Saying “I hate you” is one of many typical ways that preschoolers express feelings of frustration and anger. The ability to know what you are feeling at the time you are feeling it is the key to all emotional intelligence. Young children have not yet acquired the ability to label their emotions (I feel anger) or manage them enough to express them in socially acceptable ways.
Emotional intelligence allows us to manage our feelings, resolve conflicts and basically get along with one another. Emotional intelligence, like cognitive intelligence, takes decades to mature and requires certain experiences to bring about that maturity. Many adults, regardless of age, still have trouble identifying, managing and expressing their anger in helpful ways. Just think about your response when your own children are not ready to leave the house on time or your attempts to have children do their chores fall on deaf ears. Our own expression of anger can be very blaming and attacking. “What did I just tell you? Am I talking to thin air? Why can’t you just listen?” are all adult forms of “I hate you.” Our expressions of anger and response to children’s attempts at communicating their anger will lead to or impede their growing emotional intelligence.
Young children have immature emotional systems. There is a huge difference between feeling an emotion (sad, happy, disappointed) and expressing that feeling in a socially acceptable manner.
Young children feel the emotion but lack the social and emotional skills to express what they feel. That’s where our emotional coaching comes in! It becomes our job to help children express their feelings instead of act them out (tantrum, stomp off, throw things, hide, etc.). It also becomes our job to help them verbally express them in helpful instead of hurtful ways.
Many children attempt to control their world so that everything goes their way in order to minimize the upset they feel and must deal with. Unless we help them deal with their feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment, they will grow more skilled at control and manipulation than at emotional intelligence. Without the skills of knowing what they are feeling, they will not learn to manage those feeling nor be able to empathetically recognize those feeling in others. In short, they will have trouble with close relationships throughout their lives.
Many adults give into children’s inappropriate expressions of emotions, giving them the illusion that acting out will make the world go their way. When we do this, we unconsciously teach them that hurtful actions yield positive results. These children grow up attempting to control others instead of modulating and expressing their own feelings. The ability to express their feelings is dependent on how we teach them through our modeling and responses to their upset. So when a child says, “I hate you,” overlay this expression with a socially acceptable one such as, “You seem angry? You were hoping/wanting ______.” (Fill in the blank with the desire you think they are blocking.) End by validating their feelings and encouraging them, “It’s hard to ________. You can handle this.” Remember to speak from the heart.