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“I hate you!” Whoever said, Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me, didn’t have children. ‘Cause, man, that “h” word. It drives a knife right through your heart.

You feed them, you clothe them, you play with them, you snuggle them when they’re sad and clean up the vomit when they’re sick, and then it seems like you make one wrong move, have one tough afternoon, and the “h” word comes flying out at you. You’re tired and discouraged and you just want to stomp your feet and scream, “Oh yeah? Well, I hate you, too!” Because maybe you do, just a little bit, just for that moment.

But wait. Take a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth, as they say in an aerobics class. Check-in on your own feelings. They’re the compass that will guide you to a clearer understanding of your child. If you’re feeling hurt, disappointed, disbelieving, or disgusted, chances are your child is thinking, “I don’t feel liked/loved. You hurt my feelings so I’ll hurt yours, too.” He may or may not be conscious of thinking those exact thoughts, and you may be doing all the things you’re supposed to do as a parent with no intention of hurting your child’s feelings. But feelings are hurt nonetheless, and your child has a strong need to express how angry he is.

Keep breathing. How can you handle this situation with kindness and firmness, in a way that maintains mutual dignity and respect for you and your child?

First, recognize that feelings aren’t good or bad. They just are. How we handle those feelings is what’s important, and right now, modeling for your child how to handle hurt feelings can reduce her need to use the “h” word in the future.

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