Repairing a Damaged Relationship with a Child

As in any relationship, parents and children sometimes make mistakes that cause hurt, resentment, fear and shame. Communication and trust break down and can be hard to rebuild.

One way that a healthy bond between parent and child is important is its protective factor against the negative influences in the child’s world. For example, kids whose parents have spoken with them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol are far less likely to experiment with these substances. Teens who do not use substances report that a significant reason for their positive choice is that they do not want to disappoint their parents. 

In order for our kids to turn toward us during risky and difficult times, instead of toward their friends, they need to be free from fear of our harsh judgment and disapproval. They need to carry within them the belief that we value them for the person they are more than we condemn any isolated mistake they might make. Repairing rifts allows us to grow our protective involvement, even – or especially, while they are little.

Parenting expert Andrea Nair lays out a step-by-step approach to fixing things when a parent’s reaction causes a rift in the relationship with their child. By recognizing our children’s feelings and humbly accepting responsibility for our hurtful actions, we teach important life lessons to our children.

They won’t merely learn how to mechanically apologize; they will internalize the importance of truly fixing the emotional damage we can do to those we love. In relationship repair, mom or dad listens to the child talk about way the parent’s actions made him feel, validates those emotions, expresses sincere regret and explains what they will do to make things better. Empathy cannot be taught, it can only be instilled through the experience of receiving it.

There is an interrelationship among events in our lives, and our thoughts, feelings and actions. When an upsetting event happens in which a parent loses patience with their child, it sets off thought patterns in the child, such as beliefs about himself. A negative opinion of oneself is low self-esteem. This low self-esteem can cause feelings of discouragement that can lead to negative actions and unhealthy decisions. The cycle continues as the consequences of those actions and decisions reinforce the low self-esteem and discouragement.

The good news is that parents can intervene at any point in this cycle to turn things in a positive direction. In cases where the parent’s actions were the event that triggered a negative cycle, sincere relationship repair is restorative. To learn more about how to encourage your children and keep them in a successful cycle of high self-esteem and positive decisions, join DrugFreeAZKids.org for free Active Parenting workshops.