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When our child wants us and only us, we can feel so very trapped!

 Or when they reject us in favour of another parent or caregiver, this also can be incredibly painful and worrying! In working with so many families, I notice many common struggles that surface. And one of the very common struggles relates to when the child clings to one parent while rejecting the other parent (or caregiver). 

If this brings your child to mind, then hopefully this article can help. I’ll talk about why this may be happening and what helps including the four essential elements to ease such transitions for all involved.

Example of a common scenario:  

6 y.o. May and 2 y.o. Frank have been at home with their mum for the whole weekend. When dad arrives back after a long drive, May runs into her dad’s arms but Frank cries and clings to mum when dad goes to pick him up for a hug. Frank shouts “no no no!” and tightly wraps his arms around mum’s legs. 

Mum is beyond exhausted and desperate to go “off duty” and catch her breath! Yet, she sighs and says to her partner; “ok can you get May ready for bed and Frank can stay with me.” Now May bursts out crying, also wanting to stay with mum. Mum feels trapped, frustrated and powerless! Dad’s also burnt out from being away for days and now feels hurt, rejected and powerless! Everyone’s tank is low and it feels hopeless! 

It’s equally common for the parent that spends less time with the child being the preferred parent. In this scenario, May and Frank are so excited to spend time with their dad and now ignore mum, even though they’ve been so engaged with her all weekend. This can also be upsetting! 

Children can struggle with these transitions for many reasons. In this article, I’ll focus mostly on transitions in the family. But whatever your situation, your approach can either escalate or de-escalate the tension.

You might also like to read “Go Away!  What to do when your child won’t let you connect

 Why would the child reject the parent who they’ve been apart from?

It can really activate insecurity in a child when the parent they’re currently most bonded to wants to separate from them. The child’s very strong and innate attachment instincts prime them to focus on maintaining physical and emotional closeness. The returning parent (or caregiver) simply inviting the child to do an activity with them can easily be interpreted as a threat to the child’s closeness to the parent they’re currently most bonded with. It takes conscious effort to maintain a warm connection during such transitions, as even temporary separations can be stressful for children.

Why would the child reject the parent they’ve been spending the most time with?

In this case, the child rejects the parent they’ve been spending the most time with. This dynamic is equally understandable because, in this case, the child likely feels that their love tank needs filling from the returning parent. In this situation, they may experience the mother’s engagement (or whoever they’ve been spending the most time with) to be a threat to them regaining connection and closeness with their parent who has returned. 

What doesn’t help

If the child picks up their parent’s Intolerance of their upsets and clinginess, this further activates their insecurity and attachment needs for closeness. It’s too easy to get into a power struggle; “please go with dad!”; “no I won’t”, “just give me some space”, “NO!!!” or “come on it’s bath time, Mum has other things to do”, “NO!!!”, “come on now you’re just being silly, you know you love playing in the bath”, “NO!!!!”. Or if Frank and May are teenagers and their dad is trying to entice them to hang out with him instead of mum, it can be the same power struggle! 

Parenting seems to present so many difficult cycles and dynamics like this. The more frustrated or overwhelmed the parent becomes, the more the child tends to become either overly clingy or more rejecting. Both are instincts that the child or teen has little control over. There’s no amount of reasoning that will shift such a dynamic. Either parent trying to convince the child will likely intensify the power struggle. 

Feeling rejected, a parent can become overly snappy and demanding

Or optionally, the parent may become needy and try to win their child’s sympathy and affection by showing how sad and rejected they feel. Or the parent may try to win their child’s affection back through offerings of sweet treats. These approaches are about the parent’s needs but don’t work to help the child with their complex emotions. This will likely add even more pressure and hence stress for the child. Instead, we want to help a child reconnect and become free of any power struggle

Using threats or offering rewards again does nothing to meet the child’s emotional needs and insecurities. The child will either feel even more under pressure and stressed and hence push back. Or they’ll shut down and become resentfully compliant. But this is not the kind of obedience that parents should aim for, as it compromises the parent child bond and trains children to comply when coerced.

