10 Ways To Deal When You Don’t Like Your Child That Much

Parenting is hard, and there are many times when you will feel like you just don’t like your child.  You love them, but you really don’t enjoy spending time with them.  A child of any age can provoke this feeling of frustration or irritation, from babyhood all the way up through adulthood.  Many people struggle with guilt and shame associated with this feeling, and try to pretend it’s not there, which of course just leads to increased frustration and irritability in the long term.  Here are 10 actionable tips to use when you are in this common, but rarely discussed, parenting situation.

  1. Repeat after me: Behavior doesn’t have to match feelings.  Authenticity is all well and good, but if you can’t stand your child right now, you can still be a good parent as long as you LIE LIE LIE.  I am not saying that you cannot give your child feedback on how to be less annoying, and in fact that’s my next point, but the difference between a good parent and a bad parent has NOTHING to do with internal feelings or thoughts.  It is all about external behavior that the child witnesses and experiences.  This is a point that is essential to understand if you feel massively guilty about disliking your child.  A bad parent is not someone who dislikes their child.  It is someone who treats their child like they dislike them.  As I discuss here, it is okay and normal to have a favorite child AS LONG AS you keep it hidden as well as you can.  Meditate on this point until it is etched into your brain permanently: parenting is about BEHAVIOR not THOUGHTS.  This is such a key point because feeling guilty about your internal feelings can make you anxious, depressed, and also a worse parent.  Shed the guilt immediately over your internal feelings and let’s figure out how to change your behavior.
  2. Set your child up to succeed.  Talk with them primarily about topics they enjoy.  Ask them about things they find interesting, even if you find them very boring.  If you go to dinner, don’t make it some activity designed to expand their culinary horizons (unless they enjoy this), but rather find a place that everyone can find something they like to eat.  Avoid topics that cause arguments, especially in the first few minutes after you see them in the morning, or when you first see them after school. Do things that your child enjoys on weekends; if they are unathletic, you can hike on your own; dragging them along will only lead to a bad scene.
  3. Limit criticism. This is very hard when you feel angry, but if you can do it, you will increase your parenting self-efficacy and limit your guilt/shame significantly. Limit your complaints or criticisms.  Of course, you need to tell your child what to do to some extent, but really try to avoid any pejorative words or tone.  There is a big difference between, “Please clean your desk” and “Oh my God, it is still a pig sty in here, I can’t believe how entitled you act.  I spend my day shuttling you back and forth and you can’t even do what you promise to do.” If you can limit your own rude words or tone, not only will you feel better about yourself and your day in general, but your child will eventually model their tone on your newer, nicer tone, and your interactions may become more pleasant.
  4. Be nice! Don’t only limit negativity- increase positivity too!  Find things to compliment your child about, even if you have to dig deep.  Try to reframe qualities that you consider negative as positive.  Stubborn can also be persistent, sarcastic can also be good sense of humor.  Every time that you compliment your child, you can feel good about yourself: you are being a good parent. You are in fact being an extra good parent and person, because you are being kind when you feel the opposite, when it is particularly difficult.  This is something to be proud of.  Aim for one saying one nice thing every day.  (This sounds easy, but when you’re really in a bad place with your child, it can be tough.)
  5. Lower your expectations for quality time.  If your child is in a stage that you dislike, aim for ten positive minutes with them per day.  And these do not have to be consecutive.  One minute discussing something positive about school, maybe 5 minutes looking at a cute or funny video together, 3 minutes telling them a funny story from work even if they roll their eyes, and 2 minutes at bedtime of some positive interaction.  This would be an afternoon to be proud of, if you are in a difficult phase with your child.
  6. Do positive things for your child ESPECIALLY when you dislike them most.  Here is a list of little loving things to do for small kids, and here is the list for teenagers.  Particularly when you feel that welling up of anger or even disgust toward your child’s behavior, which of course then leads to guilt, shame, detachment, and a host of negative consequences for your mental health and that of your child, BEHAVE IN A WAY THAT SHOWS LOVE.  This will make you feel more confident as a parent, better about yourself and your child, and may even elicit a positive reaction in your child to boot (it may not, but this would be a nice benefit and could start a positive upward cycle between you two).
  7. Do not do extra things with your child that you hate to do.  Yes you have to provide meals, transportation to school and home, snacks, baths, and bedtimes.  But, do not set yourself up to fail.  If every interaction longer than 3 minutes with your child ends up in a fight, or in a situation where you can’t hide your dislike or criticism of them, do not put yourself in these situations.  Listen to audiobooks in the car or even at the dinner table.  Do bathtime every other day instead of every day with a small child.  With a teenager, do not attempt to talk about homework every night or possibly even at all (I am big into natural consequences).
  8. Self-care like a mofo. I kind of hate the term self-care, because it is used so constantly in popular media and really can mean anything, but what I mean here is: do something every day that makes you happy, which will increase your emotional bandwidth for dealing with your child.  If you feel like you give up everything and work your ass off just to provide for a child who doesn’t even appreciate it, and your whole life is a sacrifice on the altar of parenthood, you are going to have very limited patience with your child’s frustrating behavior.
  9. Go into therapy to figure out why your child triggers you so much.  For the majority of people who dislike a child, there is one of two reasons at play: either a parent didn’t like you much, or your child reminds you of someone you have unresolved conflict with (usually a parent or siblings, sometimes your spouse).  Figuring this out is like mainlining a patience drug into your bloodstream.  When you learn that you are reacting to your child angrily because of a reason aside from that you’re a crap parent and/or have a crap child, your ability to deal with your child, and to empathize with them and with yourself, rockets up exponentially.
  10. Realize that this is one season of your child’s life.  As I discuss here, not every parent is cut out for every stage.  If you a first time parent that is not cut out for the baby stage, this can be rough, because you fear this means you’re just a terrible parent.  100% of your parenting experience has been hard.  But, there are many many stages in a child’s life, and some parents don’t hit their stride until the child is able to engage in conversation, or quite honestly until they hit adulthood.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work to improve your parenting in the interim, but make your mantra, “This phase isn’t good for me, but I will come into my own later on.”

Good luck, fellow parents in the trenches!  Share this with your partner or a friend if it resonates with you; it is easier to be accountable for trying to change if someone is on your team.  And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, I Have Three Kids And I Like All Of Them Every Day HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

Order Dr. Rodman Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you need therapy, check out her online group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person.

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  1. Jenny
    October 13, 2019 at 9:21 pm — Reply

    I read in one book that one of your responsibilities as a parent is to raise your children so you don’t have contempt for them later – which involves sucking it up and imposing boundaries/discipline up front before they start behaving in ways that make you hate them.
    I like that approach.

  2. Charlotte
    October 15, 2019 at 1:31 pm — Reply

    Great post. Say no martyrdom – kids can smell it a mile off or so I’m told…?
    They like you to be happy and in control…

    • Ray
      December 7, 2021 at 3:28 pm — Reply

      Lol I’d like me to be happy and in control as well!!!! Recipe pls.

  3. Ray
    December 7, 2021 at 3:26 pm — Reply

    Yeah, that hit the spot. My parents really disliked me at the age my daughter is, plus She so often reminds me of my mil.

  4. Ellen B.
    December 9, 2021 at 9:19 am — Reply

    What a thoughtful and helpful list. I found this when I googled what to do when you hate your daughter! I don’t of course, but I sure liked her better before she was a teenager! I really appreciate this advice and I am going to take notes and read them every morning for a week. I can see right away some mistakes I’ve been making. Thank you.

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