our mature selves gain more control over our baby selves, but the baby self never truly goes away. (Some people call the baby self in an adult being selfish.) When our child uses these phrases it is the baby self talking. The baby self deals in the here and now. (You can think of it as a verbal temper tantrum. These are his kicks and hits at you with his words.) At that moment, they hate not getting their way and will do anything to get what they want. Does your child really hate you? The answer is no. Actually when your child uses one of these, they are saying the complete opposite. They are completely secure in your love for them. They feel comfortable in your love, and don't see it as risking your love for them to say they hate you. The first time my son said he hated me, I felt so hurt. After reading this book I felt better. You need to listen to when he is using these words. If it is to combat when he doesn't get his way, you a dealing with his baby self. What to do? Treat it much the same way you would treat a temper tantrum. I walked away from my son when he tried it the second time. When he followed me, I told him "I see that you are angry. When you calm down, you may come get me." Ten minutes later he was quiet and started to play. Fifteen minutes after him telling me he hated me, he came up to me with a big smile and hugged me saying, "I love you, mommy." He has never tried it on me since. The baby self feeds on any form of attention to twist you to change your mind and give in to your child's way. Disengaging with the baby self stops that. Next point: At another time, not while he is in the baby self mode, find a way to teach your child the power that words have both in a loving way and a hurtful way. That could be through religious teachings, or simply talking about his feelings in certain situations. I hope that helps.

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answers from Norfolk on

I think every little kid says this sometime or other in the heat of the moment.
They are feeling feelings that are bigger than they are and they don't have the words to adequately express themselves.
As, literally, the bigger person, you can't let yourself fall to pieces over this.
When he says it, tell him you're sorry he feels that way but you always love him.
After the storm is over, have a talk with him about how saying mean things hurt.
You don't call him bad names (like stupid) or say things that make him feel bad and you'd like it if he didn't say things to hurt your feelings either.
They do outgrow this phase eventually.
Hang in there!
He really still loves you.
He's just growing and it's not always easy.

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answers from Kansas City on is how I look at it...

When I was a kid I said that to my mom/dad/step parents...only when I was so mad at them because of something I DID! I got into trouble for whatever reason, or they said no.

So I honestly take it as a compliment...I know WHAT? Yes, it means I'm doing something right, doing my job as a parent in that moment...I am NOT failing!

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answers from Philadelphia on

I'd say stay calm.

I think that is his way to say "I'm mad at you Mom". Maybe you can try to help him label his feelings better.

Then let him know that hate is a hurtful and strong word. Say " in this family we try to love each other as best we can" and ask him if there is another way that he can say what he means.

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answers from Dallas on

I totally agree with Marda.
The less reaction that this phrase gets him, the less he will use it. My daughter doesn't say she hates me (I think I told her we're not allowed to hate), but she tells me "you're not my best friend any more" or "I don't love you anymore." My standard reply, with as little emotion as possible, is "that makes me sad because I always love you so much." And then, I might say "It's ok to be angry with me, but you can still love me. Let's make an angry face." and then we make angry faces at each other, which often turns into other emotion faces until no one is angry anymore

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answers from Atlanta on

You answered your own question. Stop saying "I hate..." Children are all about imitation especially in the first 7 years of life.
Besides surely you can see the negativity of the word hate.

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answers from Dallas on

My sister pretended to cry when one of her boys did this. Apparently it messed him up so bad that now whenever he hears others being mean to mom in the family, he yells at them:)

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answers from New York on

This age reminds me of the preview to adolescence in a less intense way. But, it's part of child development. The trick is not to take it personally or to overreact.

When he tells you he hates you...say, "I can see that you are angry, but, it's not ok to use the word hate."

When you (the parent) are angry over something --model the language by saying, " Oh no, I am so angry that I burnt this piece of toast."

I would sit my kids down and tell them that the word " hate" was unacceptable. It couldn't be used anymore. I said it in a tone that I meant business.

If it didn't stop, I would give a consequence immediately. Action ( a consequence) usually works better than reasoning over and over w/ a preschooler.

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answers from Williamsport on

We didn't allow this. If you nip it the very first times he says this EVERY time with calm words (warning first to let him know the NEXT time he says it___will happen) and a big consequence, it will never escalate into real disrespect. At four, telling him it hurts your feelings could feed the fire. If you treat it like a maximum offense and breaking a rule, he won't experiment with pushing it. Every friend I had who "ignored" this has kids who smart off worse and worse (and start to really mean the mean comments) as they grow. Don't allow it. He learned a new powerful phrase. He's trying it out. Treat it like hitting or any other major no no.

