How Do I Validate My Toddler’s Feelings When They Say They Don’t Love Me

When your toddler says they don’t love you, it can be an emotionally challenging moment for any parent. As my infant angrily cried to me, “I don’t love you,” I was going to say, “It makes me sad because I love spending time with you, I enjoy our fun, and I truly love you,” but then I began to consider the long-term implications.

Especially when it comes to dating, I do not want my children to feel compelled to conceal their emotions so as not to make others unhappy. I do not want them to be taught not to harm someone’s feelings if they do not return their affection. How can I reply to this comment in a way that encourages my child to be sympathetic and appropriately express emotions?

—Crabby Limits

I like your thoughtfulness in the trenches of parenting a toddler. I frequently admit that my early childhood mothering fell well short of my “golden moments” aspirations of parenthood. In fact, my son went through a seemingly endless phase of yelling this phrase at me when he was angry: “Time to put on your shoes, honey!” “I don’t love you!”

Now that I am no longer a parent, it is much simpler for me to recognize all the opportunities to translate toddler gibberish into growth. You’ve already arrived! You now have a solid knowledge of the immediate and long-term consequences of your responses to your child, so I’m optimistic that the next steps will be straightforward.

Contemplate Mind-Body Theory

A youngster who is developing empathy relies on abilities that fall under the concept of “theory of mind,” which refers to the capacity to comprehend another person’s experience and perspective that differ from one’s own. Despite appearances, toddlers are not self-centered jerks; they are supposed to be self-centered and cannot see things from another person’s perspective.

Although toddlers do not yet have the necessary brain development for theory of mind, observing what others do helps them get there when their brains are ready, often around age 4.

In the Critical Moment

In the midst of a toddler’s tantrum, it can be difficult to remember that their startling comments serve a purpose: expressing powerful emotion. The fundamental processes for responding to strong words and strong emotions include:

  • Remain as calm as you can. (Easier said than done, so pat yourself on the back each time you succeed!)
  • Demonstrate empathy and perspective-taking by considering their potential feelings in the scenario “You appear angry that we must now leave the park and return home. Perhaps you regret leaving the slide where you were having so much fun.”
  • Assist them in articulating what they may genuinely mean by not loving you, without discounting their experience. Instead of that, “You might say, “You said you don’t love me. I know you do!” I wonder if this implies that playing in the park is so enjoyable that it is difficult to leave.”

Your use of empathy in these situations—and your ability to remain cool in the midst of their storm—accomplishes two crucial goals: it assists your children in regulating their strong emotions during the outburst, and it teaches them how to demonstrate empathy at a later age.

The initial step of being cool can assist them in overcoming strong emotions more quickly; when we react (by yelling back), everyone’s emotions remain elevated and the dispute lasts longer. The translation of their remark into an alternative approach to express the same emotion provides them with a model for doing so in the future, even if that future is at least several years away.

The Emotional Command Center

A toddler’s limbic system, which regulates emotions, would be surrounded by a sky’s worth of lightning rods if we could see inside their brain. The difficulty is that the other areas of their brains that contain the lightning needed to avert a full-blown storm are not developed. If your objective is to help your child express emotions appropriately, starting now makes a difference, but you may see results for only a few years.

Even so, the nature of brain development in early childhood dictates that in times of heightened emotion, newly gained skills appear to fade because they require more effort. I assure you that each time you can reply calmly by labeling their emotions, the information is soaking into their brains so that they will eventually accomplish it on their own.

Why the Internal Working Model Is Important

No pressure, but the bonds we have with our children from infancy onward construct what is known in psychology as an individual’s “internal functioning model.” You are concerned about how your response to your children’s emotions may affect the future health of their relationships since you are aware that how parents interact with children in the early years serves as a model for future relationships. Every parent may give their young child two invaluable gifts:

Testify and affirm.

Validate their experience (as bonkers as that experience may be). Early on, a child’s perception that their parent actually understands them is a major indicator of future happiness.

Express care.

Demonstrate empathy for a child’s whole spectrum of emotions and communicate that all emotions are appropriate (even if not all behaviors are). The greater children’s freedom to experience and express negative emotions, the greater their overall psychological wellness.

These two gifts contribute to your child’s emotional abilities and well-being and his or her sense of self-worth. This sense of self-worth enables them to form healthier relationships in the future, which appears to be your ultimate goal, even in these everyday exchanges.


Throughout the toddler years, making every interaction wonderful or even favorable is impossible. In the same way that children are always learning from us, so are we. I frequently advise parents of these young “powder kegs” that keeping the big picture of their overall development can help us respond more successfully in the present, but not always.

Just as you embrace your child’s feelings to educate them about love and safety in relationships, you should be able to accept your own progress as a parent. Your children will undoubtedly love you forever and ever, regardless of what they say in these less-than-priceless moments.

Meaningful articles you might like: Assisting Children in Dealing with Their Emotions, 4 Important Emotions That You Should Discuss with Children, How to Help Kids Learn Social and Emotional Skills at Home