I am a full time working father of a 1-year-old girl and 3-year-old son. Recently, my 3-year-old-son has been telling me he doesn’t love…

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Answer by Thomas Zerbarini:

Miles,
You have some great feedback to your question here. I would simply add my observation with my children.

Children at that age are exploring how their behavior will affect others and ultimately get their needs and/or wants met. They are learning the cause and effect as it relates to their behavior. Children innately want to please their parents and other adults and conform to the expectations placed upon them.

Children have a tendency to test the waters of how parents, siblings, other kids and the world respond to what they say and how they act. If the child receives a heightened response or reaction to what they are saying they will likely repeat the action again and again.

When a child's needs or wants are not being met they will tend to act out in ways they have learned or observed For example: I hate being late, I hate onions, I hate that person, etc… What I believe you are experiencing is your child's way of communicating his anger or frustration.

Becky Bailey, a developmental Psychologist has a great opinion:

How should I respond when my child says "I hate you"

At this age, a child isn't wishy-washy about her feelings. She feels one emotion at a time, and it's all-encompassing. It's why she's happy with a passion or angry with a vengeance. So when things are good, they're very good, and your preschooler adores you. But when things don't go her way, she feels that life is bad, that you're bad — and that she hates you.

Though you may be tempted to, avoid responding to your child's "I hate you!" with "Well, I love you." This will only shame her. And saying, "You know you love Mommy," or "There's no reason to get so upset!" belittles her very real feelings.

Remember that your child is still learning to manage her emotions. She needs help expressing her feelings, and her way of asking for help is to play a kind of emotional charade game: She acts out her feelings, and it's up to you to figure out what she's getting at and how to help her. The best way to do this is to name and acknowledge her emotions without judging them. Show her — without mocking — what her balled fists, scrunched face, and assertive stance look like. Then name the emotions for her: "I can tell from the way you're acting that you feel angry. You seem frustrated that you can't get that dress on your doll." If she nods in agreement, follow up with, "That's very upsetting!"

Next, help her voice her feelings in a more appropriate way: "When you feel this way, use your words to tell me, 'I feel angry. Please help.' " Finally, help your child see her options. "You could ask Mommy to dress the doll," you might suggest, or "We could put away the doll for a little while and read a book together." Giving choices is also helpful when your child lashes out because she can't have something she wants: "Cookies are for after lunch; you may have some grapes or a banana this morning."

Although your child's verbal assaults can be hurtful, do your best not to take them personally. After all, she's merely copying what she's seen you and others do in many situations — that is, translating a strong emotion into a simple word: "I hate waiting for the bus!" or "I hate it when the phone rings during dinner!" for example. Most important, remind yourself that your preschooler's behavior is normal, and in no way indicates how she really feels about you.

A similar yet slight dissenting option comes from Dr. Sal Severe:

When Your Child Says "I Hate You!"

You know you're going to get some fussing and complaining when you tell your kid to turn off the TV or video games, but then one day she lets loose with "I hate you!" Whoa! Why has your sweet child suddenly turned on you–and what should you do to get her to stop the mean language?
"Don't take it personally," says Sal Severe, Ph.D., author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! Kids use inflammatory language like this when they're genuinely upset but don't have the tools to express themselves precisely. "Your six-year-old isn't able to say 'I feel frustrated and angry because you won't let me watch my television program.'" To put it simply, she wants you to know she's mad. Severe's advice: Acknowledge her anger calmly, but stand your ground. "Say 'I'm sorry you hate me, because I love you very much.' Then add, 'It's okay that you're angry, but you still have to turn off the TV.'" You can mention that everyone gets upset occasionally, but it's not all right to take it out on someone else.
If your child declares she hates you when you discipline her, don't up the ante: "You're teaching her that she can push your buttons, and this gives her too much emotional control," Severe says. You want to remain calm to show her that you're the one in complete command of the situation. Also resist the urge to tell her in the middle of a screaming fit that she doesn't really mean "hate"–this will demonstrate that her word choice has power and she'll use it again and again. Later, when things have settled down, you might explain that "I'm angry" or "I'm disappointed" are better alternatives.

How you ultimately interpret your child's behavior depends completely on understanding all the facts and background of what your dealing with. I hope this helps get you closer to that understanding.  At this age children have simple responses or expressions and they tend to repeat what they've heard, learned by observing their parents, siblings and surroundings so far in their short lives.

Thomas Zerbarini

I am a full time working father of a 1-year-old girl and 3-year-old son.  Recently, my 3-year-old-son has been telling me he doesn't love…

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