“Time in, not time out.”
“Stay with your child.”
“Wounds created in relationship will only heal in relationship.”
“Be proactive about connecting with your child.”
But, what if your child does not want to connect?
I’m talking less about an occasional grumpy moment when your child pushes you away and more about the child with complex relationship trauma who lashes out–possibly violently–whenever a situation or relationship feels too vulnerable or intimate. It may feel like an ongoing downward spiral where it feels like the more you attempt the connect, the more violent your situation becomes. (However, if you have the occasionally grumpy child, these thoughts will still apply, so read on!)
- Think small doses. Just like our kids, eager, looking-for-attachment parents will take a mile if given an inch. We have a successful game night and think, “Clearly, we should do this EVERY night, or even multiple times a day!” Or, our child has a fleeting moment of affection for us, and we start expecting cheery goodnight hugs each night. If you find your child is reactive to connection, dole it out in small doses that honor her love language.
- Let your child lead. Every child from a hard place uses control to feel safe. Rather than having your own attachment expectations and agenda, attune to your child.
- Healing is circular, not linear. Being a human yo-yo and experiencing attachment whiplash daily is probably the hardest thing a person’s soul can endure. It doesn’t hold a candle to the most sophisticated torture techniques. Just when you think you might be getting somewhere (like that fleeing moment of affection)–BAM!–you get pushed away with the fury and force only primal fear can muster up. Celebrate and cherish any successful connection but brace yourself for the inevitable cycle of fear winning out again.
- Just be available. Especially with older children, some need space to regulate. When a child asks for a “time out,” it’s different than you forcing a “time out.” The keys are to continue to communicate your availability for connection and to accept offers of connection when they happen–no matter how hurtful that child was even just seconds before. Welcome to emotional whiplash.
- Think long term. There are no quick fixes. Try not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment (even if that moment is a couple days long). The healing process takes years, not days, or even months. We’re 3 and 6 years in with our adopted kiddos and still only scratching the surface. Working with a trauma therapist who can be your lighthouse in the storm and objectively sort out all of the emotions and behaviors is helpful for keeping perspective.
What tricks have you learned for connecting with a child who is pushing you away?