Feeling estranged from your child is not unusual, but it can be painful. Not only does it hurt when they won’t communicate with you, but it can have serious repercussions for your child, too. It is often said that there is nothing more important in a child’s development than their relationship with their parents or caregivers, and so if you’re struggling to communicate effectively with your child, it’s important to work to rectify the situation.
Research has shown that when a child endeavors to talk to their parents about an issue they are facing, the adults often confuse sympathy with empathy, and this can quickly shut down communication.
Sympathy and empathy:
It can be a parent’s instinct to tell their child not to be upset or angry over something that has happened to them, and this may be because they simply don’t want to see their child suffering emotional pain. However, this can lead to the child feeling ashamed of having those emotions and can cause them to believe that their parent doesn’t understand what they are going through. All of this makes the child’s pain even more intense, and discourages them from telling you about how they’re feeling in the future.
To avoid this and help your child manage their emotions, it’s better to acknowledge how they’re feeling and talk about it, instead of telling them to get over something that has clearly hurt them. Once you’ve done this, your child will feel better connected to you and be encouraged to approach you for help with problems in the future.
Empathy wins, every time:
When you’re empathetic towards your child, they immediately feel calmer and more able to deal rationally with whatever problem they may be facing, and they will know unequivocally that you are on their side.
Having empathy and honoring how your child may be feeling about something isn’t helping them to simply feel sorry for themselves, which may be the mistaken belief of many well-wishing parents, rather it has the opposite effect and prevents them from developing a victim mentality. (Sympathy, however, does nothing to help your child deal with their emotions and may encourage unhealthy thought patterns that can go on to disrupt and hinder their future emotional responses.)
When you show your child that you recognize and understand how they are feeling, and encourage them to work through those feelings with your help, you give them the tools to better manage difficult situations in the future and become much stronger as an individual.
The emotional development of your child may well be in your hands, so it’s important to seek professional guidance if you’re struggling to connect with them.