You’d do anything for your child, but you feel guilty about admitting the truth, even to yourself. The truth is, sometimes you don’t like your child very much. It’s a secret that many parents of acting-out kids share but rarely confess to anyone.

When parents say they don’t like their child, I think that dislike almost always stems from their child’s inappropriate behavior. These parents are understandably frustrated because they’re tired of the constant backtalk, yelling, and arguing. Or they might not like the way their child treats them, their siblings, or their teachers at school. And I understand that. This article is directed toward those parents.

Not liking your child’s behavior is very different from not liking them as a person.

It’s Hard to Enjoy Our Kids During Difficult Stages

There are times when parents don’t like their child because of a certain stage their son or daughter might be going through—particularly adolescence. As a father, I experienced this myself.

When my son was eight or nine, he was a pretty good kid most of the time. I enjoyed my time with him. And I couldn’t imagine him ever leaving home, with all the unpredictability and risks that were involved.

But by the time he was in his mid-teens, I disliked his behavior so much that I was ready for him to go.

The Breaking Away Stage is Especially Difficult

A child’s adolescent development and identity formation almost always include breaking away from their family. Sometimes that translates into obnoxious, annoying, or self-involved behavior on the part of teenagers.

And because the parent-child bond is so strong, that breaking-away process often becomes very strained and stressed for both the parent and the child.

And for adolescents with unstable behavior, breaking away can even become destructive or violent.

It’s Okay to Want Your Older Teen to Leave the House

An important part of this separation process is that the parent learns to let go. Ultimately, the parent wants and needs to push the child out into the world. They get tired of having this strong-willed, opinionated person in the house who makes demands and argues with them all the time.

When their kids are in their late teens, many parents want them to go to college, find a job, move out, or rent an apartment with a friend. And I think that’s completely natural. It’s all part of your child growing up and starting a life of their own, even if it’s painful at times.

This is the time that parents complete the parent/child part of the relationship and begin the parent/adult-child relationship. This transition is rarely without friction.

Do You Dislike Your Child—or Do You Dislike Their Behavior?

Here’s an important distinction I’d like to make again: not liking your child’s behavior is very different from not liking them as a person.

That’s hard to define for a lot of parents because a child’s behavior becomes part of their personality in some ways. You can’t tell where they end and the behavior begins.

And it’s not only their behavior. They also might be using their personality to confront, attack, or demean you.

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Physically, you also associate them with their personality. The words are coming out of your child’s mouth, after all. You can see the nasty look on your daughter’s face. You can hear the rude tone in your son’s voice. It’s easy to get frustrated and annoyed with those behaviors, and it becomes easy to dislike the child who’s performing them.

The truth is that sometimes kids can be a pain in the neck, just like the rest of us. As parents of teens know, that behavior gets even more intense when children go through adolescence.

The good news is that when your kids are being obnoxious or unpleasant and you feel yourself getting angry, there are effective ways to avoid taking their behavior personally.

Don’t Take Your Child’s Behavior Personally

A lot of my direction for parents is to not take this personally. Although this often feels like a personal attack upon you, it’s not. Rather, it’s driven by other forces such as your child’s fears, frustrations, and the need to develop their own identity. Try not to fight it. No matter how hard it may be at times.

Avoid screaming at your child and getting into conflicts and unnecessary power struggles. Parents often take that kind of behavior personally, but remember, there are irresistible developmental forces taking place here, for both the parent and the child.

Use Positive Self-Talk

One of the things I try to teach parents is to talk more positively to themselves. I realize this may sound simplistic. But try to think of it this way: we all talk to ourselves all the time, we think in words, and perhaps too much of the time, we think in negative words. Our inner thoughts seem to obey the law of gravity—they just naturally fall unless you hold them up somehow.

Psychologists have known for a long time that our brain tends to go negative. They have also found that patterns of negative thinking can change and moods improved when a person becomes aware of the patterns and actively works to change them.

Yes, you can change the way you think. And when you gain control over your automatic negative thoughts, you manage situations better and you feel better at the same time. It’s the basis for much of today’s psychology and counseling—and it works.

Let’s say you’re driving home from work and you’re about to see your teenager. You’re saying to yourself, “I hope he’s not going to start up again today. I’m so sick of his attitude.”

Or maybe you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t want to hear about my daughter’s boyfriend anymore. I can’t deal with her moodiness all the time.”

Here’s the truth. If you’re talking to yourself negatively on the way home, you’re feeding into the problem. If you are expecting a fight when you come through the door, you will get one.

Instead, I recommend that you say things to yourself like, “What can I do differently so we won’t get into an argument as soon as I walk in the door tonight?”

