4 Steps To Take When Your Child Ignores You (That Are Totally In Your Control!)
As I walk into one of my last sessions of the night, I have a very smart, extra cute 4 year old waiting for me in his playroom. We have built great rapport throughout the 5 months I have worked with this family and this kid is usually VERY EXCITED to see me. As I sit next to him and greet him, he completely ignores me. This goes on for about 30 minutes of our 45 minute session.
Self-reflection: What is your go-to method when you want to engage with your child and they choose to ignore you?
I calmly sit next to him and remind him every few minutes, even though he turns away from me when I speak, “When you want to talk or play with me, I am here.” Albeit the mindset of a therapist is composed of being non-judgmental and definitely not taking anything of what our clients say or do, personal, I found myself thinking at times, “Is he upset with me?”
After each of those ‘taking it very personal’ thoughts, I checked in with myself and reminded myself that this has nothing to do with me and the silent treatment I was receiving was my client’s way of communicating with me (and clearly exerting his own power). I was so curious as to what was going on with him – and this is exactly how I chose to enter and stay present in the moment; with open curiosity. You already know, the mindful way! I chose to believe that he would open up to me when he was ready and when he did, I would non-judgmentally hear him out.
Self-reflection: What belief(s) do you hold when your child chooses to ignore you?
Holding onto these beliefs (“this has nothing to do with me;” “I am curious about what is really going on.”) allowed me to remain calm and patient with the child. After about 30 minutes he asked me to play with him and his trucks. I gladly engaged. After about 10 minutes of playing, he confessed, “I was mad when you come to see me.” I inquired further and he looked at me with those big brown eyes and thick eyelashes, I wish I had, and said, “I didn’t want to go first but mommy made me.” (I see both him and his brother on the same night and they alternate going first for session.)
This turned out to be a great moment. Although I did not complete what I had planned for the session (which is most of life anyway), I was able to accomplish so much more! I was presented with the opportunity to validate his feelings (which leads to modeling empathy and creating connection), accept the silent treatment (as I could totally relate to feeling powerless and how I have withdrawn in my own attempt to feel ‘powerful’), and model for the mother how to remain calm and mindful, even when your kid doesn’t do what you want him to when you want him to do it. (And to be honest – we choose to ignore them at times too!)
Right about now, you might be thinking (if you haven’t already):
“I don’t have time to sit and wait patiently for 30 minutes for my kid to talk to me when he is ready.”
“I have so many other things I need to do.”
“Seriously? Do this every time he gives me the silent treatment? I get this treatment every day!”
“What if this teaches my child that they can just ignore me when they want and its okay?”
“What if he ignores me when I ask him to do something he has to do?”
All very valid points and I hear what you’re saying! If I can make an observation, whichever way you state it, all of these beliefs come from a place of either lack (not enough time, energy, etc.) or fear (what if…[insert scary, future based thought here] ).
In moments like this, we have the amazing opportunity to reevaluate what we believe and if we choose to do so, change our beliefs. In changing our beliefs to ones that allow us to enter into the moment from a more peaceful or accepting or patient or tolerant or curious stance, we create the opportunity for true connection and personal transformation! As this shift occurs you lay the foundation of conscious parenting and healthy relationship building with the little humans you have running around your house.
4 things totally in your control, which I encourage you to do:
- Identify the beliefs you hold that pop up really strongly in your moments of impatience (maybe even when your child is ignoring you). *take that deep breathe!*
- Label them honestly. Are you curious or uninterested in what your child is going through? Are you taking it personal and making it more about you, negating that he most likely does not have the tools to express himself in a more direct, verbal manner? Is your belief based off of a fear or a lack of not enough? Or are you just tired and running on 3 hours of sleep?!
- Choose to change your belief to one that is more congruent with the relationship you really want to create between you and your child. Do you want to have a relationships based on safety, trust, understanding, compromise and love? Or do you want one created on the beliefs of insecurity, distrust, and unsafe (fear) or not enough (lack)?
- Enter into the space between you and your child, holding a different belief and see if the outcome is different. Give it a few tries before throwing in the towel.
When I work with parents, we explore and change many core beliefs that negatively affect their parenting…and aren’t even true to who they really are. As a matter of fact, the beliefs most parents hold that hinder their ability to really connect with their kids, are beliefs that were handed down to them by their parents. (Yes- this happens even with the parents who promised not to be like their parents!)
Here are some examples, but again, I strongly encourage you to look at your own beliefs and change them to beliefs that are more conducive to creating the relationship you want with your child and that are genuine to who you are. (I say “totally” a lot in my own belief changing work…and sometimes this doesn’t seem genuine to the parents I work with. I totally get it. Be you!)
Old belief: “I don’t have enough time.”
New belief: “I know if I invest, even 10 minutes a week, to purposefully connecting with my kid, it will help our relationship.”
Old belief: “What if this teaches my kid that ignoring people is okay?”
New belief: “I know that when my kid is happy and feels safe to express himself, he doesn’t ignore me. What is really going on with him? I’d like to find out and help in any way I can.”
Old belief: “He cannot ignore me when I tell him to do something he needs to do.”
New belief: “He is not ignoring me. He is ignoring what he doesn’t want to do. I can totally relate. How can I help to motivate him? Can we make it fun?” or “Does this really need to be done in this exact moment?”
**Also remember, sometimes children are purposefully ignoring and sometimes they are so wrapped up in their own world and may not even hear you.**
** IMPORTANT!! ** If you haven’t already don’t so today, take a step back, check yourself out and give yourself A LOT of credit. Throw in some positive affirmations. You are here, reading up on how to potentially improve yourself and improve your parenting. I admire you for all the time, dedication and love you give to this job. It truly is a labor of love…and you are your child’s GREATEST mommy!