What Your Tween Really Means When They Say “I HATE You!”

As soon as children learn to talk, they frequently profess their love for their parents. My own toddlers used to tell me they loved me at least ten times every day, often more. Although their love sometimes felt heavy, when accompanied by their all-consuming need for me, it was much needed validation for the long days and even longer nights. As those days rolled into weeks and months rolled into years, and I turned from ‘mummy’ to ‘mum’, the “I love yous” started to wane a little. Secure in my children’s love, and now my ability as a mother, I didn’t need to be reminded multiple times per day, once or twice was more than enough.

….and then the tween years hit, I can’t remember the first time it happened, or even what it was about, but I do remember the hurt I felt the first time my son shouted that he hated me, quickly followed by a declaration that he most certainly didn’t love me anymore. So became the pattern, anytime we had a disagreement, or I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, “I hate you” quickly followed.

The tween years make us question our parenting skills like no other, but the good thing is, your tween definitely still loves you, regardless of what they may say.

So, why is “I hate you” so common in the tween years? The answer is simple – brain development.

Tweens are ruled by big feelings, the emotional part of their brain leads the way, while the rational, thinking (and some may say more mature) part of the brain has a lot more connecting to do. What does this mean in reality? It means they open their mouths and their emotions come tumbling out, totally unfiltered. When they say they hate you, what they actually mean is that they hate what you are asking them to do, or they hate the situation they find themselves in. With your mature adult brain, you are adept at separating the emotions you are feeling because of a situation and the person you find yourself in the situation with, your tween can’t. What they really mean is “I hate how I feel when you say that”, but what comes out is “I hate you”.

What should you do about it? Well, really, the best answer here is to wait. Your tween’s brain will carry on developing and maturing for at least another 15 years. As it does, these emotional outbursts will naturally lessen and give way to logic, reason, empathy and self-control. For now, the best thing parents of tweens can do is to be the adult. Remind yourself that your tween struggles to control their emotions because they are a tween, with a tween brain. They don’t really hate you. You’re not a bad parent and importantly – they’re not a bad kid. Stay calm, say “I can hear you’re angry/upset, that’s OK, but I still need you to do XYZ, what can I do to help make it a bit easier for you?”. Respond to the emotions, not the words. Most importantly, don’t add to their immaturity with your own, by focusing on the hurtful words and repeating them back, as hard as it may feel sometimes. If you do struggle to control yourself and an immature response slips out, then be the adult, take a deep breath and apologise.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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