Do you ever feel yourself on the edge of despair after having had yet another argument with your child? You asked her to do something simple like put on her coat (and you’re already running late). But your request resulted in a screaming tantrum, toys breaking, yelling, crying, and an all-out battle scene. Worse yet, you feel terrible about how you dealt with it. You may have a difficult child on your hands. But don’t lose hope. Sometimes the most beautiful relationships are born out of struggle.
How to Strengthen the Bond with Your Difficult Child
There are many ways to strengthen the bond with your difficult child. Let’s, for a moment, consider what the term “difficult child” actually means. Throughout life, we sometimes find that conflict is present more often than not with a particular person. This experience may be temporary. But it can also be challenging, exhausting, and even cause us to feel despair. This can certainly be true among family members and in our relationships with our children.
The causes of conflict between individuals are nuanced. And it is ultimately a unique situation for every person. There are some helpful techniques and solutions from professionals that have been proven to strengthen the bond between parents and their children.
1. Try to understand the root cause.
The first step in strengthening the bond with your difficult child is understanding the circumstances and causes of their behavior. Numerous things can influence your child’s difficult behavior. It could be their age and the boundaries they are testing as per normal childhood development. Or perhaps circumstances in the home or at school. Maybe even physical or mental health, developmental delays, social-emotional growth spurts, or a clash in personality with your own.
Whatever your circumstances, admitting that you and your child are struggling is a powerful and positive first step. You can take heart knowing that solutions do exist.
2. Notice what triggers you and how you react.
Believe it or not, this may be the hardest step of all. At times, it can be easier to look at the mistakes or difficulties of another person than to look at our own trigger points and how we respond. What actions or behavior is your little one repeatedly doing that causes you to feel frustration, confusion, or despair? You may want to write this down in a journal, keep a running list, or speak to another trusted individual about your feelings.
Try not to be too hard on yourself as you uncover your own feelings. Understanding and having compassion for your own experience is an excellent place to begin building a stronger bond with your child. Be sure to have these intimate conversations separate from and out of earshot of your child.
3. Tune into your child’s specific needs.
Once you’ve addressed your own feelings, and begun taking care of yourself, tune into your child’s emotions. This means actively working on being present in the moment with them. For example, let’s imagine that your kiddo is defying your instructions or a request you’ve made. You’ve asked your son to put on his shoes, but he runs away laughing or starts throwing toys around. Take some deep breaths. Then try getting down on his level and examining what is going on for him.
Do you notice a pattern? What seems to be occurring here? Why are they feeling the way they are feeling? You can even ask him these questions directly in a kind and calm manner. It’s okay not to have all the answers. But trying to tune into your child can help you better understand what their specific needs are. This also helps your child to realize that you care about their struggle.
4. Slow down and make eye contact.
Supportive research suggests that making eye contact is a very positive and important aspect of strengthening any human bond, particularly with adults and children. Taking the time to connect with your child and maintain a few seconds of positive eye contact can have happy ripple effects in your relationship. A child feels nurtured when you look at them with love in your eyes.
In the same way, if your child is a hugger or likes physical touch, make a point to snuggle with them at some point during your day. According to scientific studies, children who receive regular positive physical touch are physically and mentally healthier than those who do not. You may need to put your phone away (or anything that distracts you) to make these few moments together special and impactful.
5. Use a positive tone of voice.
The tone of voice we use as parents and caregivers is important. Children absorb our words, and more importantly, they absorb feelings that come from your tone of voice. Try to become more aware of how you speak to your little one. When your voice is full of contempt, this has a damaging effect on their self-esteem over time.
If you are angry and your tone sounds critical or negative, try to gently guide your tone of voice back to a neutral sound. Ideally, you want to use encouraging, uplifting, calm, and loving tones of voice with your child, even when they misbehave. When you yell at your child, this can further impair your ability to connect. But if you speak to them softly and encouragingly, this can strengthen your bond immeasurably. It’s never too late to start speaking to your child more kindly.
6. Emphasize your child’s strengths.
Things between you and your difficult child may have escalated to a point where you come to expect bad behavior from them. While it’s important to acknowledge and work with your child on improving their difficult behavior, write down a list of your child’s strengths. What are they good at? Are there hobbies, games, or activities they enjoy doing or excel at? What kind of toys do they like playing with? What sorts of positive behaviors have you observed them engaging in? Once you’ve identified these, make a point to increase those activities and verbally encourage and praise your child’s strengths. Receiving this kind of positive feedback is enormously important in helping build your child’s self-esteem. It also encourages more positive actions from them.
7. Bond through creative, affirming activities.
You can strengthen your bond with your child by playing with them or by participating in fun activities together that bring them joy. Once you’ve identified some types of play, sport, or creative activity that bring your little one pleasure, enroll in a program together. For example, if you’ve noticed that your kiddo thrives when he’s in a pool or splashing in a bathtub, sign him up for swim lessons together. If your daughter or son seems drawn to painting and coloring or getting their hands dirty, sign up for a parent-child art class. Is singing, music, or talking her thing? Perhaps a music class together is where it’s at for you two. Spend affirming time together by doing something that makes your little one smile. They will be thrilled to have you there by their side.
8. Get support outside of your family.
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to raise your children all by yourself. Allow yourself to become vulnerable with people who feel safe. Don’t isolate yourself from people who can help you and your child. There are so many people out there who want to help you and your child flourish and who have the compassion and skills needed to strengthen your bond.
Professional behavioral therapists are excellent teammates in helping you strengthen your bond with your child. They will guide you through exercises and concrete techniques for turning bad behavior around. You can also find support by joining a fun class together, seeking out teachers as mentors, or by simply engaging with other children and parents in a group setting. Joining a parent-child group can provide new friendships, advice, support, and encouragement to get through the tough times together and remind you that you are not alone.
These suggestions are opportunities for growth and positive change, which will result in more love between you two and a strengthened bond over time.