"I don't like you."
I'm certainly not the only mom whose feelings have been bruised by a kid who demands a mom swap or says, "I hate you!" Greyson Kreis, 6, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, put in a request for a new mom when his mother, Kim, made him drop the latest Captain Underpants book to clean up his room and turn in early. Unlike me, she had a quick comeback. "I told him that he had better enjoy that night in his bed because the next day I would find him a new mom, and he could go live in her house -- but without his toys," she says.
A better way to respond: The unanimous chorus from experts: Don't take it personally. Kids say these things when they're frustrated or angry. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Of course, distancing yourself when your kid seems to be dissing your mothering skills isn't easy, but letting your child think that you're all too happy to get rid of him -- or worse, that you hate him, too -- isn't okay. Since the under-9 set are literal thinkers, they won't detect the reverse psychology at work, and you might end up undermining your child's trust.
To stay calm, try to pinpoint the real reason your kid is lashing out: For 7-year-old Shaun Herock of De Pere, Wisconsin, it was frustration and fatigue. He snapped, "I don't like you! You're not my friend!" when his mom, Mia, refused to grab hamburgers on the way home from a two-hour football practice. Her measured response: "That's fine. You're entitled to feel that way." Shaun stewed for a while, but by the time they got home, the whole thing had blown over.
Herock recognized that her son only said "I don't like you" when he was overtired, and that helped her keep her temper. Easier said than done, of course, but if you're upset, wait until you've calmed down to say anything. "When you get emotional, you lose 50 IQ points," says Ray Levy. "But later on you can say, 'It hurts my feelings when you tell me you hate me.' Usually when kids are calm, they're pretty remorseful."
My daughter's requests for a new mom have died down recently, but now she likes to say, "You hurt my feelings," when I refuse yet another visit to her bedroom at night. While most of the time I manage a response like "Thanks for sharing," I'm not always as calm as I'd like. "We all lose it and say the wrong thing," says Levy. "But it's good for parents to apologize or change their behavior, instead of thinking they have to be right or perfect all the time." In other words, it's always okay to say "I'm sorry" to your kids.