It stings when your child says hurtful things to you, doesn’t it? I’ve got 3 parenting tips for dealing with “I don’t love you!” and other hurtful comments.
I struggle with my mother-daughter relationship. Apparently, so does my daughter.
It hurts when my child says she doesn’t love me.
When I first found out I was having a girl, I worried. I’m not a girlie-girl and I didn’t really know what to do with one of those.
Even more so, I had a strained relationship with my own mother for as long as I could remember. Finding out I was having a girl brought up tons of negative memories.
How was I going to raise a daughter when I never felt right about how I was raised?
Well, we do what we must, right?
As my daughter approached the ripe old age of 4, she told me “I don’t love you, I love Daddy.”
I was heart-broken.
I struggle to be a good mom. I try hard to foster her interests and to do things for her, even when I don’t feel like it. Often, I hug her, kiss her, and tell her I love her. She matters to me.
Despite my experiences growing up, I force myself to tell my daughter “I’m sorry” when I realize I’m wrong or have behaved inappropriately.
The reward I get is being told that she doesn’t love me.
She runs to her father, giddy when he comes home from work and only argues with him 30% of the time, instead of nearly 90% with me. No, it’s not exact math, but it certainly feels like we’re always at odds.
I came across an article about a letter a young girl wrote her mother. This note clearly stated that she believed her mom was “a terrible Mother.” The article proceeded to explain away the letter and then defend her daughter’s rights to her own opinion. But, that got me thinking about a few things in my own life, being that I’m already struggling with my daughter expressing her opinions about me.
And then, I had to deal with it all again when my toddler son said he doesn’t love me!
Do you just accept when your child says hurtful things to you? I, personally don’t see that as a completely healthy way to handle those words.
Why Do Toddlers Say “I Don’t Love You”?
Toddlers aren’t able to clearly identify their feelings, much less verbalize them appropriately. A toddler will usually say “I don’t like you” in the heat of the moment.
It’s up to you, the parent, to do active listening and help your toddler learn to identify their feelings and deal with them appropriately.
What Do You Do When Your Child Says Hurtful Things To You?
When your child hurts you emotionally, take a deep breath and a step back to avoid escalating the situation. If you react in the heat of the moment, you may regret your words.
1. Remind Them Not To Hurt Others Feelings
For starters, while I agree that our children have a right to express their opinions and feelings, we should also be teaching them that saying things that are hurtful, really isn’t okay.
It’s okay that my daughter feels, at the moment, that she doesn’t like me much. I remember those days with my own mother. However, it should never be OKAY to say things just to be hurtful. I know my daughter doesn’t really mean she doesn’t love me, but that doesn’t mean I continue to allow her to say those things.
When your child says they don’t love you, after they’ve calmed down, remind them that their words were hurtful. Try to express, in age appropriate terms, that you don’t say these kinds of hurtful things when you’re tired or angry because you know it would hurt their feelings.
2. Help Your Child Recognize Their Feelings
It’s my job to help her recognize when she’s having those feelings, and what is truly going through her mind.
In a fit, she told me she didn’t love me, but she loved her daddy. I was so hurt.
And then she was bothered by the dog and said she didn’t love Ella anymore.
I just sat there staring at her for a moment, baffled.
I realized, as did she, later on, that she was really tired. Her exhaustion was taking a toll on her emotional bank … she was experiencing some dramatic lows that were making her cranky and unruly.
Later, when she got her second wind, she began telling me and the dog that she loved us. I knew she had acted out because she didn’t know how to react to her true feelings. She was exhausted from a weekend with her grandfather and wasn’t exactly happy to be home.
What I need to remember, is that I should try to remind her of what she’s experiencing in the moment by directing her attention to what is really bothering her.
3. Remind Them Not To Say Things In Haste
I need to teach her that expressing her feelings in moments when she is tired or aggravated can come across as hurtful. It’s never okay to hurt someone’s feelings simply because you’re tired or aren’t getting your way. I should always dig a little deeper to understand her emotions, where they are coming from, and try to direct her attention to them so that she can be more aware of her feelings, and those of others.
Hopefully you modeled this by not responding in the moment.
4. Remember That It’s Not Personal
You know your child was either hungry, tired, or frustrated about something outside of their control. Don’t take it personally.
I shouldn’t expect my daughter, at 3, to understand the full scope of her emotions, or the pain words can cause. I don’t expect her to understand the link between her emotional bucket and the words she uses to express herself. But, that doesn’t mean I accept it and not try to make those moments teachable moments.
I would imagine, by 9, that she can learn to recognize her emotional state and choose her words a bit more carefully. I know that it will take work and conscious direction, and I can’t be certain that I’m right, but I do know that I wouldn’t simply sit by and let my daughter say hurtful things. I deserve more respect than that and I make every effort to give her more respect than that.
I think the mother who was the recipient of that nasty letter from her daughter was sadly mistaken in just accepting the harsh words as feelings. There’s truly no excuse, in my opinion, for some of the harsh words the daughter wrote, and there should be a lesson in dealing with those feelings more positively. One of the lessons being that saying hurtful things that we don’t really mean isn’t expressing our feelings, rather than being destructive in a relationship.
Imagine your child’s friend saying something harsh to him or her in a similar manner. You’re going to expect that child to apologize to repair the relationship, right?
Why wouldn’t you expect the same respect from your own child?
We shouldn’t allow people, including our children, to say things they don’t mean when they’re angry, upset, or tired. We should expect them to recognize when they are saying things they don’t mean, and apologize when necessary. Understandably, it’s going to be harder to get smaller children to grasp the concept, but start instilling the ideas early on to train them to be more aware of their feelings and cautious of the words they use.
What do you think?
How do you handle it when your child says they don’t love you?
FAQs for When Your Child Says Hurtful Things To You
Why does my child say hurtful things?
Usually children resort to saying awful things out of frustration, anger or when they feel they don’t have control over a situation. Saying hurtful things is a way to express feelings or simply feel in control of something, but most likely isn’t really meant to hurt you.
How do you respond when your child says hurtful things?
Remember not to take their outbursts personally and give your child the time and space to calm down. It’s okay to acknowledge their frustrations, but don’t escalate the situation by saying hurtful things in response.
Should I discipline a child for saying hurtful things?
Not necessarily. So long as you understand that your child is lashing out and not using logic (something difficult for youngsters), simply acknowledging their feelings and providing a gentle reminder of how words can make others feel. If your child is being disrespectful and old enough to know better, you should address the behavior accordingly.
Can you tell your child they hurt your feelings?
Having a discussion about how words can be used to make others feel good or bad is absolutely acceptable. Use examples of things to say that make people feel good as well as things that might hurt others’ feelings. Be sure, however, your child understands that you’re not saying these examples to hurt them.
Originally published Jan 26, 2015 and updated on 03/07/23.