How to reconnect with your child
Children are such a gift, and they can be so infuriating too! Sometimes our relationship with our kids is going well and at other times it really isn’t.
Have you been shut out by your child? Do they refuse to talk with you? Does your child say things like “I’m fine”, or “you don’t get it!” This is so discouraging. And here is a secret that most people don’t tell you as a parent—it happens to all of us at some point! Yes, that’s right—it happens a lot! Now that doesn’t make it easier but it can help us feel less crazy and exasperated.
Occasional cold shoulders are one thing, but consistent shut out or a refusal to talk can be very troubling and indicate that your child is struggling with their current context. The good news is that researchers and therapists have been working at this for a long time and have discovered core needs that children have and core skills we need to use as parents to connect or reconnect with our children.
Daniel Hughes is a good example. He has worked with hundreds of adopted and struggling children and lays out a clear set of skills that parents can develop to dramatically change their relationships with their kids! I will share those with you in just a moment…but first…
Hughes warns us that our own emotions, discomfort, or distress as parents can actually get in the way of using skills well. In short, if we are too upset, or frustrated, or need our kids to reconnect and share with us it will actually inhibit the process! We can have our feelings and long to connect with our kids, but we must be careful it doesn’t ooze into our conversations and make it all feel like just another attempt to get them talking!
The skills of rebuilding and connecting
Hughes gives a set of skills that come in the acronym PACE. This stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy.
Playfulness: Develop this with your kids. Allow them to be their age with you and join in. It is a great relief to kids when they can be silly and know that you aren’t taking everything so seriously. This stance also reduces negative feelings and lets you see the good in one another whilst keeping shame at bay.
Acceptance: Start by accepting all of the felt experiences and perceptions of your kids. It’s critical. Each person has an experience and a purpose behind every action (even if we don’t like it!) and we have to allow space to accept that. We often try to change things too quickly. Slow down and hear how your child thinks or feels, or even that they just don’t want you around. Acknowledge this with them without defensiveness. Accepting requires us to say, “oh, you experience x,y,z, that’s how it is for you….”.
Curiosity: This is a turning point! When your child tells you something, expresses something, or even throws something, get curious! Ask what it is like for them right there and then, and how they are feeling, and what they might need. In short, you are making a space for them to let you know all the things that they hold back, think, or feel that you have no idea about yet. There is time for discipline later… now is about connecting.
Empathy: This requires us to reflect back to our kids what they are going through or feel. Things like, “It’s so hard to wait.” “You really seem to be angry about that, I can see that.” “That must be so hard… being all alone.” This can be hard to give when we forget our kids need our help with their big feelings. We help them understand their own worlds—that is all part of growing up. And then you can show how their true feelings matter to you. “I feel sad that you do not feel close to your dad now.” “I am grateful that you have shown me how hard life is for you right now.”
My addition (if it feels appropriate): You might move forward (but not too fast) with something like, “how can I be here for you in this?”, “How can we work together to make this better?” Or if your child is younger, “Can I help you?”, or “Let’s try something else…”
A final tip from Dr. Hughes: “Empathy is like aspirin, it works with anything.”
When you are stuck with your kids and have no clue—use empathy! It always moves relationships in a positive direction. I hope you find Hughes’ suggestions helpful. I know I did in my own personal and professional life.
If you are struggling to connect with your child, or to manage your experiences in parenting we would love to hear from you and support you. Please connect with us today and let us help your family thrive.
Paul Loosemore, LPC