In other words, think more about the solution, and less about the problem. Talk to yourself about the skills you can bring to the situation.

Decompress Before You Talk to Your Child

One of the things I recommend to parents who work is to have the following rule with their kids. For the first ten minutes after you get home, your kids should leave you alone. That way, you have enough time to go up to your bedroom, change your clothes, and get your head ready for parenting your children at night.

Transitions, and by that I mean going from work to home or school to home, are difficult for both adults and children. Try to organize your time so that you’re taking that into account.

Judgment by Others Can Make You Resent Your Child

You may feel like people are looking at you and judging your parenting as inadequate when your child’s behavior is inappropriate. We all hate to be judged. And even if we deal with it effectively, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. It just means that we don’t take it personally anymore.

If your child is acting out, you might have tried to tell your parents, other relatives, or friends about it in the beginning. But if this is a persistent problem, most people eventually get tired of hearing about it.

And we all know that family members and friends can be very judgmental and critical. And when they are, it’s easy to experience that judgment as shame and guilt. As a result, you may feel as if others don’t see you as a good parent.

The criticism hurts even more when you already have doubts about your parenting. It why so many parents feel shame whenever their child behaves inappropriately in front of those people. These are heavy, powerful feelings. And many parents blame and resent their kids for making them feel that way. It’s a vicious cycle.

My advice: don’t blame your child for how others are making you feel. Just focus on your child’s behavior and not on how others are making you feel. If you can do this, you will feel better and you will be a more effective parent.

Stop Comparing Your Insides to Other People’s Outsides

What I always tell parents is, “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” What does this mean, exactly?

On the outside, most families look normal and stable. Indeed, we tend to avoid having screaming matches with our kids in public. But behind closed doors, it’s a different story. Even the most normal looking family has problems. And every parent struggles with their kids—it’s part of raising kids. Indeed, we all have problems.

So, don’t compare how you feel about your family and all its shortcomings to how other families appear from the outside. It’s not a fair comparison. And it will always make you feel inadequate in comparison.

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Another way to think about it is that your family might appear fine to most outside observers. But this is just because you keep your problems mostly behind closed doors. You don’t have your fights out in the open for the public to see.

That’s why I tell parents not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Again, it’s not a fair comparison.

By the way, this is also true on a personal level. Comparing your emotional insides to other people’s physical outsides will only give you a skewed impression of what’s happening. And usually only makes you feel worse about your situation. Don’t do it.

This is also one of the patterns that give adolescents so much trouble. They compare their insides to their classmates’ outsides. The other kids may look like they’re popular and as if they fit in. But those kids may be in just as much emotional turmoil. This can cause your child a lot of distress.

Love is an Action, Not a Feeling

Think of love as an action rather than a feeling. I’ve found that most parents do love their children, even if they don’t always like their behavior, and even if they don’t feel as if they like their child at that moment.

The way parents express that love is by taking care of their children, by being responsible, and by not being abusive. They also show love when they try to give their kids the tools they need to be able to function and perform successfully and find some happiness in this world when they attain adulthood.

I think if you’re resentful of your child’s behavior, you can get help. After all, you have a much better chance of improving the situation if you find some true insight and receive effective coaching on how to manage your child. And don’t be afraid to ask others for help—or to ask how they deal with their families.

Remember, unless your child has severe behavioral problems, being argumentative and annoying—especially during adolescence—is usually a developmental phase they’re going through. Don’t get me wrong, it’s often a long phase and a difficult one. Sometimes kids don’t gravitate back to their parents until they reach their mid-twenties, or even until they start to raise families of their own.

But in my experience, most of the time parents and kids are eventually able to find a way to have a good relationship again—especially if the parent is willing to put in the time to help their child change their behavior.

And for severely defiant kids, it’s especially difficult. Most therapists will tell you that a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is one of the hardest kinds of kids to work with. First, they won’t talk to you, then they lie, then they’re abusive, then they’re negative, then they blame everybody else for their problems. These are tough kids, and they’re tough to like. Sometimes they’re tough to love, too. And that’s okay, we’re only human.

