Many loving and devoted parents will ask me, “Why is it that my child doesn’t share things with me?” Why does my child act so distant?” Similarly, there may be children who seem resentful towards us and we cannot understand why.
While there are always exceptions, I have discovered, by and large, that there is solid rationale behind a child’s behavior. Chalking it up to “that’s the way teens are” or, what I hear very often, that “he has issues, so I am the easy target to blame for his issues,” often reflects the very same shallow perspective that may have led to the dysfunction in the first place.
Please understand that I am not saying that children’s perspectives are completely accurate, but, most often, there is some valuable truth behind their feelings. In every relationship, whether it is marriage, friendship, or children, we should be trying hard to understand where the dysfunction may be coming from, rather than writing it off as the other person’s emotional issues. Even if the other person does have emotional issues, that doesn’t mean that our mistakes or oversight are not playing a critical role in their challenges. Furthermore, especially with children, the issues themselves are often connected to our own mishaps.
This is not about blaming ourselves. This is about being honest and looking to become better parents and people. Many a time, our own weaknesses stem from our experiences as children, but it behooves us to stop the cycle. Instead of looking at what others are doing wrong, we need to introspect and see what we may be doing wrong.
One of the common causes of the dysfunction is children feeling that their parents do not understand them. This, of course, persuades them not to share things with their parents and causes resentment.
How can we come to understand our children better and improve our relationship with them? We need to be excellent listeners and very attentive to what they communicate. A classic example is the ten-year-old complaining about something in school. He says, “My rebbi always picks on me.” How do we respond? Nothing can be worse than the dismissive, “Come on. You are probably making trouble.”
Another example is when a child complains directly to a parent about how he is treated. “You always pick on me.” The parent, looking to defend himself and reject the notion, says, “That’s not true. I don’t pick on you. Yes, when you make trouble, I have to reprimand you.”
What went wrong in these cases is that the parents were being communicated to by their children. It could have been in anger, but the gift of communication was there nonetheless. And the quick, defensive and argumentative response says, “I don’t accept your feelings. I don’t value your opinion and perspective.”
All this only has to happen a handful of times in different shapes and forms for the child to learn that his parents are not the place to turn to. They don’t understand me or care to understand me. Of course, the parents do care and want to understand. They just overlooked the meaning of what transpired. Only if the child would come forth and say, “Mom and Dad, I would like to discuss something bothering me…,” would they perhaps realize that it is communication time.
Parents should be excited when their child voices his or her pain to them and use it as a precious opportunity to build communication and their relationship. They should respond with something along these lines: “I am happy you are sharing this with me. I am sorry you feel this way. Help me understand why you feel this way. What did I do that gives you that impression that I am picking on you?”
This article touches the tip of the iceberg of a most important topic. I encourage parents who don’t have the natural grasp of these matters to read and learn about healthy communication and relationships.
Building a close relationship with our children is the greatest gift for both them and ourselves. May we have much nachas from our children.
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Rabbi Kestenbaum works with children, teens, and parents. He now has offices in Passaic, NJ. and Cedarhurst, NY. He can be contacted at email@example.com for private appointments or parenting workshops. His shiurim and past articles can be found at heartofparenting.com and waterburyyeshiva.org.
Rabbi Kestenbaum is the author of “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah,” “Run After the Right Kavod,” and “The Heart of Parenting.”
Parents should be excited when their child voices his or her pain to them