What to Do When You Dislike Your Child by Debbie Pincus
Parents don’t want to admit an ugly truth—that sometimes they don’t like their child. If you feel this way and are scared, it’s okay. Parenting is challenging and often emotional, especially when our kids are defiant, disrespectful, or not who we wanted them to be.
We all have expectations for how our kids should grow and behave, and when these expectations aren’t met, it can be very painful. Maybe your child isn’t the person you thought they would be: perhaps they’re not academic or outgoing enough, or perhaps they are negative and like to complain.
Instead of feeling upset and guilty, there are ways you can build a healthier relationship with your child and like who they are. Here are some tips.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Don’t push your feelings away because you feel guilty or think it’s wrong to dislike your child. You don’t have to like the emotional truth—you only need to own it. Change can’t begin until you are honest with yourself about how you feel. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling and why?”
It’s important to accept the fact that you won’t always like your kids—and they won’t always like you.
Identify the Cause of Your Feelings
Find some time to think about the root cause of your feelings. Are there external influences affecting your child’s behavior, such as problems at school? Or is it more to do with your preconceived expectations?
Maybe you don’t like your child because they’re so different from you. Or perhaps you don’t like your child because they act out, are defiant and oppositional, and wreak havoc in your home. These are all understandable reasons to feel dislike towards your child. Why would you like someone who treats you poorly?
If this is the case, try to remember that it’s the behavior you don’t like, not the child. We can love our children and hate their behavior, but sometimes the two get entangled.
If you look closely, you may realize that disliking your child is more about you than them—because it has to do with your reaction to their behavior.
Sometimes, as parents, we are triggered by memories of our own childhood, causing feelings of inadequacy, fear, or anxiety. We then project those feelings onto our kids. For example, if you were heavily criticized as a child for not having a stellar report card, perhaps you are hard on your child when they drop below an A average. Be mindful of this, and don’t let it control your parenting.
Be on the lookout for other factors that may be contributing to your feelings. For example, your child may be caught between your difficulties with your co-parent. Perhaps your co-parent (or you) aren’t holding your child accountable for their behavior.
Manage Your Expectations
Accept your child for who they are, and you can move toward a better relationship. If your child is different than your expectations, then manage those expectations.
Remember, ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Learn to find the space between your child’s action and your reaction. It is here that you can learn to be a calm parent and stay emotionally separate. No matter how your child acts, promise yourself you’ll try to remain calm.
Get to Know Your Child Better
Make time to do something fun. Learn what your child’s likes and dislikes and what makes them tick. Try to listen without judging—children are more likely to react negatively when they feel scrutinized. Your child will appreciate the chance to open up and tell you how they’re feeling.
Talk to your kids as if you like them, even when saying ‘no’ or giving consequences. Don’t scowl, and speak with a soft tone that gives them the message you care about them. Staying positive can be hard, especially when you’re frustrated and your child has been disrespectful.
Still, be as positive as you can when dealing with them because they pick up on any negative feelings quickly and soon internalize them—or rebel against them aggressively. And remember, the look on your face and the tone of your voice communicates more than your words do.
Focus on what’s right and begin building on what is good. Don’t obsess over the negative or try to change who your child is. You’ll have a better relationship if you try to praise your child and affirm good behavior. Sometimes, as parents, we are too automatic with judgment. Make an effort to watch what you say. Remember: your child needs a coach, not a critic.
Finally, bring more playfulness and less seriousness to your interactions. Recognize that your child may have a problem, but it’s your interactions that have led to your feelings of dislike. Try to accept them for who they are and love them without worrying about them so much.
Commit to Not Criticizing
Here’s a trick that works for me. I get up in the morning, and I say to myself, “Okay, not one criticism can come out of my mouth today.” I make it a very conscious thought and activity. It’s so automatic for some of us to criticize, and half the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it. So make it a conscious effort.
Notice when your child does something well. Point out your child’s strengths and describe what you see. For example, you can say:
“You looked like you were about to scream at your brother, but I noticed how you pulled yourself together and walked away. How did you do that? That was impressive.”
If you can do this, it will help both of you gain an appreciation for one another.
When There’s a Personality Clash with Your Child
What if your personalities simply clash? Maybe your child is not a friend you would have chosen. Perhaps you’re too different or too similar. Problems start when you carry around a lot of disappointment about somebody and try to change them in some way or another. That’s when the negative cycle begins.
Keep in mind that your child is not your friend. Your role as a parent is unique, and you can be friendly without necessarily being a friend.
Understanding that you don’t have to be your child’s friend can help you come to terms with who your child is–and accept them.
By taking responsibility for your emotions and making an effort, you’re showing your child that you want things to be better. Tell your child:
“I know we haven’t always gotten along in the past because I’ve been too hard on you. I apologize and am working on it.”
That effort will go a long way with your child. Get calm, accept your child, and help them become the person they’re meant to be.