On this week's 'Parenting' segment on the Moncrieff show, one listener sought advice about something upsetting her grandson had told her.
Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy, joined Moncrieff to answer this and other listeners' questions.
Why is my grandson saying he hates me?
My 4-year-old grandson has started saying he hates me and when I visit he says he wants me to go home. I tell him I love him but I can't help being concerned.
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Joanna says this is very common behaviour among children:
“Lots of kids do this. In fact, at some stage all kids are going to make a declaration [to] somebody [they] love in terms of ‘I hate you’.
“One of the ways we look at it is that when young children, especially this kind of age, when they say things like I hate you, it tends to be more an expression of frustration, disappointment, fear - you know something else that’s going on for them.
“And it’s more a way of saying, ‘I hate how I’m feeling right now’, rather than ‘I hate you’. Because young people really take time to learn how to express emotion in a healthy way and… it’s our adult job to model how difficult feelings should be expressed, how difficult feelings are managed.
“So while it feels so personal when a little child says this, particularly if it’s your grandson… but maybe it’s about something around just giving him time and space.”
“If you’ve a little guy who spends a lot of time with grandparents, particularly when parents are at work, if I see granny coming it might cue me that that means Mam and Dad are leaving. And that can be something that I resist. And I might be saying, ‘It’s not that I hate you, Granny, but I hate that you’re not my Mam or Dad.’ Or whatever it might be.
“It could be that there are different rules with Granny, there could be a different tone of voice. It could be anything at all that just [upsets] me, makes me feel uncertain and out of that place I speak that phrase, ‘I hate you.’
“Now what Granny is doing is the right thing. Tell him that you love him in response but I think you can also name some of the feelings that this phrase is masking. ‘I can see that you’re very angry right now. So when you feel a bit better we could play this game or read this book. And I’ll just sit here and wait until you feel a bit better. And I love you always no matter what.’
“So you’re also giving him a new way of expressing, ‘It’s not that I hate you, it’s that I’m angry’.
“He’s only four, he needs a little bit more time and help with this. But the best reassurance I can give Granny is that it’s not about you… I would say generally it’s about something else. Children this age are so egocentric that their expressions of feeling are about their feelings, not how they’re feeling about you.”
Main image: An upset schoolchild lies her head on a school desk. Picture by: Thomas Eisenhuth/DPA/PA Images