“I hate you. You’re mean!”

“I hate you. You’re mean!”

Do you dread hearing, “I hate you. You’re mean!” from your normally sweet child? Here’s what’s behind it and a reply to turn things around.

What’s Behind It

Kids often say “I hate you. You’re mean!” to parents, grandparents, or other children in a boundary situation when they can’t do or have something they want. Particularly if that phrase troubles you or you have made it a taboo, they say it to meet their need for power, which shoots up when they are hungry, tired, rushed, frustrated…or feel like they are not heard.

“I hate you,” actually has nothing to do with whether or not they like or love you. It has everything to do with what they think you are doing to them—keeping them from getting what they want—which makes what they want seem unimportant.

Since kids identify with what they want, “keeping it from them” feels mean, so they feel justified in being mean back and doing to you what they think you are doing to them—keeping you from getting what you want (their love). Stepping into a power role is the child’s way of trying to even out the balance of power.

How to Reply

The simplest way to reply to “I hate you. You’re mean,” is to SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to the child. However, if “I hate you” feels like a dagger in your heart, you may need to SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself first, because saying what you see requires you to listen to the child, step into their perspective, and get on their side. You can’t do that if you need to be heard first.

If you react to a child saying “I hate you,” you might actually believe it’s true. If so, “I hate you. You’re mean,” is likely to be a recurring phrase in your home. If so, the inner conversation you need to have with yourself might go something like this: 

SWYS: “You think your child could hate you. You would be really sad if that were true.”


Self: “It is true! I hated my mother, and never wanted to be like her. And here I am, just like her. I don’t know what to do, but I can’t give in.”


SWYS: “You know you can’t give in. You don’t want to. What you want is for your child to like you.”


Self: “Well, maybe not like me, but love me.”


SWYS: “And you think your child won’t love you if you hold your boundary. You think you need to choose between your boundary and your child’s love! You hate that!”


Self: “Yea! I hate that! Hmm…maybe it’s not actually true…”

Be sure to use “you,” not “I,” when addressing yourself. It’s the difference between validating versus affirming your thoughts and fears. However, you can answer yourself with I, and go back and forth until your dialogue is complete. Then you will be ready to listen to your child.

Especially if “I hate you” occurs often in your home, have this dialogue with yourself now. Don’t wait until the next occurrence. When you validate what you think, how you feel, and what you want, you will feel a shift from reactive to grounded. That’s what happens when you get heard.

At that point, you will be ready to listen and use our three simple coaching skills to get on your child’s side (SAY WHAT YOU SEE, STRENGTHs, CAN DOs). If you try them and stay stuck, contact one of our coaches for private coaching.

After you’ve listened to yourself, you can start by saying what the child feels, then wait a second to see if the child will tell you more. When the child replies, you can validate that with more SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS), or guess why they might think you are mean, and say that. It could sound like this:

Child: “I don’t like you. You’re mean!”


SWYS: (match child’s energy) “You are really angry with me right now!” (Wait.)


Child: “Yea! You won’t let me have fun…EVER!”


SWYS: “Doing ____ is fun, and I stopped you!”


STRENGTH: “Aha! That’s why you’re angry! Fun is really important to you!”


CAN DO: “…and doing ___ isn’t OK with me. Hmm. Must be something you can do that is fun AND OK with me.” (Brainstorm a fun solution, and when the child figures out a solution, point that out as a STRENGTH.)


Or if you can make the child’s case more strongly without taking it personally, this would be even better:

Child: “I don’t like you. You’re mean! You won’t let me do what I want…ever!”


SWYS: “Wow! You must think I’m the meanest person ever, and you just got proof! I NEVER let you have any fun! I bet you wish I would let you do whatever you want whenever you want! You’d like that w-a-a-y better! Then I’d be the nicest person ever.”


Child: “Hmphh!”


CAN DO: “Hmm. Let me think. You really wanted to do ___, and ___ is not OK with me. Must be something else you can do that would be fun and work for us both…” (Brainstorm a fun solution, and when the child figures out a solution, point that out as a STRENGTH.)

If the child isn’t ready to switch to something else, then validate the heck out of what the child says they want, and empathize with how awful it is to NEVER be able to do or have something that is important to you, because that is how the child feels.

Then be prepared to facilitate the tears because that’s how a child adapts to a boundary that they don’t like. If you stick with your boundary and allow the child’s tears to flow until they are all out, your child will probably be ready for a hug and able to find something else they can do.

Like us, kids feel less reactive and more grounded when they feel heard. Problem-solving is their natural next step.

Photo by London Scout on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *