These 9 Things Could Damage Your Relationship With Your Kid

Experts suggest that parents avoid these behaviors in order to build a strong and healthy relationship with their children.

No one becomes a parent with the intention of messing up their kids. Some of us go to great lengths in order not to repeat our own parents’ mistakes — or to follow in the footsteps of parents we admire.

Inevitably, however, we’re met with a thrashing toddler, a tween’s stony glare or a teenager’s door slammed in our face, and we wonder if we’ve really screwed up this time. Will our child remember this moment forever?

Luckily, there are few missteps a parent can take that are truly irreparable. In fact, revisiting mistakes you’ve made and engaging in repair work is a key part of any close relationship.

“The intricacies of the parent-child relationship are complicated — many factors influence the strength and bond of the relationship as well as the injury or damage that may result from a rupture,” Danielle Budash-Newkam, a psychologist at the Milton Hershey School, a tuition-free boarding school in Pennsylvania for low-income children, told HuffPost.

Budash-Newkam has worked with children who have faced what are euphemistically known as “adverse childhood experiences,” such as domestic violence or a parent’s mental health or substance abuse issues.

Even in such cases, she said, she believes “that often a rupture in the relationship can be repaired.”

Short of outright neglect and abuse, parents — with the right support — can work with children to repair even serious ruptures.

While it goes without saying that a parent should never harm their child, “sometimes parents hurt their child emotionally or physically unintentionally or unknowingly. Our emotions can get the best of us, and it often seems like children know exactly how to push our buttons,” Budash-Newkam said.

Here are some of the ways parents may be causing damage to their relationship with their child — and some things that you can do instead.

1. Not Listening To Kids, Or Dismissing Their Experience

When your child comes to tell you something, you may be tempted to jump in with questions and suggestions, especially if what they have to say is upsetting. But it’s best to hear them out first.

“We really want to respond in a way that keeps the child talking and does not dismiss their experience,” Ariana Hoet, a pediatric psychologist and the executive clinical director of On Our Sleeves, an organization that provides children’s mental health resources, told HuffPost.

“Questions and advice can cause the child to shut down and not feel heard,” she continued.

“Parents also want to avoid statements like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’ or statements that invalidate the experience, like, ‘That’s not that big of a deal.’”

If a parent dismisses a child’s experience, it may prevent that child from coming to them in the future with a different — and potentially more serious — problem.

Instead, you can validate your child’s experience, for example by saying, “That sounds really scary,” or, “You must’ve felt scared then.”

Ann-Louise Lockhart, a pediatric psychologist in Texas, advised: “Encourage them to elaborate on what it is they’re saying. Be present. Stay away from judgment. Don’t rush them through the process.”

2. Not Validating Emotions

You may have noticed that telling your child to “calm down” only serves to make them more upset. It also doesn’t help you build a healthy relationship with them.

“Some children grow up in environments where they feel that emotions are not normal and that they cannot express them,” Hoet said.

“Hearing things like ‘stop crying’ or ‘calm down’ can send the message that emotions are not okay and lead children to bottle them up.”

You can help normalize emotions by naming your own and encouraging kids to do the same. Talking openly about feelings can help kids express them in a healthy way, Hoet said.

“We really want to respond in a way that keeps the child talking and does not dismiss their experience. Questions and advice can cause the child to shut down and not feel heard.”   – ARIANA HOET, PEDIATRIC PSYCHOLOGIST

You should also avoid mocking or belittling your children, said Lockhart.

When you dismiss their emotions, “this gives them the message that what they feel is unimportant to you. They can internalize the message and adopt an identity that says ‘I am unimportant’ or ‘I am not valuable to others.’ This can impact their sense of self and self-worth,” Lockhart said.

With mocking or belittling, you may think that you’re “just joking,” but that’s likely not how it feels to your child.

“I hear from adults that ‘kids nowadays don’t know how to take a joke’ or ‘we’re making kids soft now,’ but these are just excuses to humiliate a child,” she added.

3. The Silent Treatment

We all reach our breaking point from time to time, and it’s healthy to explain to your child that you’re upset and need a moment to cool down. But you don’t want to cross the line into ignoring your child or giving them the silent treatment.

“As a parent, if you feel like, ‘I’m gonna react to this,’ you can tell your child, ’I’m going to take five minutes. How about you take five minutes, too — we’ll come back and connect,” Jessica Glass Kendorski, a child psychologist and chair of the department of psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, told HuffPost.

We all have a need for belonging and connection, and the feeling of ostracization that the silent treatment evokes is a painful one. Even if your child has misbehaved, you don’t want them to feel this.

“Parents are supposed to be a safe haven, a comforting place to go to. Home should be a refuge. Those things cannot take place when you have a parent who refuses to speak to you for hours or days,” Lockhart explained.

