Blissfully Informed Hippie Chick

Encouraging people to think critically about everything.

Repairing the Emotional Bond Between Parent and Child

on May 6, 2015

I have come to realize recently that my emotional bond with my older 2 children is severely damaged. In being honest to myself, I had to admit that I have a very hard time giving them affection and praise. For awhile, I thought that this is just the “way I am”, in part because of how I myself was raised. To an extent, this is true. However, I started looking at my relationship with my younger 2 children, now nearly 9 and 21 months old. I have no trouble expressing affection and praise to them. In fact, I am constantly showering them with kisses, hugs, and “good job!” So I wondered, had I not been that way when the older 2 were babies? Clearly, the answer was no. I distinctly remember positive interactions with them when they were very young. But the older they got, the less I can come up with memories of that nature. Then it occurred to me…the disconnect began about the time I started hitting them. (I don’t refer to it as “spanking” anymore. Let’s be real; I used to hit my kids.)

Spanking activates the stress arousal response in the parent’s brain as well as the child’s. That heightened level of arousal diminishes the parent’s ability to access feelings of empathy. When we strike our child, our brain experiences our child as a threat and we are essentially disconnected emotionally from him. The part of our brain that can feel how our child feels is turned off line.

http://stopspanking.org/category/spanking-research/

I found that article today. That particular quote speaks volumes to me. I finally get it. The more I hit my children, the more I disconnected from them. Because it is impossible to hit your kids as much as I used to without disconnecting from them. If you are tapped into your empathy for them, as their parent, it would be impossible to hit them. Instinct tells us it’s wrong. We are hard-wired to protect our children from harm, not to harm them ourselves. There is absolutely no reason for it. So with every strike, I was inching myself further and further away from them. What’s more, I was unknowingly halting their natural emotional progression. In hindsight, by the time they were about 3, certain aspects of their development completely stopped.

Another American neurology expert, Joseph LeDoux, explains in his book The Synaptic Self 2 the damage caused when abuse coincides with emotional learning: “If a significant proportion of the early emotional experiences one has are due to activation of the fear system rather than positive systems, then the characteristic personality that begins to build up from the parallel learning processes coordinated by the emotional state is one characterized by negativity and hopelessness rather than affection and optimism.” In other words, given a frequent state of stress, the brain will establish connections in such a way that gives priority to detecting every sign of imminent danger. Such being the case, the pathways available for normal learning experience are atrophied.

For his part, neuropsychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, who specializes in trauma cases, states, “All human development is frontal lobe development. As parents, we are the mediators of the development of our children’s frontal lobes. When we read our children stories, when we give them hugs, when we play with them, we are ensuring proper frontal lobe development. If a child is always frightened or terrified, if he is not caressed, if he is abandoned or neglected, his frontal lobes do not develop correctly and will never assume their function, which is to inhibit the limbic system. In this case, the frontal lobe is not sufficiently developed to help the person tune in to the present. He will be unable to record new information and to learn from experience.” 3 (excerpted from Jean-Louis Mahe’s documentary, L’Expérience inoubliable, 1999).

http://www.nospank.net/qadv1-3.htm

It’s like a light bulb has come on in my brain. I can all of a sudden see why my older children have the negative behaviors that they do. Why does my 9 year old literally throw herself on the floor and scream and roll around? Because when she did that as a toddler, I hit her, instead of hugging her and teaching her how to express her frustration. Why is she terrified of sleeping alone, and of the dark? Because when she was little, she was hit repeatedly every night for simply being afraid of being alone in a dark room. She was left with her fears, and hit for communicating that need of comfort to her mama and daddy. Why does my 11 year old still use baby talk, or is simply afraid to speak up enough to be heard and understood? Because as a toddler and young child, she had chronic ear infections. When she was finally seen by an Ear Nose Throat specialist, we were told that she could only hear at about 50% of normal. Imagine hearing everything as if you are underwater. Imagine now that you are hit for not understanding “simple” instructions and complying immediately. Imagine that you have not learned to speak even simple words or sounds, because you have never clearly heard them, and as a result, you cannot communicate when you are tired, frustrated, scared, hungry, or cold. So you scream, because that’s the only time anyone pays attention to you. But instead of your needs being met, you are hit, or left alone. And then when you finally can hear correctly and are trying, as an almost 5 year old, to master the sounds of language, you are told repeatedly that you’re saying things “wrong” and again you are hit or left alone when you get frustrated from trying and resort to screaming or crying. Eventually, you would become afraid of speaking, too.

