Why your child saying they HATE you is a good thing

You know your kid is moving into the tween years when they start calling you ‘bruh,’ refuse to communicate, and act like they want the ground to swallow them up – just because you breathe.

It can feel devastating, like your sweet child has been replaced by a stranger – one who will happily tell you that they hate you (before slamming the door to their bomb site of a bedroom).

If you’re a parent bracing yourself for the turbulent teen years ahead, it will help to know there’s an upside to their increasingly annoying behavior.

This is what your tween needs to do to go from being a child who is completely dependent on you for all their needs to an independent adult who can make their own way in the world without your help.

Parenting advice author Tanith Carey (above) has written What's My Tween Thinking?
Her book (pictured) advises the confused parents of kids between childhood and teens

They call you ‘bruh’

As a younger child, your tween put you on a pedestal as their parent, viewing you as a superhero who knew everything.

Now your tween is getting older, they are starting to see you as a real person with human flaws.

As they do this, they may seek to redefine your relationship by changing what they call you.

Why it’s a good sign

From around the age of nine, tweens start to imagine a world in which they will have to be independent from you.

This means gaining distance.

Though they may still want to spend time with you, one way to try out this more grown-up identity is to change what they call you.

This may mean switching from Mom/Dad – to ‘bruh’, ‘bro’ or ‘dude’, to show they want to be treated on a more grown-up footing.

See this as your tween finding a new way to connect to you in a more adult way.

Tanith with her daughters, Lily and Clio. She writes that your child calling you 'bruh' or 'dude' is their way of showing they want to be treated on a more grown-up level

How to respond

As long as it’s meant in an affectionate, rather than disrespectful way, let it pass.

If you do raise it, do so in a humorous, curious way and respond in kind to acknowledge the shift.

You could say: ‘Wow, I’ve never been called “bruh” before. Is that what you’re going to call me from now on, bro?’

Acknowledging this change will tell your child that you’ve heard they want to be treated more equally.

They have messy rooms

When they were younger, your child’s room was just a place to sleep and keep their toys.

Now your child heads towards the teenage years, it’s likely there’s a slow accumulation of clothes, school papers and gadgets around their beds – and when you point out it’s a mess, they don’t see the problem.

Why it’s a good sign

It’s easy to see your child’s untidiness as a sign they don’t value their possessions or respect your home.

But as their thought processes become more complex, their brains reorganize, and school becomes more demanding – their rooms are becoming a refuge from adult rules and expectations when they can relax and be themselves.

To your eyes, it may look like they’re surrounded by mess. But they simply don’t see it that way.

That messy room can be infuriating, but it's actually a way for your child to express themselves

To their eyes, it’s THEIR mess and they know where everything is. Are your once beautifully decorated walls now all spattered with Blu Tack? Let this pass too.

For now, their bedroom walls are a gallery for their evolving interests, and pictures will constantly change.

Experimenting with lots of identities, they will help them work out who they want to be.

How to respond

As long as moldy food or damp clothes aren’t creating a health hazard, allow your tween some control of their immediate environment.

Kids learn best when they work stuff out for themselves, not when they are told.

Rather than get into a battle of wills about when they are going to clear up, have some trust they will eventually work out for themselves that it’s more pleasant and less stressful to live in a tidier room because it’s easier to find things.

Having said that, if your child tends to be disorganized across the board, and it’s seriously impacting their life, keep an eye, just in case it’s linked to neurodiversity – or a lack of self care linked to depression – as they will need more support.

They find you embarrassing

After years you’ve spent loving your child, it’s hurtful to hear them call you embarrassing just for being yourself – whether it’s because you’re wearing something they’d don’t like, or because you’re enjoying singing along to your favorite song.

Why it’s a good sign

Children become acutely self-conscious as they move into the teenage years because they’re developing an ‘imaginary audience’ of peers in their minds who are watching their every move.

To you this will feel completely baffling because there’s no one else within a 500-feet radius. But learning the new rules of their ‘tribe’ is so important to their development, they can hear their voices at all times.

Even imagining what their peers might think is enough to make them feel physically uncomfortable, according to brain scans.

It can be shocking to hear your tween say they hate you - but it's also a sign that they trust you to keep loving them

How to respond

Although it’s hard to hear that your teen finds you embarrassing, try not to take it personally. See it as a phase of their development toward becoming their own person.

However, if they continually hurt your feelings by calling you embarrassing, help them learn the impact of their words.

Use ‘I feel’ statements to explain gently how their comments land for you, so they appreciate the effects their words have on others. Make it clear that, like them, you should also be able to relax and be yourself in your own home.

Then be patient. For the moment, your child feels so closely associated that anything you do rubs off on them. Once they develop a stronger sense of their own identity, separate from yours, in their later tween years, they’ll go back to loving you just as you are.

They say: ‘I hate you!’

When children are little and tell you ‘I love you,’ it feels like we are getting parenting ‘right.’

So, a few years on, it can be a shock to hear your tween say: ‘I hate you!’ when you try to impose limits, like telling them it’s time to go to bed or asking them to come off their screens.

Why it’s a good sign

As they head towards the teenage years, tweens start to feel more ‘grown up’ and think they should have more say over their lives.

They are also developing ‘theory of mind’, the ability to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling.

As they know how much it will hurt, the words, ‘I hate you,’ are the quickest and most effective way they can think of expressing their frustration in the moment.

Although it may not sound like it at the time, your child’s outburst is also a sign they trust you to keep loving them.

It shows they feel safe enough to express their anger and are confident you won’t reject them for it.

Parents can feel shut out when their child stops sharing information about their lives with them

How to respond

Remind yourself your tween doesn’t hate you. They hate being asked to stop what they are enjoying doing.

What they mean is: ‘I hate the fact you’re not letting me do what I want.’

One of the greatest skills you can role model for your tween is emotional regulation.

The best way to teach this is to role model it for them. Try: ‘I can see you’re feeling angry right now.

‘We can talk about this later when everyone is calmer.’

When you ask them what happened at school, they say: ‘Nothing!’

Once, your child couldn’t wait to tell you everything they did at school when they got home. So, when they start saying, ‘Nothing!’, you may feel shut out.

Why it’s a good sign

Your child is going through a period of transition as they start to become an individual with their own private thoughts and feelings.

As they now understand other perspectives better, they have worked out that you don’t need to know everything they are thinking and feeling – and they can decide how much they want to tell you.

This is an important first step in creating privacy and drawing boundaries.

How to respond

Meet them where they are, and look for new ways to communicate, so you stay connected in readiness for the teenage years.

If they don’t want to connect with words, find another time to synchronize. Let your tween have some downtime and, without adding pressure, see if there are other ways to stay close, whether it’s sharing a snack and drink, cooking together, playing a game, or having a chat at bedtime. 

When your tween does decide to open up, listen without judgment or trying to fix or coach them. As they enter the teen years, adolescents can hear even the most loving suggestions from parents as criticism that they aren’t good enough as they are.

Adapted from What’s my Tween Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents, published by DK on February 13

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