And what do you mean it's because you say it? Do you say "I hate you" to him? I doubt it. You are allowed to use the word hate. It doesn't mean he can say "I hate you" to his mom. Be in charge. Our kids can't swear just because adults can. They can't vote or drive either :)

***I'm sort of surprised at people saying kids will say this sometimes and it's OK. ? Huh??!!! My kids don't! And I certainly would have NEVER said it to my parents either. You can teach him not to do it. And my kids say hate a lot. Yesterday my 2 1/2 year old said "I hate this dress!" (and it was a dress she really hates) But they know it is not a word to say to people. My four year old son hates couscous and peas. He's allowed to say so (but not if we are at company's house). Kids are sophisticated and can make distinctions like this. Just keep it clear for him that you will not tolerate the disrespect. Ever.

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answers from Washington DC on

i'd let him feel free to express himself with burdening him with guilt that 4 year olds aren't equipped to handle (your hurt feelings are yours to deal with, you're the grown up.)
i'd say 'boy, you sound angry! (let him talk.) so, when i tell you it's time to get ready for bathtime (or whatever) and you have to stop playing trucks (or whatever), it makes you mad, doesn't it? (let him talk.) yes, sometimes i get angry too when i have to do things i don't want to do. (let him talk.) well, i hear that you are angry with me right now and feel that you hate me. i sure do love you. but it's bathtime.'

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answers from San Antonio on

Kids really don't need to hear you way that to or about another person to say it. It's just a natural thing for them to do. Do all kids do it? No. Is there something wrong with the ones that do? Of course not. Mine did this to me and I just said 'oh that's sad and mean but I still love you no matter what'. When the situation calmed down then we discussed how it made me feel and reversed the scenario to discuss how it would feel to them.

Now I have one child, now 14, with Aspergers Syndrome and he truly would not understand why that hurt my feelings as empathy for others is lacking in many children with AS. But as he grew older he began to understand why it should hurt, maybe not so much why he should feel bad, know what I mean?

So don't take it personally. OK? It's not meant that way. It's like when they were toddlers and preferred one parent over the other. Not that they loved that parent more, just a natural part of growing up.

Hang in there.

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answers from Amarillo on

My son this to me at about the same age once. He was upset and angry and said it in a mean way. Well, I turned around and said it to him the same he did to me and he looked so surprised. I have never heard him to this day (38 yrs) has he ever said it again.

It could have been the shock of hearing it or what. But you sometimes have to do things that are not pleasant. There should not be a "next" time.

Good luck to you guys. Remember you are the parent.

The other S.

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answers from Los Angeles on

A friend of mine says "well, that's okay that you feel that way right now, but I love you and I always will no matter what." I might add "that hurts my feelings, but..." just to make him feel a little guilty :)

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answers from Dover on

Tell him that "hate" is not a nice word. It is mean and hurts people's feelings. Explain that he can dislike something while still loving the person. You should probably do that when he hasn't just said "I hate you".

Then when he says it again you can say "Johnny, we talked about this. That isn't nice and it hurt my feelings but I still love you."

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answers from Colorado Springs on

So he's trying out the phrase. If you (or someone else he listens to) say some word or phrase, expect him to try it, too.

What would you like your boy to say when something displeases him? If you want him to say, "I don't like taking a bath," then you say, "I don't like driving Dad's truck BECAUSE it's hard for me to get it in gear." Give a reason for your dislike. Maybe he'll pick up on the fact that there's a reason for disliking, not just a generalized attitude. That's very important.

You can say, "Mike, I made a mistake when I said I hated driving Daddy's truck. I meant just that I don't like it. 'Hate' was too strong a word for me to use, so I'm going to try not to use it any more. You can correct me if I do." (Kids love catching their parents in a bad word.) As far as the book is concerned, maybe the fictional dog feels strongly about his bath the way you strongly feel about Dad's truck.

If your son asks what the word "hate" is for, you can tell him what you believe is right. I'd probably say, "Hate is a very, VERY strong word, and it's more than dislike. Most of us don't hate very much, but we sometimes do dislike strongly! So let's use that word." You can add synonyms such as "abominate" or "despise" if your son is into words.

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answers from Washington DC on

Hopefully he does not say it again, but yes you can reason with a 4 year old by showing. if he ever says it again, tell him again that it hurts your feelings and that you don't like it very short and to the point and don't say anything else don't force him to apoligize either. The next time he asks you for something you don't have to give him tell him "But you hate me remember I can't give you juice or help you." now he might whine and throw a fit and if he does just walk away and ignore it till he calms down and then talk to him. Tell him that you love him etc...He probably just needs to learn how to think about how his words have power, he won't say it again after you guys talk about his feelings and know that you have feelings too...This worked with my boys I know some might say this is cruel but its not. It's modeling! lol

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answers from Asheville on

My 4 yo started this too. I just sat down and explained to him that we do not hate people. That it is not nice and it can really hurt people's feelings. I told him it was ok to hate having to do something unpleasant, or whatever, but we do not hate other people, we must treat them with respect.

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answers from Hartford on

"I understand that's how you feel right now. You're angry/upset/disappointed. I would be too. I love you no matter what."

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