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Rocky Relationship With Your Child? Here's How To Fix It

Difficult relationships between parents and teens are often seen as inevitable. But what when these difficulties occur with a younger child? While rarely discussed, rocky relationships between parents and their younger children are quite common, according to a leading child psychotherapist.

Psychotherapist and attachment specialist at the Solamh Parent-Child Relationship Clinic, Joanna Fortune, says it can be a surprise to some parents when they find they are having difficulties or challenges in staying connected with their younger children.

“But this does happen, and more frequently than tends to be spoken about. Sometimes there is an issue and a parent feels they cannot fully address it for their child and this struggle impacts the relationship.”

According to Joanna, there are a number factors that can influence the parent-child relationship becoming out of synch. These include significant life events like a death, separation, a new baby in the home, moving house or illness. Put simply, when you have a lot going on in life, sometimes it’s more difficult to give your child the attention and time they need. 

Checking your own behaviour and seeing how it might affect your child is a good starting point towards improving the relationship, suggests Joanne.

“A young child needs their parent to be safe, calm, consistent and predictable so that they can co-regulate their emotions with the parent. Children do not learn to fully self-regulate their own emotions until they are over 7 years old, so if the parent is having challenges managing their own emotions, this will make it very difficult for the child to be calmed or soothed by the parent.”

Joanna also names unrealistic expectations by the parent as another cause of friction within a family.

“Sometimes, parents can expect too much of their child and this can lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration on the parent’s side, and shame and failure on the child's part. This can certainly impact on the parent-child relationship.”

Projecting is another reason that parents and children might struggle and is probably one of the more insidious and difficult ones to identify and act on. To figure out if this might be your reason for your struggle with your child, Joanna recommends reflecting on who your child reminds you of, then reflect on how you feel about that person.

“If you are parenting a child who reminds you of your father and you had a particularly challenging relationship with your father, then it is possible some of those unresolved feelings between you and your father are getting projected into the relationship between you and your child. ” 

While not being on the same page as your child can be stressful, Joanna says that staying connected with your child does not mean you always get along together.

“Rupture is a natural, normal part of the parent-child relationship and can be healthy, so long as it is followed quickly with a repair i.e. you fall out and then you make up. We do not have to be like someone in order to connect with them, so being of a different personality or temperament should not be enough alone to derail the parent-child relationship.”

Here are some of Joanna’s tips to help you stay connected with your child:

  • Take time out to reflect on how much of this is influenced by external factors and what practical steps can you take to address the external factors so that they do not impede on the relationship
  • Take time to learn your child and what interests them, what makes them happy. Even if these are not things that you are naturally inclined towards, engage in them with your child. In other words, show an interest in your child and what they like as this shows you are interested in them.
  • Play is the language of children -  it is how they communicate with the people in their world, it is how they understand their world and process their emotions and life experiences. We, as parents, must learn the language of our children and get comfortable playing with them. In this play, we follow their lead where possible and take charge when necessary.  
  • Take time out and spend some time with your child or each of your children separately. Children are individuals and we have to treat them as such, rather than only seeing them in their sibling group.  
  • Sometimes, things are bigger than you can manage to solve alone and there is a strength in recognising when your relationship needs more than this. In this instance, consult with a qualified specialist (child psychologist/psychotherapist) who can provide you with therapeutic support and in particular, a joint parent-child attachment-based therapy..  

More info on www.solamh.com


About the Author

Jo Lavelle is a freelance editor and journalist with 12 years experience in the magazine, newspaper and radio industry. During her magazine career, she was style and beauty editor, before going to be editor of a magazine group. She was also a news writer and reporter for both newspapers and radio, in addition to feature writing for the press. She’s mum to 18 month old Elise, and has another on the way!

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