The first time the words 'I hate you mum' emerged from my then 11-year-old daughter's mouth I couldn't believe it. Not only did I feel upset, betrayed, and hurt, I wondered where the hell I'd gone so badly wrong.
But fast forward another four years and I know life is not just about 'children say the funniest things' but sometimes the most hurtful too.. and it's all part of growing up.
Dr Clare Bailey, a GP who specialises in parent coaching, says it's absolutely natural for children to go through this process. She says: "To demonise parents is part of the separation process. Teenagers brains in particular are not fully wired and so they are naturally self centred which feeds into the 'I Hate you' syndrome."
But despite knowing it's normal, it doesn't make it easier to handle. For young children up to around six, the chances are they don't understand the power of hurtful words but for teenagers they're going to experiment, even if it stings. As a single parent, I often found myself struggling to know how to respond, but here were some tips I learned along the way.
Whatever you do, don't engage
It's so tempting to shout back and show your anger, but by keeping cool and communicating things will hopefully resolve faster. Take a breath, walk away, pop to the shops, whatever it takes, but reacting in the moment could make things worse. Just taking an five extra minutes can completely alter the reaction you will give. Dr Clare recommends a phrase of describing what you see such as: 'I'm sorry you're feeling so cross, you must be really annoyed to say something like that' so as a parent you're not judging them and creating more tension and resentment.
Know it's not you; it IS them
Hormones, teenage melodrama and also testing of boundaries are all potential reasons for outbursts. One way to pop the bubble of 'hate' is to respond rather than reacting with fire. Dr Clare explains the teenage brain is still developing. She says: "Millions of neurons are being pruned per minute and it's a time of great change and a sign your relationship is changing. But parents should try and be realistic. You are a parent, not a friend, and as painful as being shut out is, it's a process and is the start of the teen making more choices in their own lives. You can be supportive and on their side, but you're not an equal."
But don't ignore it
No doubt about it, hearing 'I hate you' hurts. Parents are only human, even if your kids forget this. But it's behaviour which needs challenging and also exploring. Once the situation has diffused, it's best to try to find out if there's anything behind it. Asking why she says hurtful things, and what's causing her anger is a start.
My teen always told me she didn't really mean it afterwards but occasionally she'd admit there was something underlying her anger, like I wasn't listening to her properly. But ultimately it is important for her to know it's hurtful too. Dr Clare agrees: "You can say you are not prepared to be spoken to like that, but at the same time reason as an adult to avoid unnecessary conflict. Many teens give much opportunity for extra tension, so it's even more important to stay calm."
Or let words manipulate you
Yep, teen parenting is a minefield of negotiation, keeping your temper in check and trying to reason your way out of the most unreasonable of situations. I've found when my 14-year-old wants something she seems to suddenly find endless amounts of energy to argue and it's hard to keep up with at times. Sometimes after a tiring busy day I will give in, other times, I won't. It's when I don't the struggle begins. Consistency is key, and you'll reap rewards in the long run.
Dr Clare adds: "In order to be an effective parent you need to be supportive and sensitive to your child's needs but at the same time assertive to set boundaries and positive expectations."
And never, ever believe what they say
Try and remember this is a phase. Like the 'not eating greens' and 'not sleeping phase', this too shall pass. So trying to see a humorous side is one way of dealing with it. One friend says she always punches the air and whoops when her teenager tells her she hates her. She says: "Then I say congratulations to myself out loud, laugh and tell her one day she'll look back and know how much I love her. This might wind her up more at the time, but makes me feel better and sometimes I've caught her smiling at me looking crazy."
Finding something enjoyable to do together can help too, says Dr Clare. "Comment and notice when they're happy and doing well too and not just when things are going wrong. Also know one day they will emerge from the other side and will see you as human again one day!"
More on Parentdish: My teen swears at me!
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