Question: What would you do you if your child said, "I don’t love you"?
Response: First of all, I wouldn’t be too shocked. Most kids are probably going to try that out on you once or twice. I’m sure our kids have said that before, and I remember saying it to my own mother once as a kid. The parent child relationship can get pretty intense at times, and when a child’s flesh gets pushed he’s not going to like it. Feelings of anger and hatred are common when someone pushes our flesh, so don’t fall prey to thinking that your own little angel won’t ever have those feelings toward you on occasion. With a really angry child or teen, you might even get an occasional "I hate you," possibly accompanied by other not-so-choice words, and you might even witness some violent behavior. (I seem to recall punching the fridge myself as a kid…the fridge won.)
Of course that is not to say that just because such behavior is common that we should allow it. We are the parents, and God has entrusted us with the role of shaping our children’s behavior. Just because sinful and rebellious behavior is common, does not mean that we should put up with it.
I think it’s important to note that some parents can be sensitive and hurt by the mean things that their children say. With some people this can lead to introspective fears making them wonder if they are bad parents or if somehow they’ve really messed up their children. Once they realize that they are hurt and wounded by the comments they can start to question their own judgment of the situation. "Maybe I shouldn’t correct him because I’m just hurt. After all, doesn’t he have the right to be angry with me? I can’t tell him to stop just because I’m hurt," and etc…
While it may be wise to not overreact out of your hurt, it is also wise to not under-react out of fear of overreacting. Got that? ;-)
For a young child who says, "I don’t love you," I’d say something like the following:
"You may not say that. That is a mean and hurtful thing to say. You may not say that to me, and you may not say that to anyone else. If you are angry at me we can talk about it, but you may not use hurtful speech." The idea is that your child can discuss his emotions to you, but he needs to do it respectfully and with self-control.
With a younger child, the first time or two it happened I’d be pretty gentle about it and explain the seriousness of it. I’d view it as a teaching opportunity to let them know what is appropriate and loving and what is not. Once a clear standard has been established of what is permissible and what is not, it would become an issue of discipline when the standard is broken.
With an older kid, stronger fits of anger, or repeated offenses in this area, I’d get really strong with them really fast. Although you could view it as a minor offense, another way to look at it is that it is breaking the Second Greatest Commandment, the Golden Rule, and one of the Ten Commandments (see below). That ups the ante doesn’t it? With an older child I’d view it as a form of rebellion that needs to be immediately and strongly confronted.
One important thing to remember is that there are a ton of teaching opportunities here that you could work through: speech, love, anger, thought life, rebellion, etc… View this as an opportunity to really help them in their life struggles and pick one or two areas to talk through with them. Don’t loose heart. You are not going to raise godly men and women without having some pretty tough battles along the way. Those battles are where much of the life-shaping occurs. So don’t fear them, avoid them, or be surprised by them. Just face them as they come, seek God’s wisdom, and help your child grow through each one.
Second Greatest Commandment: Mark 12:31 [Jesus said,] The second [greatest commandment] is this : 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." NIV
The Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12 [Jesus said,] So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. NIV
The Fifth Commandment: Exodus 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. NIV