Both parents can understandably become highly stressed and reactive in these situations. And it can all too easily result in a lot of tension or even arguments between the parents. The stress of their parent’s arguing can lead to the child associating their parent coming home with disharmony, causing them to feel even more resistant the next time.

You might also like to read; Peacefully parenting your anxious or resistant child. 

What DOES help

Whatever the struggle, from the peaceful parenting perspective, the answer always comes back to helping the child to feel emotionally safe, secure and connected. Parents can be more compassionate when they get that their child isn’t aiming to hurt their parent’s feelings, and it’s not their job to make either parent feel liked, loved and secure. It’s very important that we parents give our children the message that they’re allowed to feel what they feel. They need to feel our support as they express those big feelings. When children feel seen, heard and understood, they tend to relax and become more flexible.  

Advance warning can help. 

It can be helpful if the child receives some advance warning that the parent whose returning home is going to arrive soon. Bringing the child into the picture and giving them some choice and input helps children feel less powerless and helps them to begin adjusting. This is especially important if the returning parent is going to take them away from the parent they’ve been with. Perhaps; “So when dad arrives, he’s going to sit and have a cup of tea, and then he’s going to take you for your bath and then read some stories. Do you want to pick your bath toys with me or with dad when he gets back?” 

Enter the child’s world. 

It can give the child more time to adjust and start to reconnect if the returning parent walks in calmly and just sits in the room with their child or the rest of the family. Transitions can feel a bit hectic, but just slowing things down can make a huge difference. The children might have been deeply engaged in an activity. Perhaps sit and ask; “what were you up to before I came in the door?”

Let them decide when to reconnect.

It can help to let the child decide when they want to approach the returning parent or caregiver. Such times of adjustment need to ideally be relaxed and not pressured. In the above example, little Frank might not have got so upset if he hadn’t felt pressured to leave Mum just as his dad arrived back.

After the parent or caregiver has arrived and just hung out for a while, this can be another good time to bring the child into the plan of what’s going to happen next, so they don’t feel too sprung upon. After just sitting for a bit, the returning parent might say; “after I’ve had my cup of tea, we’ll go to the bathroom to run your bath. Then maybe you can choose which toys you want in the bath”. Or to your teen, “hey how about we have a snack and a game of cards once I’ve landed, how does that sound?” It’s hard for a parent returning back to the house not to launch into all that needs to be achieved, and for the parent who’s been with their child all day to not abandon ship too abruptly. 

Bridging the connection between your child and the other. 

In these kinds of situations where your child wants to stay with you but you desperately need some space, acknowledge that your need for space is important. It’s tempting to just give in to your child staying with you despite perhaps feeling resentful, or risking burnout. Resentments tend to seep out and can lead to some unhealthy dynamics. You may need to help your child and maybe also help your partner to make the transition to reconnecting. Perhaps have a short activity planned that you can all do together. 

Or if you’re the returning parent, you can empathise; “oh my boy, is it hard for you that I’m getting you ready for bed when you want to be with mum? I get it, that IS hard, do you want a big bear hug?”  Or make it playful;  “how about we run to the kitchen together and ask mum for a big cuddly see you soon hug before I get you ready for bed, will we run, skip or do you want a piggyback ride?” 

You might also like to read: Helping children adjust to a new early childhood environment or carer.

The four essential elements

There’s a simple little formula that greatly helps in most similar situations. Every child has their unique needs, but hopefully these four elements will help.

1.  Genuine heartfelt empathy for how hard this is for them.
2.  Express a very clear unambiguous loving limit.
3.  Share some of their sadness about the separation “I’ll so miss you”.
4.  Share the image and feelings of when the reconnection will happen.

I’ll explain each point in a little more detail. 

1.  When your child is desperately clinging to you and is determined to not leave your side, they usually need to hear that you truly GET how hard this is for them. And remember that children have an amazing radar for genuine empathy and usually find empathy that isn’t genuine to be infuriating. Genuine empathy can help your child feel more secure.