It makes my heart ache to imagine how my babies felt, to know the psychological damage I inflicted. And yes, I know that I thought I was doing what was best. I know I was trying to raise my children well. But I still grieve for the time I spent doing what I now know was the wrong thing. I wish I could go back and change things. But I can’t. So now I have to take responsibility for my actions; I have to attempt to repair the damage the best I can. But how do I do that?

Reflect upon your unique parenting triggers based upon the repeating events at home. Use these insights to develop a parenting mission that prepares you to respond to child behavior problems and positive relationship situations. Consider both as windows of opportunity to create the kind of unconditionally loving bond with your child. Think of this mission as “being present as the parent you want to be” so that there is less chance you will be caught off guard by circumstances and distractions. It’s helpful to write a list of principles underlying your new mission, such as ‘respond with acceptance to their interests’ and ‘pause and thoughtfully consider consequences before issuing them.’

Pay special attention to the nuances of your interactions with your child as these can often send an unintended message and sabotage time together. These include imposing unnecessary conditions upon fun time together, displaying familiar annoyance and/or intolerance when circumstances don’t deserve such a response, and finding fault and/or criticizing comments or behaviors in the present when it’s preferable to delay them for another more opportune time. Perhaps most important is to acknowledge that when rebuilding a relationship with your child the sound of rejection is easily interpreted through words and body language.

http://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/articles/how-to-repair-a-damaged-relationship-between-you-and-your-child/

While that is somewhat helpful to read, it doesn’t address specifically how to put that into action. Plus, the previous article I quoted says that irreversible damage has been done to my children’s brains. Maybe I just don’t want that to be true, but I believe that the brain is continually building new connections, and therefore is capable of healing most or all of the way from trauma, if given the right environment and stimuli. So then, how can I best help my children overcome this halted emotional development? I believe the answer is to begin interacting with them in the same way as I currently interact with my younger children; meet them at their current level of development, if you will. No different than you would treat a person who had suffered an injury and needed to learn to walk again. You wouldn’t expect them to be able to just get up and go, you would exhibit patience and understanding for their current level of development and accommodate them accordingly. In the same way, I think that if I treat their emotional state as that of a toddler’s level of development, their brains will begin to make the connections that were never formed, and they can grow from there into the competent, confident individuals I know they can be. If I can change my emotional state as an adult, through therapy, introspection, soul-searching, and determination, I can prevent them the pain and struggle I have dealt with along the way by giving them the most healing I can possibly facilitate now, before they go off into this world alone; before they have lost all hope and trust they might have left in me. Before my influence on them has faded into oblivion. I owe it to them. While I never intended to hurt them, the harsh reality is that I did. And since I would give everything to take it back and change the past, I should be willing to do everything it takes to help them heal now, in the present. Even if that means effectively having 4 toddlers in my care. Because if I do my job right this time around, they won’t be toddlers forever.

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33 responses to “Repairing the Emotional Bond Between Parent and Child

  1. blubecca7 says:

    I am so very proud of you alicia. And so blessed to have you as a positive, loving role model and influence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this. I learned from it and it inspires me to do better. I too am emotionally disconnected from my 9 year old while I easily interact emotionally with my toddler. Thank you for the insight, I see in part where our problems began.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. modmomatoz says:

    I have to be honest…this was hard for me to get through, but I’m so glad I did. Your transformation and your honesty about your past is vital to helping others heal, change, and move on to a better place. I love the research you added to your thoughts…some of that I had never read before. Blessings to you all as you continue to love and embrace one another. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. I feel that honesty is the only way that we can change the “norm”. We must be willing to open our eyes to our past before we can make a conscious choice to change the present. My love of research is why I named my blog Blissfully Informed =) I refuse to be “blissfully ignorant”.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. georgie2424 says:

    Wow, it’s so courageous of you to share this. The more we share this kind of stuff, the less shame and guilt there is around it and the more opportunities there are to change and heal. Much love to you from a Mum who knows how hard it can be, however well-informed you are, xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amy says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience, and thank you for your honesty. I had a similar experience with my son who has ADHD. I wanted to do what was best for him, but I see now I really hurt him emotionally. Thanks for the hope your article brings in healing our beautiful children one loving and present interaction at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Chrissie says:

    Wow! Thank you for your very raw and and brave admissions! I am a behaviour consultant who specialises in teaching parents other ways to discipline their children, and your experience is such good evidence to support everything that I live and breathe. The good news is kids are very resilient and forgiving. There is still time and you have certainly shown the depth of your commitment to them by recognising this and moving forward with love, empathy, encouragement and warmth in the way you parent them. Sending you love, warmth and encouragement when you need it most lovely mama xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Source: Repairing the Emotional Bond Between Parent and Child […]

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  8. Thank you so much for this article. It is so encouraging to me, a mother and a grandmother, who carries many regrets due to my own failures AND much hope for my children and grandchildren’s future healing (as well as my own). XXXOOO

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovingmama says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. It’s not easy to admit to oneself the damage we did, event harder to share to the world! I have had similar experience with my oldest child, and I see the damage I did to him, yet at the same time, I seem to ‘love’ more my youngest, and it devastate me to observe my own behaviour. I don’t want to be that kind of mom.. Yet, it seem so much easier with my youngest. What you said in your article makes lot of sense to me. I never post online comments, but you really inspired me to work on my relationship with my oldest, and make things right while I can..

    So I want to thank you for that ❤

    Like

  10. Anouk says:

    Thank you for this article I am exactly in the same spot as you maybe not completely ther yet but trying super hard to teach them and act with them from a place of love and not from fear anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. nikki says:

    In tears.. thank you so much for this… I have nearly the same experience, only with depression and yelling.. I’m devastated that I could have harmed my children.. I’ve been looking for a way to fix it.. and this makes so much sense.. thank you for sharing your story! !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I got a lot of helpful advice from Ahaparenting.com

      There are lots of resources on Facebook and even blogs here on WordPress that have helped me on this journey. If you’d like ideas of more resources, feel free to ask! It’s a very difficult path to walk, but you don’t have to do it alone!

      Like

  12. Anne Keuper says:

    you brought tears to my eyes with your words; you are courageous, honest and genuine. I hope you and your family will overcome all of the trauma, and wish for you and your kids to look back at it at some point as adults with love and understanding. Aroha Nui

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kindness. We have already come a long way since I wrote this back in May! I still have my moments of weakness, but I am learning more patience and self-control than I imagined was possible a few short years ago. I’m confident that we will continue to progress toward peace and restoration with time. All these comments have been so encouraging to me, so again I thank you!

      Like

  13. Dana says:

    Thank you for your honesty, it’s so helpful. I have not always handled my oldest and very intense daughter as I wish I had and the guilt is awful. Thank you for sharing your story. So often our kids teach us more about ourselves than we would have otherwise known, especially those high spirited kids! It’s so important for us mom’s to be open and honest with each other as we have the toughest job in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Alexis Akleh-Soof says:

    You are a brave soul and I admire your honesty. It is so overwhelming to acknowledge and accept the mistakes we have made with our children and the hurt that we have caused the people we love most in this world. The ability to change this is remarkable. Having the knowledge–though critical–is not enough. It takes a will like no other. You are inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. dodo suska says:

    How come anyone can actually think he or she is doing “what´s best” when hitting a child? How is that possible? It makes my heart ache when I read this article. I was hit as a child and teenager. It only destroys and never brings back the bond a child should have with their parents. There was no one to protect and comfort me. I just can´t understand how people who actually wanted that child can treat it that way. I´m sorry, but I feel no compassion. Only for the children.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. […] is an excellent question that was asked of me in the comments section of my article Repairing the Emotional Bond Between Parent and Child; a question that has a multi-faceted, somewhat complicated […]

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  17. cpatino3 says:

    I am so glad I came across this. what were the stages like as far as repairing your bond/attachment? We haven’t spanked in ages but she is still very angry with us about it and has told us, it breaks my heart 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m touched that my words, my struggles, have reached so many.

