Q: In a store recently my three-year-old child was unhappy and she expressed her unhappiness by repeatedly saying, “I hate my life!” At first I was embarrassed, but then I began to worry- Does she really hate her life? Is she mentally unhealthy? This is the first time she has ever done or said anything like this. I may be over reacting. Do you think I need to get her some professional help?
A: It is true children can develop all of the same mental illnesses that adults can, although often times the signs are more difficult to recognize. It is not unheard of for a three year old to exhibit signs of a mental illness, but if the outcry in the store was an isolated incident, then it is more likely that your child has overheard someone else use the exact expression. Adults sometimes say things off the cuff and children adopt the expression as their own. “I hate my life!” is probably a phrase your daughter overheard and not a true expression of her feelings.
If the outcry happens again it might be helpful to say to your daughter, “Wow, you sound frustrated. What is causing you to be so frustrated and upset?” This should provide the opportunity for her to express her displeasure and you the opportunity to explain how to handle the frustration. If necessary, leave the store and chat in the car or another safe location (unless of course the root of the outcry is because your child wants to leave the store).
If, however, the outcry in the store incident is in addition to several other red flags or if your instincts tell you there is something more going on, then you should seek the guidance of a healthcare professional. Start with your child’s doctor. It may be helpful to have a conversation with your child’s doctor without your child present. Make an appointment and share all the information you have observed relating to your child’s mental health.
It is most likely that “I hate my life!” can be translated to “I’m ready to leave this store” or something similar, but if your instincts tell you otherwise then you should consult your child’s healthcare professional.