How to respond when your child rejects you

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD describes how parents can best respond when a child rejects them or becomes critical of their parenting
Parenting Advice | How to respond when your child criticizes you as a parent
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How to respond when your child rejects you

The first response when a parent gets rejected from a child is to just try to understand why they’re telling you this. I mean, sometimes children do it to manipulate the parent, particularly when the child is really young and they’ll say, “You don’t care about me. You only care about my siblings, you don’t care about,” and you kind of have to make an assessment about that based on your knowledge of your child. But sometimes our children are telling us really important things, particularly an adolescent who blames you for your divorce or an adult child who’s saying that you made serious mistakes with them when you were raising them, how you treated them. It’s really important to remember the principle of separate realities. You can be a very conscientious parent and still make really serious mistakes with your child just on the basis of not know what they actually needed or what they were feeling at the time. So your child might have needed you to push them harder or push them less, or be more sympathetic or less sympathetic or more nurturing. There’s so many ways that as parents we cannot give our children something that they need. So most important principle is to be empathic when your child complains about you, to try to just understand. Try to get to the kernel of truth. Don’t go immediately to the defence; don’t remind them all the ways that you’re a great parent. That’s hugely important. That’s probably the thing that parents are the most tempted to do, to say, “What about this? What about all the places I took you? What about all the ways that I've spent money on you? What about all the ways that I was so much of a better parent than my parents were? You have no idea what a cake-walk your childhood has been.” That’s actually not very useful to your child. It makes them feel like you don’t care about them or you don’t care about their perspective. You’re far better off just being empathic to them, going, “Well tell me more about that. You’re right, I can be impatient. What’s that like for you? How can we work on that together? How would you like me to have responded? What would have felt better to you? What would feel better to you in the future going forward?” In general, the more you can take responsibility and be empathic and be interested, the better off your relationship is going to be.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD describes how parents can best respond when a child rejects them or becomes critical of their parenting


Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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