Dealing With Rejection from Your Child
If you have noticed a change in your relationship with a child or the dynamics have become upset in some way or if it feels as if they are rejecting you, this article will give you tips on how to deal with parental rejection.
I’m not talking about parents who reject their children, I’m talking about children who reject their parents or other adults in their life with whom they had previously had a very positive relationship. This isn’t always unusual. It isn’t necessarily a negative or a problem. Children go through life stages where they are looking to separate themselves from adults simply because they’re flexing their independence muscles. They want to function in the world as a separate entity from you. When children are very young, they think they are the same person as their parent or carer. They do not know that they are separate.
Over time, they start to identify themselves as a unique individual and become super-egocentric. They believe that they are the centre of the universe! Eventually, they begin to consider how they can do things for themselves. When they’ve developed some basic skills, such as putting their coat on, you may find that they have a strop about you interfering. Where did that come from?! Those are the early signs of flexing those independence muscles. This happens again, at various intervals as a young person grows and develops.
Depending on their life circumstances, the unique events that they are exposed to may cause them to need you more, or to feel as if they need you less. When a parent has left the family home, perhaps because of a separation, it changes the family dynamics and can cause the child to act as if they don’t need you anymore. The parent gets a strong sense of rejection. The child may even say things such as: “I don’t want to go and stay at Mum’s this weekend” or ignoring dad’s text messages throughout the week and not building that bridge to keep their relationship alive. This is quite a common occurrence.
The adults in the situation must take on the role of repairing that.
It’s about being flexible, working with their uniqueness and finding a method that works for you. Equally, if you are a professional and find that you have a resistant young person who used to be compliant, these strategies will be helpful for you too. Be open-minded and flexible, think about what might suit the individual that you have in mind. Do something different if what you’re doing doesn’t work for you to establish mutual respect, understanding and comfort with each other. It is a balancing act.
At one end of the scale, we have an attitude of:
- “You’re doing this, you’re going to spend time with me”
- “You’re going to do this piece of work that I’ve told you to do”
- “That is what the school says,”
- “That is what the court order says”
- That’s when we are persuading by force.
- The other end of the scale is needy.
It may sound/be implied like this:
- “You need to do this work because if you don’t, then I’m going to get a phone call from the school”
- “You need to spend a weekend with me because I miss you and I don’t want the other parent to feel like they’ve ‘won’ you and I’ve lost you.”
That end of the spectrum isn’t going to work either. We’re giving the young person the power and authority. Children are not necessarily good at being the authority. They’re not ready for that yet, because they’re not grownups. We don’t want to give them the authority to have to think in an adult way.
There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle that we want to try to find and hit.
Here’s what that might sound like:
- “I’m asking you to do this because I believe it’s the right thing for you”
- “I’m asking you to do this because I like you”
- “I want to hang out with you. You’re a cool person”
- “I think you can do this; I think you’ve got the skills or capability”.
We’re taking out all of the frustration and the high drama and making our request neutral – we’re being cool about it.
There will be times when we need to respect their own decisions, particularly as they mature. If there is a child who doesn’t want to see Dad at the weekends anymore, there is a point when you say, “Well, you’re 14 years old now, so maybe you don’t want to do sleepovers at Dad’s house.”
Look at the context, the development and age of that child to decide on the best course of action. If you need to pursued them, make sure you’re clear on the reason why they should take your perspective into consideration.
The ‘why’ is always a good thing to explore “this is why this is useful and relevant for you.” For parents that are experiencing rejection from a child, make sure that what you are inviting them to do reflects the world that they currently enjoy. Enter their model of the world, rather than “I need you to come here with me and join my world.” You need to meet them where they are. If you are a parent who has not spent too much time with your child recently, find out who they are now, what they like, and what they enjoy. Enter that world rather than sitting in that rejection or resistance that you’re getting from them when you invite them into your world.
Regardless of whether you are a parent or professional, the other important thing is that you continue to be present without pushing. What you persist, resists. If you are pushing for this relationship to work then it can just turn into a stalemate where nobody ends up moving forward and the whole thing becomes super-uncomfortable.
Don’t take the rejection too personally.
Accept it for what it is and continue to be cool and chilled out about it. Be present with them. That might mean that you are sending them a text message every day, even though you know that they’re not going to respond to you. It might mean that you continually offer them help that you know they find challenging even though they won’t talk to you about it. Even though they constantly reject your offers, and do not choose to take you up on it. Make yourself present and available for them anyway.
If they reach a point where they have either resigned themselves to realising that they need you in their life after all, or they see value in the relationship and want to pursue it, they know you’re still there. You didn’t walk away, and you did not give up on them. Even if they made you feel as if you should have.
Continue to show up despite that because that’s what the unconditional love bit is all about – making sure that you are always going to be there no matter what.
By Gemma Bailey