No matter how patient a parent is, it’s very hard to hear an angry toddler say, “I hate you!” Your first reaction might be hurt or anger, and the situation can quickly escalate. Instead of letting emotions run wild, if your toddler says something hurtful or awful, it helps to understand what’s actually going on and then use the episode as an opportunity to model mature behavior and create a deeper bond with your child.
First, it’s important to understand the emotional development of a toddler. Toddlers and children are still learning how to express their emotions, which can be overwhelming. Toddlers especially haven’t learned enough self-control to refrain from expressing negative emotions in physical or verbal ways.
Second, try to not take the comment personally or literally. Instead of an accurate reflection of your toddler’s true feelings for you, hurtful words are usually an expression of an overwhelming emotion experienced at that moment.
Instead of getting hurt or angry, try to understand that your child is reaching out for help and that he or she trusts you enough to express difficult emotions. In most cases, your child is trying to say that he or she thinks a situation is unfair. This is simply the best way he or she knows to express a lack of control and even anger over the situation. If you understand the underlying message, you will be able to manage the situation before it escalates.
How you react as a parent is key to handling the situation effectively. Comments such as, “But I love you,” or, “Oh, don’t say that, you know you love me,” or, “How can you be so mean to me?” make the conversation about you instead of whatever your child is feeling and experiencing. These types of comments can also cause shame, send a signal that your toddler cannot trust you with his or her emotions, and they can lead to a power struggle.
A better approach is to talk about what is bothering your child and ask if he or she needs space to calm down or help understanding what’s going on and why. When things calm down, explain to your child there are other ways to express anger or frustration. This is a great moment to bond with your child and strengthen the trust in your relationship. When you use self-control, you are modeling to your child how to effectively deal with his or her emotions.
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