Repairing A Damaged Relationship Between You and Your Child

Any advice for a parent-child relationship that has been damaged by excessive conflict? 

One of the more painful challenges of parenting arrives not suddenly but gradually and with the ebb and flow of good and bad times with your child.  Along with these circumstances come plenty of signs that your relationship is suffering and in urgent need of emotional repair. Frequent conflict tears at family harmony, misbehavior takes on new and alarming forms, and parental anger leads to the blurting out of stinging indictments of a child. This leads to widening emotional distance between parent and child and the gush of internalized emotion that goes with it.

If this sad situation exists in your home, either between one or both parents and a child, read on for ways to begin to heal what’s broken and keep it that way.

Take an honest inventory of what “baggage” you bring to your role. Raising a challenging child exerts stress upon adults with already many demands upon them. Consider what past, present, and even future issues may be reducing the emotional fuel to invest into your parenting role. Some suffer from deep disappointment that their same sex child is so different from them in interests and attitude. Others have fragile “parent egos” making it difficult for them to accept the need for change because they are hindered by personalizing and projection of blame. Many are ill-equipped to recover from a particularly painful episode, and then drag the family through the excessive apology and recrimination.  

Reflect upon your unique parenting triggers based upon the repeating events at home. Use these insights to develop a parenting mission that prepares you to respond to child behavior problems and positive relationship situations. Consider both as windows of opportunity to create the kind of unconditionally loving bond with your child.  Think of this mission as “being present as the parent you want to be” so that there is less chance you will be caught off guard by circumstances and distractions. It’s helpful to write a list of principles underlying your new mission, such as ‘respond with acceptance to their interests’ and ‘pause and thoughtfully consider consequences before issuing them.’

Pay special attention to the nuances of your interactions with your child as these can often send an unintended message and sabotage time together.  These include imposing unnecessary conditions upon  fun time together, displaying  familiar annoyance and/or intolerance when circumstances don’t deserve such a response, and  finding fault and/or criticizing comments or behaviors in the present when it’s preferable to delay them for another more opportune time.  Perhaps most important is to acknowledge that when rebuilding a relationship with your child the sound of rejection is easily interpreted through words and body language.

Ask other family members for their feedback. Those who are daily witnesses of the splintered relationship can be very helpful in your attempt to reframe responses interpreted as rejection or stretch oneself to demonstrate greater tolerance of your child’s uniqueness.  

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450