If you need some space, let your child know this, explain what you are going to do to work through your feelings (journal, take a walk, etc.) and let your child know when you will check back in with them. This last piece is important, Lockhart emphasized, “since kids’ sense of time is so concrete and literal.”

4. Ignoring A Bid For Connection

While it feels impossible to honor a child’s every request for attention — such as, “Mommy, watch this!” — it’s important to at least acknowledge our child every time they try to connect with us, especially if the effort is preceded by a conflict, or the child is a less-communicative teen and such bids may be few.

If you’re dealing with a younger child, “maybe you’re on your phone or maybe you’re distracted … you want to say, ‘Hey, I know you want to do this. I’m going to ask that you count to 10. And I’ll be right there,’” Kendorski said.

With an adolescent, a bid for connection might look different, she continued, giving the example of a sarcastic joke they might share with you.

If your child is making an effort to connect with you, acknowledge their request and affirm your desire to honor it, even if you can’t give them your full attention at the moment they’re requesting it.

5. Shaming Your Child

While it’s inevitable that your kids will do things that make you mad, parents need to be careful not to shame their children.

“The concept of shame is that a child internalizes that there’s something wrong with them,” Kendorski said. When you’re disciplining your child, keep your criticisms focused on the behavior (hitting, yelling, not sharing, etc.). The behavior is bad, but your child is not a bad person.

Kendorski warned against phrases such as “What is wrong with you?” and “I can’t believe you…”

Instead, focus on the behavior itself, and, when possible, use affirmative statements that tell the child what to do instead of what not to do. Kendorski mentioned examples such as, “We keep our hands to ourselves” and “Please speak respectfully.”

It can certainly be appropriate for kids to feel guilt if they hurt another person, but you want them to see that they are a good person who made a mistake and not think that there is something inherently wrong with them.

“When you’re disciplining your child, keep your criticisms focused on the behavior (hitting, yelling, not sharing, etc.). The behavior is bad, but your child is not a bad person.”

6. Comparing Siblings

If you have more than one child, they will likely compare themselves to a sibling without your input already. Resist the urge to jump in and compare your own children, even in situations where this is difficult — say one child’s room is tidy and another’s is strewn with dirty laundry.

Phrases like “Why can’t you be more like…” can hurt your child and be detrimental to your relationship with them, Kendorski said.

7. Telling Them Things That Are Hurtful Or Not Appropriate

If you’re separated from your child’s other parent, it can be hard to refrain from criticizing your ex, but you should never do so in front of your child, Erin Pash, a licensed marriage and family therapist and CEO of Ellie Mental Health, told HuffPost.

Pash advised parents not to “talk badly about their other parent,” or “overshare things they aren’t ready to understand at their age.” These could be comments about separation, other relationship issues, finances, or any other concerns that belong in the adult realm. Save these for your own friends and your therapist, if you have one.

And, while it may sound obvious, you should never “tell them they were an accident or mistake,” Pash said.

8. Betraying Their Confidence

If your child tells you something but asks you to keep it under wraps, you need to honor that request. The exception would be if they tell you that they or another person is a danger to themself or others — in that case, you would explain that you need to reach out to the appropriate person for support.

If you betray their confidence by telling another person their secret — even if that person is their parent or another relative — they probably won’t come to you the next time they have sensitive information, and you’ll lose out on opportunities to grow closer.

9. Giving Excessive Punishments

Punishments are meant to send the message that a child did something wrong and motivate them not to repeat the behavior. Where parents can miss the mark here, Lockhart said, is when we fail to teach a new behavior to replace the problem behavior.

“With excessive punishments, what the child is actually learning is how to get better at not getting caught, how to lie more effectively, not to make their parents angry, not to disappoint, how to please people, how to neglect their own desires and feelings. A lot of learning is taking place, but it’s not the kind of learning we actually want,” she explained.

Instead, she said, parents need to “teach them the skills that are missing for them to make better decisions. Help them to practice making better choices. Teach them how to better manage their emotions, how to think through their decisions, how to pause before speaking. Help them practice these new and emerging skills.”

Kids aren’t the only ones who can learn better ways to cope with tough situations. If you have done one or more of the things on this list, don’t despair.

Lockhart advised that parents not “get wrapped up in parent guilt or shame. That’s not helpful. Many parents parent the way they’ve been parented, so it’s so common to drift into that old parent mindset even if that kind of parenting was painful for you to receive. Instead, acknowledge the parent errors you’re making, commit to doing things differently, and then get the support you need to stay the course.”

Repair is possible, and the best way to demonstrate to kids that you are serious about changing your ways is through your actions. Pash suggested “adding more praise in the relationship if it was withheld, holding harsh opinions that are unsolicited, accepting your child for who they are today.”

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