What Our Kids Really Mean When They Say “I Hate You”

It might only happen once. It might happen more than we care to admit or maybe it’s just hateful behavior. But here’s what I think it means.

It started out as a simple disagreement about who’s turn it was to clean the kitchen or who changed the kitty litter last or who left the emptied art box scattered all over the floor. It’s the way most arguments begin, a real who done it. It’s not uncommon in our house and while I don’t enjoy rocking the boat, sometimes the boat is a big mess and I need help cleaning it up.


Most arguments like these aren’t really about undone tasks, selfishness or even bad attitudes. They are about control. The kind our kids fight for and the kind parents need to display.  I could feel my child’s anger turn into fury, like a violent orchestra about to crescendo. And that’s when the words were spit out.

I hate you.

Automatic hands clamped over both our mouths.

Apparently neither the hearer nor the doer could believe it had come to this.

I can remember when I said them to my mom, the white rage I felt two seconds before the deadly words escaped and the slow minutes after when I longed to take them back. In that exact moment, I understood why her face fell and she slowly walked away, shoulders slumped.

I took a step back, away from my child, the same one who I begged God for and gained 54 pounds for and then risk my life pushing into this world, now pushing me away. This very same child who I would kill for, killing me with words.

I could see the regret already, the way we try to take back words that fly like piercing arrows.

You don’t hate me, I whispered.

I read the raw emotions on my child’s face--I hate the way I’m feeling right now. I hate the heated words between us. I hate the way I’m acting. I hate that you won’t listen. I hate me right now.

Not you.

I step two steps toward my child. And I choose to look past the harsh words and look into the heart. I see a hurting child there.

What they really mean when they say they hate your or act like they do:

  • This isn’t About You: There’s a battle raging in our kids from time to time. It’s the same one we fight, flesh against spirit. And even though our kids hurt us, they trust us enough to show their raw feelings.
  • They Need You Now More Than Ever: Our natural response is to react, to hurt them back with our words. Don’t. Resist the urge to engage. When you want to push them away for hurting you, instead pull them closer.
  • Look past the behavior and into their heart: Throughout the Bible, God tells us that behavior–our speech, our sinful actions, etc–are a direct implication of what’s in our heart. When your child is struggling, angry, hurtful….look past the behavior and discover what’s in their heart. Often you will find a wound that you can help heal.

My kids and I have hurt each other with words. But at the time time, we’ve used our words to heal each other. We’ve spoken life into dead places and encouragement into brokenness.

I hate you is powerful. But I love you defeats it.


  1. 1


    What a powerful post! My children haven’t gotten to the age where they get angry enough to say they hate me; my oldest is seven. But I know it’s coming. However, a couple of them have told me that they hate me just because they’ve heard the words and are trying to use them. And I’ve gently corrected them and said that we don’t say those words about people, or much of anything for that matter.

    I appreciate your post because it put words to what I have thought about children saying they hate their parents. Usually, they don’t really, and like you say, we need to draw closer to them instead of withdrawing.

  2. 2

    Deb says

    I needed this on this Monday morning. Made me cry that I didn’t realize it. My sweet girl screamed I hate you at me this morning. I screamed back. I wish I had your insight in my pocket at times like this.

  3. 3


    Wow. What a needed message. My 5 year old is the one who screams this, more regularly than I would like to admit. It’s odd too, when it’s not a word he hears in this house. I suppose he has heard it on TV or somewhere. He is so different from me, from his gender to how his mind works, that I haven’t figured out how to break through these moments yet. And they suck…like feel the life being sucked out of your body awful. The sadness, hurt, anger, and mama guilt…how it’s possible they hit all at the same time is beyond me. Lately, my spirit, mind, body are exhausted from trying to figure out, motivate, encourage, redirect, reprimand etc my willful child, and still try to show him love in the midst of it. Thank GOD He doesn’t feel that way about doing the same for us!!!! Parenting is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. Thanks for a little more insight than I had 10 minutes ago!!

  4. 5

    Alexia says

    Thank you! I needed this. I have one who constantly flings “I hate you” when upset, the reminder to look past the words is welcome.

  5. 6

    annie says

    I have raised 4 kids, including one with cerebral palsy, that are now raising their own kids. I remember the one time one of my kids said “I hate you”. I looked right at him and said “Well, Im too thrilled with you either right now”. I don’t think he was expecting that. I tell my kids that you sometimes cant control what your kids do…you can only control how you react. I also use to tell my kids that our “disagreements” were going to happen and as long as we ended up back to “home base” we would be ok.

  6. 7

    Victoria says

    Thank you for the reminder and insight that it is more about their feelings about the situation and the control/power issue than me as a mom. God bless you!

  7. 8

    Heather S. says

    My daughters and I just began reading Speak Love by Annie F. Downs together. We haven’t dealt with much of the obvious ways of hurting one another with words…but we deal with a lot of sarcasm and not enough building up. I want my girls to know the power of words and use them wisely. We WILL all make mistakes, but hopefully we can make less of them and give grace more through this.

  8. 10

    Robyn says

    You made me cry, and I am glad! You perfectly put into words how I both felt as a teen wielding those words, and how I feel as a parent hearing my own flesh and blood wield them at me. Thank you…

  9. 11

    Katie says

    Thank you. I am weary with these never-ending situations in my home, two 5 year olds, 7 and 9…each one with their want for control and a selfish mama too…sigh…Lord, grace and perseverance to draw my babes close and not join the daily pity parties that happen round here.

  10. 13


    Kristen, love your being vulnerable. Love how you summed it up and saw/chose to draw closer. Thank you. May God bring more blessings than you can count for offering words to live (& Love) by. (Sure wish you could send hugs via comments 😉

  11. 14

    Angie Wall says

    Thanks for the post. The timing was perfect. We are struggling with our teenage daughter right now. She has been telling me that she hates me. I don’t want to believe her, but the more you hear something, the harder it is to ignore. I realize there is a battle going on inside her, just not sure how to get her to open up to us and let us help her through the bad times rather than trying to make us the enemy.

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