“Connection Before Correction”
“Connection” is one of THE most recommended strategies in today’s parenting space. We’re encouraged to Connect with our kids because kids NEED Connection, of course – all humans do – and many of today’s parenting experts believe that the main reason kids display problem behavior, is simply that they DON’T feel Connected to their parents. As Peaceful Parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet put it, “A Connected child is a child who wants to cooperate.”
But what if you DON’T feel Connected to your child? What if you don’t even LIKE your child??
When the parents in my coaching programs first tell me about their kids, some say things like, “I feel so bad about this – but there’s a lot of times when I really don’t like him.” And others focus on the fact that they don’t love physical contact with their child – and they blame this on a lack of Connection with him or her. “I see other parents hugging their kids and letting them sit on their laps,” they say. “But most of the time I don’t want her touching me or sitting on me. Why don’t I love her as much as other parents love their kids?”
Sometimes, parents feel this way about an only child. And sometimes, parents with more than one child feel this way about only one of the kids. And if you’ve ever felt this way, I want you to know that it’s OK! It really is perfectly normal and natural. Your feelings are based on your personality and your preferences, and those are just who you are – and your feelings may also be based on your child’s behavior, and that makes perfect sense. Here are some of the main reasons you may feel a lack of Connection with your child:
Your child has “problem behavior”
Over the years I’ve worked with quite a few parents who were in a chronic state of frustration over their kids’ behavior by the time they came to me. It’s not uncommon for a parent to tell me, “I know I’m supposed to stay calm and patient, but everything’s a battle, he talks back and he’s disrespectful – and I find it IMPOSSIBLE to Connect with him when he hits me!!” But, surprise, surprise: It’s very hard, if not impossible, to experience a warm Connection with someone when we’re angry with them or they’re hurting us. And I believe it’s really unfortunate that so many of today’s parenting experts tell parents that the solution to kids’ problem behaviors is to just keep Connecting. Why is this message so problematic? Because Connection DOESN’T solve strong-willed kids’ problem behavior (I talk more about this in this blog) and it’s deeply distressing for parents to hear that the reason the problems continue is that they just don’t love their child enough.
Your child’s temperament or personality is very different from yours
Kids are born with their own unique personalities and their own way of experiencing, interpreting, and interacting with the world around them. They’re not the blank slates we often think they are! And their personalities may not be a natural fit with yours. As I tell the parents in my coaching programs, giving birth to or adopting a child can be compared with going to the store and inviting the first person you see to come and live with you! If you were to do that, how likely is it that you’d experience an immediate, passionate bond with this stranger? The act of birthing may generate a warm bond for many parents, but for many others it does not. Very often, feelings of warmth and Connection arise out of a sense of compatibility and reciprocity. If your personality or temperament does not fit especially well with your child’s temperament, you may experience a disconnect with this young person.
Child Development 101: Some developmental stages are more annoying than others!
Let’s keep it real: Some stages of human development are more annoying than others! A significant portion of the population will sympathize, for example, if you tell them your child is 2 or 13 :) A lot of us find it difficult to Connect with strong-willed toddlers or “rebellious” teens, and not only are some ages naturally more challenging, but many people have their own particular preference for the kind of human interactions that come with particular developmental stages. If you’re not feeling a strong Connection with your child now, there may well come a time when you will feel that Connection. And if you stay open to this possibility, your current feelings may change sooner than later.
As I mentioned earlier, some parents assume they lack Connection with their child because they have a certain distaste for physical contact with him or her. It’s not unusual, though, for people (even grownups!) to be sensitive to both touch and sound. And it may be especially normal for Americans: Sociologists do say, after all, that we require more personal space! But sensitivity to certain types of sensory experiences is not a lack of love. And you can teach even very young kids to touch and make sound in ways that work for you.
Going forward: If you’re one of those parents who finds it hard to Connect with your child, don’t beat yourself up. Your feelings are normal, and there are good reasons for them. It IS important to Connect with your child, and it’s important to use discipline strategies that are positive and not negative or punitive. Don’t shame them, don’t yell at them, don’t hurt them – but understand, too, that a lack of appreciation, and even feeling frustrated or irritated, is not the same as shaming or harming. Remember, real love is action and not just a feeling. And remember, too, that if your child’s behavior is a problem, you can teach them to behave differently – and once you do, you’ll find it much easier to Connect!
If you’d like to learn a little about what you get when you work with Wits’ End, go here. And if you’d like to schedule a free consult with me, go here!