Last Modified: November 28, 2023 | Published: February 22, 2023

In over 15 years as a clinician, I have found one of the greatest struggles for parents is when their kids are angry at them.

As parents, it can be particularly challenging when our kids tell us they hate us or call us names. This may leave us feeling like we are bad parents. 

Here are some strategies that can work when this happens. 

upset mother

Strengthen your own mental health. 

Often when our children trigger us, we feel defeated. When they act disrespectfully, it really hurts. We are often exhausted. Parenting is a thankless job with many frustrations. It will be years before our children can understand or appreciate what we do for them. 

In what little ways can you take care of yourself? 

Self-care can be waking up early to meditate or taking a walk outside. It could be having a bedtime for your child that allows you to have a few minutes for yourself.  Self-care is often in the small choices we make, the foods we eat, where we put our attention, and with whom we choose to spend our time. 

Ask yourself, “How can I make small changes to bring nourishment to my life?” 

Know it is not about you when your teen is upset with you. 

You may think, “Wait! My teenager just said she hates me! How is this not about me?” You are the safe place for your child. When your child is having a bad day, you are the person likely to experience your child’s negative emotions. 

Yes, this is not fair, but it will not help to get into a fight with your teen. Instead, you can let your child vent and address what they said at a different time when everyone is calm.

Use coping strategies for yourself.

When your child is heated and upset, it is easy to become heated and upset along with your child. When we are experiencing big feelings, this is not the time to solve the problem. Take a break. 

Tell your child you are done talking about the matter and that you can talk again later. For example, say, “I need time to calm down. I am going to leave this room, and I will talk with you again in an hour.” You can decide when it is the right time to reconvene. Do your best to come back to your child within 24 hours. 

While you are taking a break, find ways to calm down. The best tip I have learned about anger is not to focus on why you are mad, who is right or wrong, or justifications. Instead, focus on breathing, relaxing your muscles, and calming your mind. 

Join a support group.

If you have an adolescent that is constantly mad and telling you how much they hate you, it can help to have the support of others. Our child cannot be our support system. 

It is essential to get support from other healthy adults. Find someone who you trust, a therapist, a support group, a trusted friend, or a family member. It can help to know you are not alone. Research shows that kids are more resilient when their parents have a support system in place. [1] 

Be present with yourself. 

Ask yourself, “What is being triggered for me?”

When your child is speaking negatively to you, what negative thoughts and distortions are coming up for you? 

For example, notice if any of these thoughts are popping into your mind.

  • “No one understands me.”
  • “No one appreciates me.”
  • “No one loves me.”
  • “I have the whole world on my shoulders.”
  • “Nothing ever works out for me.”
  • “I am the only one who does anything around here.”
  • “My life is such a mess.”

When we are deeply hurt by what someone else says, it can be that it is ‘striking a nerve’ because of a cognitive distortion or negative thought pattern. If you want to learn more, check out this cognitive distortions article.

Have boundaries with your teen.

Often, when our children say that dreaded phrase and tell us how much they hate us, they are trying to get us to back down on a rule or boundary we have expressed. It can take a toll on our parent-child relationship. 

When we are feeling hurt, it can be easy to back down and allow our children to break the boundary we have put in place. It is normal for our children to test limits. 

Sometimes when we enforce a rule, our children will have an outburst and misbehave, hoping we will back down. Instead of caving, you can set up a time for a family meeting where your child can share their thoughts and feelings, and together you can decide how to move forward. 

When you set a rule, such as, “If you have a D or an F, you will lose your phone,” it is essential to stand your ground. Don’t scream or yell back at your child. 

Calmly say, “As we agreed, by earning a D, you are demonstrating you need our help to spend your time wisely after school. When I see that you have a C and no missing assignments, you will get your phone back. It is up to you.”

Your child may scream, yell and say hurtful things. Don’t engage. Simply state the facts. Say, “When your grade is a C, you can have your phone.”

Your child may say, “It is my teacher’s fault! They haven’t graded my work. I did it, but it’s not in the grade book.” 

You can say back, “Yes, that is hard when you are waiting on your teacher. It may take a while when they are grading late work. At this point, we have to wait until the grade is updated. When I notice you have a C, you can have your phone.”

Notice what your child is doing well and offer praise.

This advice may feel counterintuitive. When we get into power struggles with our children, it can sometimes feel like all we do is fight. It can be helpful to notice the positives and point them out. 

Research shows we need five words of encouragement for every critique. Changing our child’s behavior is often easier by pointing out what is going well. For example, “I noticed you put your coat away, thank you.” You may have to look hard to find something to praise with a very difficult child. Work to get a ratio of five positives to every critique you make of your child’s behavior. 

Practice active listening with your teenager.

Be curious if your child could be upset with you because they don’t know a healthier way to express themselves. When your child comes to you with a problem or is upset, take the time to listen. 

Try not to solve their problem or tell them how to feel. Instead, deeply listen to what they are saying and reflect back to them what you hear.  Thank your child for coming to you. 

Some great examples of phrases you can use are as follows.

“Wow, that sounds like a hard situation.” 

“Oh, that’s tough. I understand.” 

“I am here for you.” 

“Thanks for sharing what has been happening.”

“I think I would be really frustrated, too, in that situation.” 

“I know you can figure this out.”

“What are you thinking you can do about this?”

“I remember dealing with something similar, and I was so frustrated by it too!”

“I am so glad you came to me.”

A lot of times, you will find that your child is totally capable of solving their own problems. You may also notice that your child has already decided what they will do but just wants to vent the frustration they feel. By not infringing on their decisions and trampling over their autonomous actions, you are giving them the power to solve their own problems. 

The best-case scenarios are the following. First, your child tells you how they feel and then solves the problem on their own. Or secondly, your child tells you how they feel and then asks for your help on it in some reasonable way. With either of these options, you are increasing your communication with your child. An added benefit is that you are allowing your child to build resilience as future challenges arise.

Help your child express their emotions.

At a time when both you and your child are calm, have a family meeting. Share with your child, “I find it hurtful when we say unkind things to each other.” Express to your child that all of their feelings are valid and okay. 

You can add, “However, it is not okay to express anger and hurt feelings in words of unkindness to you or others. Instead of saying that you hate me, I would prefer you say I am feeling disappointed, deeply hurt, unheard, and angry about what happened.” 

Teach your teenage daughter or son how to share feelings respectfully. Let your teen know when they express their feelings in a mean way, you will both be taking a break. During this time, you will take time to calm down and can talk again when everyone can speak respectfully. Share that if they break a rule, there will be the agreed-upon consequence. 

As a parent, one of the best things you can do is notice when your child expresses a feeling appropriately. If your child says, “I am so mad right now. I could just scream,” let your child know that you understand and appreciate that. Often, your active listening skills are all that they need. Once they see that they expressed themselves effectively, they are likely to use a similar strategy the next time they are upset.

It is always tough when our kids become angry and call us hurtful names. It is vital to remain calm and know it is not about you. If you want to learn ways to help your child with strong emotions, try the Cadey app

[1] Julie Anne Laser & Nicole Nicotera (2010). Working with adolescents: A guide for practitioners