2.  If you need to separate from your child expressing this  as an appeal to them, or in any way that communicates that you’re not committed to expressing and holding a clear and healthy boundary is going to be confusing and likely make the separation more difficult. This lack of certainty naturally invites them to negotiate with you because they can hear it’s not solid.. Often parents need to hold (and hence model) clear and calm boundaries. This actually makes it much easier for the child to come to terms with the limit and move onto the next stage of either expressing their feelings about it or just making the transition.

3.  But they may need to hear that you’re also sad about this separation. What’s especially important here is for them to be reassured that you’re not dying to separate from them! You likely are dying for that bit of space, which is different. Whether it’s just a couple of hours, a full day or longer, let your child know that you’re going to miss them too. If you’re so burnt out you can’t muster up this feeling, that’s ok too.

4.  Share your picture of reconnecting. For example; “when I get back from the shop, I’ll be so keen to hear all about what you did when I was away. Maybe you can help me pack the shopping while we make a plan for a yummy lunch”. Children are so in the moment, it’s hard for them to hold that this is temporary. Share your picture and emotions of the reconnection to give them something to look forward to. This can make it easier for them to let go. 

The more confidence you can exude about the transition, the more you can transfer that confidence to your child. And don’t forget that the child’s language is play! Generally being silly, goofy and playful invites a child back into connection and rarely fails to dissipate power struggles. Play provides the opportunity for stress releasing laughter for parent and child alike! 

Parents also need time to adjust. 

If you are the parent returning back to the family after some time away, you may need time to adjust and shift gear from one world to another.  Taking a few minutes to sit in the car or go for a stroll somewhere in or near nature before you get home with the conscious intention of winding down and leaving behind whatever you’ve been engaged in can make it easier to become truly present and more patient when you return home.  Or maybe you need to sit and unwind with a cup of tea once you get home.

Making a plan that both parents are happy to agree to.  Recognising that reconnecting at the end of a long day can be a challenging transition for most parents and children paves the way to discuss and explore some strategies that might help to meet all the needs.  As a child gets older, they can get involved in conversations about how things might work better.  Kids are generally more enthusiastic about the plans that they’ve been involved in creating.

 
Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute.  Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.
 

When our child wants us and only us, we can feel so very trapped!

 Or when they reject us in favour of another parent or caregiver, this also can be incredibly painful and worrying! In working with so many families, I notice many common struggles that surface. And one of the very common struggles relates to when the child clings to one parent while rejecting the other parent (or caregiver). 

 

If this brings your child to mind, then hopefully this article can help. I’ll talk about why this may be happening and what helps including the four essential elements to ease such transitions for all involved.

Example of a common scenario:  

 

6 y.o. May and 2 y.o. Frank have been at home with their mum for the whole weekend. When dad arrives back after a long drive, May runs into her dad’s arms but Frank cries and clings to mum when dad goes to pick him up for a hug. Frank shouts “no no no!” and tightly wraps his arms around mum’s legs. 

 

Mum is beyond exhausted and desperate to go “off duty” and catch her breath! Yet, she sighs and says to her partner; “ok can you get May ready for bed and Frank can stay with me.” Now May bursts out crying, also wanting to stay with mum. Mum feels trapped, frustrated and powerless! Dad’s also burnt out from being away for days and now feels hurt, rejected and powerless! Everyone’s tank is low and it feels hopeless! 

 

It’s equally common for the parent that spends less time with the child being the preferred parent. In this scenario, May and Frank are so excited to spend time with their dad and now ignore mum, even though they’ve been so engaged with her all weekend. This can also be upsetting! 

 

Children can struggle with these transitions for many reasons. In this article, I’ll focus mostly on transitions in the family. But whatever your situation, your approach can either escalate or de-escalate the tension.

You might also like to read “Go Away!  What to do when your child won’t let you connect

 Why would the child reject the parent who they’ve been apart from?

It can really activate insecurity in a child when the parent they’re currently most bonded to wants to separate from them. The child’s very strong and innate attachment instincts prime them to focus on maintaining physical and emotional closeness. The returning parent (or caregiver) simply inviting the child to do an activity with them can easily be interpreted as a threat to the child’s closeness to the parent they’re currently most bonded with. It takes conscious effort to maintain a warm connection during such transitions, as even temporary separations can be stressful for children.

