When Children Say, “I Don’t Like You”…

Father consoles crying boyHearing “I don’t like you!” from your child can hurt, but don’t believe that they really don’t like you. Kids, as young as 2, learn to say “No;” they have their feelings hurt and want to do things their own way. They do not have the cognizance to say, “Mom or Dad, I’m mad because I can’t get my own way at this time, but I understand why you said I can’t do that particular thing.” If only they could!

On You Tube, I saw a video of a 3-year-old that told his mom that he only liked her when she gave him cookies. She listened and acknowledged what he said. She told him it was okay and that she loved him. He said he loved her too but doesn’t always like her. It was cute. If he was a little older, he probably would have said, “I don’t like what you said.”

If your child shouts, “I don’t like you!” in response to not getting his/her way, acknowledge his/ her feelings, remind him/her that it’s okay to not like the decision and remind your child that you love him/her. Though this may not always go smoothly, the more calm and consistent you are, the better.

When children say, “I don’t like you,” you have an opportunity to help them identify feelings and find more words so they can learn to express themselves verbally.

You might say:

  • “It sounds like you are upset with Mommy or Daddy, and that’s okay. Let’s do something else together.” Here, you identify and acknowledge your child’s feelings, allowing these feelings to be felt. You are also saying that there are other things that the two of you could do together. Redirection is a great tool after the acknowledgment of the feelings. It may not always go as smoothly in this scenario, but it does help.
  • “I know you may not like what Mommy or Daddy said. What are you mad about?” With this, you acknowledge the feelings and include a question that can help the child formulate thoughts and express how he/she sees it. If your child says, “I don’t want to take a nap. I want to play with my toys,” again, acknowledge his/her feelings and thoughts. You can even say that you agree with him/her that toys are more fun than a nap, but if it’s nap time, explain that the toys will be there when he/she gets up. Proceed to preparation for nap.

Some kids will accept this as sufficient and others won’t. When a child gets more upset or doesn’t like the answer, remain calm and consistent. He/she will be okay. If tantrums become more extreme, continue to remain calm and consistent. It’s difficult, but it is necessary to not give in. You can still acknowledge the feelings briefly, without fully engaging in conversation with your child. Reasoning with a child when he/she has a tantrum is not helpful in decreasing or eliminating the tantrums, in fact, it reinforces them.

You can remind your child that when the nap is done, both of you can play with the toys, go to the park, or do something else.

Remember, kids don’t mean it when they say, “I don’t like you.” It can hurt, but your job as a parent is to raise your child to be able to express the thoughts and feelings he/she has in appropriate ways, be helpful and respectful, and have a strong sense of self-worth.

When you remain calm and consistent as best you can, this will help you both to work through the particular situation and get to having a more fun time easier and faster.

One book that is very helpful is Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Dr. Kevin Lehman. Check it out!

© Copyright 2011 by Kelly Sanders, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • cyrus

    February 4th, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    one thing i’ve learnt over the years-do not try to force kids in something.try to talk them into something but don’t force.they will only grow more and more rebellious.

  • Whit

    February 4th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    You have to take these kinds of responses with a grain of salt and shake them off and use them as a teaching tool, not for the opportunity to get mad at the child. The child at that age is verbalizing in the only words that they have at this point in time and I know that deep down most of them do not mean it any more than we would as adults if we said the same thing to them.

  • Pennant

    February 4th, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Kids are just that-kids! We cannot expect them to exhibit maturity,can we?

    Hence it is upto us,the parents,to show maturity and act with patience when it comes to kids. If your little one says I don’t like you, don’t take it to your heart. Just relax and see how best you can get along with your bundle of joy!

  • eliza

    February 5th, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    If you don’t want children who will at certain times in their lives say mean things to you then the bet advice is to not have children. Especially at the younger ages they don’t know the impact of the words that they use. They are working with the tools that they have. If you get all bent out of shape about that when they are a toddler, then you may as well give them up for adoption because you are never gonna be able to handle the teen years! :)

  • kayla

    February 6th, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    It is the child’s way of getting it all out. When we do that and speak our minds we are applauded. Kids are punished.

  • Yvette

    February 11th, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Kids don’t believe in tact, and they take things literally. They also say exactly what they mean, and what they think, even if they don’t understand it. That’s what kids do. Parents need to remember that. I think some read too much into what very young kids say.

  • dave

    February 11th, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    @cyrus- You’re right! Forcing kids into something is an easy way to make them hate it. Force them to respect someone they hate? That hate will grow. I was made to respect people I simply did not like when I was a kid. Now I’m an adult I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them that to their faces.

  • roxie

    February 13th, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    That’s what parents don’t realize most of the time. Once the children are adults, they have a long list of things they’ll never do again that they had to because they were children. If that includes respecting people they don’t think deserve it, it’s not going to be pretty if they are talking about family members. It is however more honest.

  • Marc

    February 13th, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    @dave: Least said, soonest mended. Why not keep your opinions to yourself and not upset your family? That would be the more grownup thing to do. Being disrespectful just because you don’t happen to like them is petty and childish. Think what you like, but don’t unleash your tongue.

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