3 Powerful Words to Use When Your Child Says “I Hate You”


Those three words hit you in your core.

They knock you back, take your breath and hit all the wrong spots. With those three simple words, a child can summon your deepest, darkest emotions. Those three simple short words are the three words I think every single parent or teacher dreads. Even the most zen mamas on earth get shaken by these hurtful stinging words.

I know. I've been there.

When Your Child Says I Hate You... Repeat These 3 Powerful Words

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Retelling the story, I can't even remember what the argument started over. I remember I did everything "right". I walked over to him. I got down on his level. I told him what I needed from him and attempted to make a plan. Everything was looking smooth and calm. This transition wasn't going to get us this time.

And then... it happened. I asked him to clean up what he was playing with and without a warning or signal...


My initial reaction was to scream right back at him, "Don't you dare speak to me that way, mister." But I held it back. He said it again.


This time there was a kick in my direction as I tried to help him clean up. This time the sting was a little stronger and tears started to fill my eyes. "Don't let him see you cry" I thought to myself, but before I could give myself the pep talk I really needed he said it again.


Three Simple Words that Change Everything

This time it was all arms flailing, blocks flying and legs kicking. He was angry! I was angry! We both needed something. That's when I remembered what I tell my students. How could I have forgotten those three simple words.

So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a brief moment and made a new dialogue in my head. I made it a point to swap his three words with mine every single time he said them... it came down to one tiny yet incredibly powerful word... need.

Now, every time he screamed at me instead of "I hate you", I heard...


Yes, it really is that simple. Put those three words on repeat in your head and see the magic that happens.

Behavior is Communication...

As a mama bear, it's my instinct to help when my child needs me. This small but powerful word changed absolutely everything. Instead of looking at his behavior and outburst as something that needed punishment, I suddenly saw a child screaming (quite literally) for help.

So often, as parents, we take our children's behaviors as a sign that they need to be punished or we need to take back control and power when really the behavior is simply communication. I can't help but think of this picture of the iceberg, where only 1/6th of what is going on can be seen, while everything else hides under the surface.

All Behavior is Communication

In this instance, my son didn't know how to tell me he needed me. He didn't have the emotional regulation skills to recognize what triggered his feelings. He didn't have the words to express his bubbling emotions and worry. He was in the middle of the fight, flight and freeze response and needed help getting to a calm place.

Related: 13 Proven Phrases to Calm an Angry Child

Taking his words personally or hearing them as an attack on me was not going to help. Instead the next time he screamed, this is what I did...


I closed my eyes, took a breath in through my nose and out through my mouth and muttered these three words... he needs me.

I opened my eyes, got down on his level, and said " I know you feel that way, but I still love you."

I'd like to tell you it magically de-escalated... that would be a lie. However, I had his attention. He let me a little closer and he yelled again.


Once again, I took a breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth and muttered these three words.. he needs me.

I opened my eyes, sat down on my bottom, took a nice scoot backwards and whispered "I know you are angry, but I still love you. I am here."

After a few rounds of this, we were finally at a point where he could get closer to me and I could coach him towards helping me understand what led to his frustrations. In the future, we would work on how to appropriately express that anger. But right now, in this moment, that isn't what either of us needed.

Not only was his brain completely unable to accept and receive logical thought, neither one of us had the emotional energy for a "lesson" right now. What we needed was connection and understanding. 


Give it a try... you might be surprised. This powerful phrase has transformed the way I handle the meltdowns and helped me keep my cool long enough to help my child. It's a win-win.

3 Powerful Words to use when Your Child Screams I Hate You

If you need more help remaining calm, understanding your child's anger and explosions, or you just need to know you are not alone. You are in the right place. In fact, I have a few resources I think you might find helpful.