Why would the child reject the parent they’ve been spending the most time with?

In this case, the child rejects the parent they’ve been spending the most time with. This dynamic is equally understandable because, in this case, the child likely feels that their love tank needs filling from the returning parent. In this situation, they may experience the mother’s engagement (or whoever they’ve been spending the most time with) to be a threat to them regaining connection and closeness with their parent who has returned. 

 

What doesn’t help

 

If the child picks up their parent’s Intolerance of their upsets and clinginess, this further activates their insecurity and attachment needs for closeness. It’s too easy to get into a power struggle; “please go with dad!”; “no I won’t”, “just give me some space”, “NO!!!” or “come on it’s bath time, Mum has other things to do”, “NO!!!”, “come on now you’re just being silly, you know you love playing in the bath”, “NO!!!!”. Or if Frank and May are teenagers and their dad is trying to entice them to hang out with him instead of mum, it can be the same power struggle! 

Parenting seems to present so many difficult cycles and dynamics like this. The more frustrated or overwhelmed the parent becomes, the more the child tends to become either overly clingy or more rejecting. Both are instincts that the child or teen has little control over. There’s no amount of reasoning that will shift such a dynamic. Either parent trying to convince the child will likely intensify the power struggle. 

 

Feeling rejected, a parent can become overly snappy and demanding

Or optionally, the parent may become needy and try to win their child’s sympathy and affection by showing how sad and rejected they feel. Or the parent may try to win their child’s affection back through offerings of sweet treats. These approaches are about the parent’s needs but don’t work to help the child with their complex emotions. This will likely add even more pressure and hence stress for the child. Instead, we want to help a child reconnect and become free of any power struggle

 

Using threats or offering rewards again does nothing to meet the child’s emotional needs and insecurities. The child will either feel even more under pressure and stressed and hence push back. Or they’ll shut down and become resentfully compliant. But this is not the kind of obedience that parents should aim for, as it compromises the parent child bond and trains children to comply when coerced.

Both parents can understandably become highly stressed and reactive in these situations. And it can all too easily result in a lot of tension or even arguments between the parents. The stress of their parent’s arguing can lead to the child associating their parent coming home with disharmony, causing them to feel even more resistant the next time.

What DOES help

Whatever the struggle, from the peaceful parenting perspective, the answer always comes back to helping the child to feel emotionally safe, secure and connected. Parents can be more compassionate when they get that their child isn’t aiming to hurt their parent’s feelings, and it’s not their job to make either parent feel liked, loved and secure. It’s very important that we parents give our children the message that they’re allowed to feel what they feel. They need to feel our support as they express those big feelings. When children feel seen, heard and understood, they tend to relax and become more flexible.  

 

Advance warning can help. 

 

It can be helpful if the child receives some advance warning that the parent whose returning home is going to arrive soon. Bringing the child into the picture and giving them some choice and input helps children feel less powerless and helps them to begin adjusting. This is especially important if the returning parent is going to take them away from the parent they’ve been with. Perhaps; “So when dad arrives, he’s going to sit and have a cup of tea, and then he’s going to take you for your bath and then read some stories. Do you want to pick your bath toys with me or with dad when he gets back?” 

Enter the child’s world. 

 

It can give the child more time to adjust and start to reconnect if the returning parent walks in calmly and just sits in the room with their child or the rest of the family. Transitions can feel a bit hectic, but just slowing things down can make a huge difference. The children might have been deeply engaged in an activity. Perhaps sit and ask; “what were you up to before I came in the door?”

Let them decide when to reconnect.

It can help to let the child decide when they want to approach the returning parent or caregiver. Such times of adjustment need to ideally be relaxed and not pressured. In the above example, little Frank might not have got so upset if he hadn’t felt pressured to leave Mum just as his dad arrived back.