Related Content:
“Am I a Bad Parent?” How to Let Go of Parenting Guilt
Learn to Love Your Difficult Child: The Difference between Love and Acceptance


James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (7)
  • Starfish
    I always enjoy reading these articles and the comments because it makes me feel like I'm not alone. One thing that seriously helped me and my ODD son was when he left and went away to college. He's less than 2 hours away, but I think he's reallyMore starting to understand what it means to be responsible. He's also treating me much better. I think he realizes now how much I do/did for him and now he's doing it for himself. It's still a challenge at times, but I feel so much more hopeful than I did 6 months ago.
  • Trish
    Have you written any books on single parents? I am a single parent raising a 12-year-old daughter. We are really struggling with her attitude.
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Thank you for your question. While we do not have parenting programs geared specifically toward single parents, families of all configurations (including single parent families) have found James Lehman’s Total Transformation program to be helpful in addressing issues such as disrespectful behavior. For more information on the TotalMore Transformation, as well as our other parenting programs, please visit our store page HERE. In addition, I encourage you to check out our materials for single parents, such as the articles found HERE. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Take care.
  • Joseph27

    Dear Trampled Mum,

    Gosh that is fairly typical of a lot of families I have worked with. Obviously your mother in law is not helping, but more about that later. Yes you are right to set boundaries and have high expectations of your children as that is what all families aim for.   My recommendations are to use The Nurtured Heart Approach to turn your family around.  Now this is more that positive reinforcement which is great.

    The Nurtured Heart Approach is totally different. It is about nurturing your children's self esteem, self image and their feelings of greatness. I teach this to teachers and parents who often have to deal with disruptive and difficult kids.

    It need a complete change to the way you are currently managing your kids and you do best to have a family meeting to tell that that you are changing the way you currently parent them.

    Now The Nurtured Heart Approach is about giving regular heartfelt praise to your children for what you see are being good and OK behaviour. You do not give any feedback for negative behaviour as this will reduce quickly anyway. I start by giving praise to the children for being good and being OK . I may say for instance " Mary I loved the way you sat quietly for the past 20 minutes and read your book so quietly. Thank you as I was able to get on with my chores.  " John thank you so much for clearing the dishes away and helping me with little Danny" it shows me how great you are and how considerate you are. Thank you very much. Now if you look out for these everyday events and give the children heartfelt praise and genuine feedback you will see a major shift in their reactions and a real willingness for them to compromise and you will see less and less negative behaviour as you make this type of nurturing parenting a way of  life. 

    You are effectively giving them a running commentary on how great, wonderful, helpful and thoughtful they are. Where you previously focused on the negativity and this encouraged their negative responses now you are giving them genuine heartfelt appreciation for being good and being just OK. Think how they will feel inside with all that genuine positive feedback - High Self Esteem, Excellent Self Image and Self Worth.

    Because you are deliberately not feeding their negativity but countering this with a lot of positive and genuine heartfelt appreciation they will want more and more.  Make it a way of life and you will become a natural at delivering and seeing every opportunity to give them more positive feedback.

    Joseph.  Child Psychologist

    • Trabad

      This is unrealistic for my kids. They hate praise and they hate being spoken to with this kind of phraseology. They see through it immediately- even though I am sincere and really want them to take the good with the bad. Reading these "heart" things seriously depresses me because it's yet another system that is highly touted but completely inaccessible to me.

      I need to hear from someone whose been in my kind of situation and isn't starting from scratch with darling well mannered kids!

  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


    I’m so sorry to hear about the struggles you are having with

    your son, and his behavior.  As James points out in the article above, it

    can be very helpful to try your best not to take his behavior personally. 

    While I recognize that this is easier said than done, making sure that you are

    taking steps to take care of yourself can help.  Self-care is an often

    overlooked, yet crucial, part of parenting, and can impact how effective you

    are able to be with setting limits and enforcing boundaries.  Your

    self-care plan can be anything you wish, from engaging in an activity you

    enjoy, to using more structured supports such as a counselor or support group. 

    For information about these and other resources in your community, try

    contacting the http://www.211.org/ at

    1-800-273-6222.  In addition, if you continue to feel as though you wish

    you were dead, I strongly encourage you to contact the http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk with a trained counselor

    24/7.  I hear how much you are hurting right now, and I appreciate your

    reaching out for support.  I wish you all the best as you continue to move

    forward.  Take care.

  • Trampled mom
    My children often act very well behaved and seem like great kids, but when left with me it all changes. They become little hellions  they treat each other and me worse then an arch enemy. I get yelled at and talked back to and things get thrown and shoved andMore my house looks like a battlefield. Then when my husband comes home he gets mad at me and tells me that I'm in charge and need to show them who's boss and all this crap. He doesn't see what goes on. If I spank my child gets even more irrate if I put them in time out then they scream and start stomping and kicking and hitting. If I ground them the same thing happens. I have taken parenting classes and been told that I'm doing all the right things but nothing helps. I've tried the positive reinforcement and they like it but as soon as they don't get what they want or I try to put my foot down all hell breaks loose and I'm back where I started. In addition to all of this my mother in law moved in for a while and successfully taught them how to manipulate and she does nothing but make matters worse. She calls them names and treats them like crap. I'm fighting a losing battle and just can't take it any more. I feel like trying to give my kids away. I'm just lost.
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