      I only wrote that a few short months ago, and since then I feel I’ve made some very slight progress in reestablishing that bond.

      First, I try to make a point to REALLY hug my older kids goodnight. To hold on just a little longer than the point which I first think of letting go. I also started kissing them again. My 9 year old prefers kisses on the cheek (which for some reason makes me nervous? But I do it anyway) and my 11 year old prefers them on her forehead or top of head. I learned this by really paying attention and noticing their smiles.

      I think one other thing, along the same lines, is being FULLY present when they’re talking to me. Put down my phone, look at their faces, notice expressions and gestures, hear every word. And then I try to ask pointed questions or even just repeat back part of what they say (“so you’re saying that you made a lava trap in your village on Minecraft?”) I think this simple thing opens the door to them elaborating on their thoughts, sharing more with me.
      I also started sharing more with them about my past, my childhood, early years of marriage, school, friends, etc.

      I still feel we have a long way to go, and there are days I feel like an utter failure. But I’m beginning to see little glimpses of progress!

      Oh, one more thing, I try really hard to give compliments. My daughter’s face just lights up like Christmas when I tell her she’s done a great job, or just thank her for something specific, especially that she’s done without being asked.

      You should be so proud of yourself for recognizing what’s lacking and trying to change now! I do believe that it’s never too late. It’s a long, uphill battle, but so very worth it!

      One last thing, have you apologized directly for your past actions? Have you admitted your wrongdoing? My 9 year old has brought up the fact many times that I behaved wrongly toward her. Each time, I admit once again that I was indeed wrong and that if I knew things that I know now, I would have never spanked her. We have had many conversations about it, and u feel that’s important to her to be able to get her feelings out and be reassured that she was indeed wronged. She has the need to feel validated, and I will do so as many times as it takes!

      Like

  18. Lesley says:

    I’m so thankful I came across this and thank you for sharing something so personal and heart wrenching. Let’s just say I am right there with you going through it with my eldest child. I didn’t start spanking until she was perhaps 3yo and when I look at her negative behaviors, how she reacts, etc I know that deep down my yelling, intolerance, and spanking have a lot to do with those behaviors. They are communicating that there is an unmet need – a lack of connection. The hard part I come across repeatedly is that she tends to push me away and seek space when she is feeling some harsh feelings, such as anger, and can get pretty hostile (i.e. throwing things, yelling, being mean and disrespectful). When I’m calm and she reacts like that, I start to take it personal – like I am trying my best, how come it’s not working?! I realize it’s going to take more than just one or two or a hundred times of controlling myself to not yell or spank or lose my temper. She needs to feel safe and this requires immense rewiring of the brain. I try to do brain gyms with her as they are supposed to help with rewiring of the brain but I also know I need to connect more, be present.

    Anyway, I appreciate what you’ve shared. It’s given me the reassurance that I am not alone in dealing with this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your comment! Someone must have recently shared this post on Facebook, because my views have significantly increased the last two days! That’s always exciting!

      I want to share this link with you where I downloaded a free e-book just yesterday. I’m not even halfway through reading it, but it speaks to my heart and I have a feeling it is just what my 4 kids and I need. I think you might find it helpful, as well:

      http://www.awareparentingcourses.com/introduction-to-aware-parenting/

      And, if you’re interested, I have set up a Facebook page and a group for parents who are moving away from authoritarian parenting and toward peaceful parenting. Here is the link to the page, and you can find the link to the group in the page description:

      https://m.facebook.com/Recovering-From-Authoritarian-Parenting-533645283452782/

      I have also created a page here on my blog with a short list of peaceful parenting resources (should be in the menu with my “About Me” page).

      I hope you find these resources helpful! Good luck in your journey =)

      Like

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