After the parent or caregiver has arrived and just hung out for a while, this can be another good time to bring the child into the plan of what’s going to happen next, so they don’t feel too sprung upon. After just sitting for a bit, the returning parent might say; “after I’ve had my cup of tea, we’ll go to the bathroom to run your bath. Then maybe you can choose which toys you want in the bath”. Or to your teen, “hey how about we have a snack and a game of cards once I’ve landed, how does that sound?” It’s hard for a parent returning back to the house not to launch into all that needs to be achieved, and for the parent who’s been with their child all day to not abandon ship too abruptly. 

 

Bridging the connection between your child and the other. 

 

In these kinds of situations where your child wants to stay with you but you desperately need some space, acknowledge that your need for space is important. It’s tempting to just give in to your child staying with you despite perhaps feeling resentful, or risking burnout. Resentments tend to seep out and can lead to some unhealthy dynamics. You may need to help your child and maybe also help your partner to make the transition to reconnecting. Perhaps have a short activity planned that you can all do together. 

Or if you’re the returning parent, you can empathise; “oh my boy, is it hard for you that I’m getting you ready for bed when you want to be with mum? I get it, that IS hard, do you want a big bear hug?”  Or make it playful;  “how about we run to the kitchen together and ask mum for a big cuddly see you soon hug before I get you ready for bed, will we run, skip or do you want a piggyback ride?” 

 

The four essential elements

There’s a simple little formula that greatly helps in most similar situations. Every child has their unique needs, but hopefully these four elements will help.

1.  Genuine heartfelt empathy for how hard this is for them.
2.  Express a very clear unambiguous loving limit.
3.  Share some of their sadness about the separation “I’ll so miss you”.
4.  Share the image and feelings of when the reconnection will happen.

I’ll explain each point in a little more detail. 

1.  When your child is desperately clinging to you and is determined to not leave your side, they usually need to hear that you truly GET how hard this is for them. And remember that children have an amazing radar for genuine empathy and usually find empathy that isn’t genuine to be infuriating. Genuine empathy can help your child feel more secure.

2.  If you need to separate from your child expressing this  as an appeal to them, or in any way that communicates that you’re not committed to expressing and holding a clear and healthy boundary is going to be confusing and likely make the separation more difficult. This lack of certainty naturally invites them to negotiate with you because they can hear it’s not solid.. Often parents need to hold (and hence model) clear and calm boundaries. This actually makes it much easier for the child to come to terms with the limit and move onto the next stage of either expressing their feelings about it or just making the transition.

3.  But they may need to hear that you’re also sad about this separation. What’s especially important here is for them to be reassured that you’re not dying to separate from them! You likely are dying for that bit of space, which is different. Whether it’s just a couple of hours, a full day or longer, let your child know that you’re going to miss them too. If you’re so burnt out you can’t muster up this feeling, that’s ok too.

4.  Share your picture of reconnecting. For example; “when I get back from the shop, I’ll be so keen to hear all about what you did when I was away. Maybe you can help me pack the shopping while we make a plan for a yummy lunch”. Children are so in the moment, it’s hard for them to hold that this is temporary. Share your picture and emotions of the reconnection to give them something to look forward to. This can make it easier for them to let go. 

The more confidence you can exude about the transition, the more you can transfer that confidence to your child. And don’t forget that the child’s language is play! Generally being silly, goofy and playful invites a child back into connection and rarely fails to dissipate power struggles. Play provides the opportunity for stress releasing laughter for parent and child alike! 

Parents also need time to adjust. 

If you are the parent returning back to the family after some time away, you may need time to adjust and shift gear from one world to another.  Taking a few minutes to sit in the car or go for a stroll somewhere in or near nature before you get home with the conscious intention of winding down and leaving behind whatever you’ve been engaged in can make it easier to become truly present and more patient when you return home.  Or maybe you need to sit and unwind with a cup of tea once you get home.

 

Making a plan that both parents are happy to agree to.  Recognising that reconnecting at the end of a long day can be a challenging transition for most parents and children paves the way to discuss and explore some strategies that might help to meet all the needs.  As a child gets older, they can get involved in conversations about how things might work better.  Kids are generally more enthusiastic about the plans that they’ve been involved in creating.

 

 

 
Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute.  Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.
 
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