Resources for Parenting an Angry Child

18 of the Most Supportive Facebook Groups for Parenting High Needs Children
The Unspoken Casualties of Parenting an Explosive Child
3 Super Simple Steps to Help an Angry Child Recognize Triggers
25 Simple Ways to Remain Calm When Your Child is Melting Down
Everything You Need to Know for Calming Tantrums and Meltdowns
100 Calm Down Tools and Strategies You Can Use Today

I would love to know if this works for you and your family. Once we started using this phrase every time there was a meltdown or every time my son lashed out at me or Mr. Lemon, one of us would remind the other of these three simple words. It was the beginning of our relationship changes and opened the door to allow us to help our son through his emotions instead of shutting down or responding out of anger.

Comment below or share on Facebook how these three words change your perspective when your child says "I hate you."

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Hidden Casualties of Parenting an Explosive Child


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15 thoughts on “3 Powerful Words to Use When Your Child Says “I Hate You””

  1. This suggestion makes sense, will give it a try but how does it in any way teach the child that it’s wrong and hurtful to say that?

    1. I completely agree. Teaching the child about appropriate responses doesn’t happen in the moment. It happens later when the child is calm and collected.

  2. Zoe

    What about when the child says I hate you, go away, when not in a meltdown nor when upset but seemingly as just a test?

  3. Melinda

    I understand that it happens when the child is collected but the only problem is, the situation is passed and he or she won’t care anymore.. we tried this method and things were just getting out of control. I don’t know what we did wrong then.

  4. My three words would be, “I love you.” Need implies weakness or missing something. We need strength and security.

  5. Pingback: 3 Powerful Words to Use When Your Child Says, "I hate you." - Geauga County Job and Family Services

  6. Pingback: 13 Powerful Phrases Proven to Calm an Angry Child

  7. Sarah

    My daughter had been saying “I hate you” since she was 3. I simply reply with “ok bummer. Oh well I love you. Go away and come back when you want to be nice.”

  8. I say the words,”I love u” it seems to work most of the time. She gets upset and may cry more because she feels worse after saying something that she knows is mean or hurtful. Thank goodness because if she didn’t run up to me ,give me a hug, and say that she doesn’t hate me she loves me then I may find myself feeling completely defeated. Great post though and I just wanted to let you know😁

  9. GCD

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been in tears all night from my four year old saying he hates me😫😫 I’m going to try this with out next meltdown 🤞

  10. Daniel

    I told my abusive father that I hated him when I was 5 years old, and despite 35 years of trying to have a relationship because that’s what “normal” people did, I hated him to his dying breath and for years after. You cannot always just rationalize away what you are being told like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

    1. Gina Polley

      Im sorry that you grew up that way. But I fully agree with what you said. You never know how a child really feels.

  11. Che

    I instinctively replied to my child’s outbursts of “I hate you” with the “I love you” reply whereas my spouse got angry and reacted loudly and to this day does not control his temper well. I definitely see a difference in the relationship with each of us and our child.

  12. i have a funny story about my grandma I would like to share.
    She had ten children and she raised my younger brother also. She was a very sweet lady and we all loved her so much.
    I was about ten years old and my best friend spent the night, and went to church with us the next day.
    My girlfriend kept whispering during the whole preaching service, before long my grandmother took us both out in the hall.
    She look down at me and whispered in a nice calm and sweet voice “girls if you all disrespect the preach by whispering again, I will take you both home and rip the shins from your hides and hang them on the clothes line.
    Do we understand each other?” Our eyes were as big as saucers, as we shook our heads yes!
    Children understand a lot more than we give them credit for.
    And they must feel safe to know someone is in charge of them…all the time!

  13. Haley

    If your child says “i hate you” i know im doing my job! Sounds odd but if we parents become friends instead of parents we are showing bendable breakable boundaries! N they will never take you seriously nor will they take life seriously. When no means no. Not no not no well ok maybe later – poof they got you! So if you’ve said NO n take you seroiusly ofcourse their going to be mad and they hate you because they know theres no room for you as the parent to be worked over!!!! So i hate you to me means i did my job.

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