Collecting And Connecting To A Challenging Child

In our last post, we looked at the four things the authors of “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers” outlined in regards to “collecting” our children after separation.  You can see that post here:

I got a wonderful comment on this post that basically stated it didn’t seem as if the steps outlined in this chapter would really work for a child that was either in a truly difficult developmental stage and where parent and child were feeling disconnected or perhaps in a situation where a lot of separation was going on due to life circumstances.

I have a few thoughts about this and I hope if you are in this sort of  situation you will go through these suggestions and take what resonates with you and your family.

  • If you are in the situation where separation is occurring frequently, is there a way to pare things down?  Sometimes families cannot pare it down due to work obligations or school, but if the separation is due to things outside of school and such, perhaps it is worth investigating cutting activities outside the home down.  Can you pare down how many hours you are working outside the home?  Could you possibly homeschool this child to give them extra time at home?  What can you do with extracurricular activities?    Many families will put a stop on sports for part of the year and just enjoy family activities.  Some families will say no activities at the dinner hour.  Perhaps if separation is occurring due to these extra activities, these need to be looked at within the context of the needs of the whole family.  Sometimes we have to give things up in order to gain things.  Simplify.
  • Get out a piece of paper and write down what separation is occurring each day and what happens before the separation and what happens after you and your child are reunited.  What rituals are there around going out the door, or reconnecting after school or work?
  • Do you cook and eat dinner together most nights?  This is really important and well worth the effort.
  • Do you parent your child to sleep?  This is important for all children, but for children nine and older, this may be the ONLY time they open up about their day. It is important to be able to give your child this time.
  • What do you do on weekends?  Is there a family activity one afternoon a week?  Even if children protest, this is an important ritual to establish. It does not have to be expensive, and can involve something as simple as hiking, taking a walk, bathing the dog, having tea.
  • Are you speaking this child’s love language?  Here are the back posts on that:   and this one:
  • What kind of language do you use daily with this child?  (   Do you connect with this child through your warmth and love throughout the day?  Do you consider yourselves on the same side and maintain your calmness whilst you help your child meet the rules and boundaries of your family?  
  • Boundaries foster security.  If you are being a jellyfish in your family,  (see this back post for an explanation of what a jellyfish is: now is your time to stop.  It is not punitive to consider logical consequences for behavior that you would not want your child to do to any relative or friend!
  • If your child is very enmeshed with peers, is there a way to change the scenery?  Is there a way to limit time with peers?
  • If you are going through a rough patch with a child, actually spending more time together and not less is often a key to drawing closer and communicating.  Some mothers I know have even brought their most difficult child home to homeschool with excellent results.
  • Meditate and pray about this child and carry this into your sleep and see what new insights come to you in the morning.  You have the keys to help this child within yourself. You really do!
  • Go slow.  Things are not going to change overnight.  I suggest you look at this as taking at least a six month period.  Write things out on a piece of paper, your plan, and put it into action.  Tweak as you need to, but start small with something tomorrow. 

I would love to hear the experiences of mothers who have survived a difficult period of connection with their child and came out even stronger in the end.  Do you have a story like that to share with us?

Many blessings,


16 thoughts on “Collecting And Connecting To A Challenging Child

  1. Yes, we have re-parented a child who was stressed and disconnected.
    Here’s the short version: Our eldest is intensely choleric, we made some parenting mistakes: it’s taken us six years to get him completely ‘back’, but we have, it was in baby steps and trial and error. I would completely agree with your list Carrie, plus add in: we removed all electronics; we used a lot of soft-warm-non-demanding eye-contact to reconnect…it took him a while to manage that; we found a calm kindergarten and school for him; and there were some brain wiring issues too. He crawled for some months, but not enough: his arms looked as if they were disconnected from his legs when he walked – they didn’t work together, and he couldn’t skip. (I am going to do a post with some photos of the exercises in the next few weeks.) The exercises helped his brain to work more efficiently so that he didn’t short-circuit to anger. Hope these are helpful,

  2. I was dealing with HG during my recent pregnancy and I was not able to really be present with my then 3 year old. I was vomiting several times a day and felt extreme nausea when I would talk, eat, felt stressed, anxious, etc. It was like this 24×7 for the nine months straight. Since my husband works long hours so that we can afford to have one parent at home, I didnt have many breaks or help . Luckily, my parents would come and rescue me for about a week once a month. Unfortunately, I didn’t have family or friends in the area that could help me, but lucky that my parents had flexible schedules. Having their support helped our family tremendously. I looked forward to their visits so that my daught got the attention she needed and I got a break to cope with my illness. Now, I have my baby (7 months) and my daughter in now 4.5. I feel back to normal and feel so grateful to have my health back. My situation made me realize how precious my time is with my sweet little girl and to be a more mindful parent. I decided to homeschool so that she doesn’t feel like we were pushing her out to concentrate on care for the baby. I felt like this would be a negative emotional impact since she and I were disconnected during my pregnancy due to my illness. In these past months that I’ve been working on curriculum with her, I’ve noticed she has surpassed most of the children her age that go to preschool. She still has some outbursts and behavioral issues that we are working on, but I’ve read that’s somewhat normal for a child her age adjusting to a new sibling. So we are still a” work in progress” in that regard. I also noticed that our hearts have once again connected which was so important and the main reason why we wanted to homeschool.

  3. I’ve spent the last 24 hours thinking deeply about my connection (or lack thereof) with my six year old daughter. I looked at our rhythm, the love languages, how much outside time she’s getting, media exposure and peer influence. They all seemed healthy and balanced.

    Then I dug deeper and the tears began to flow. I thought back to when she was born and realized that the predominant emotions in raising this beautiful little soul have been fear and guilt. Fear that I wouldn’t do it right. Fear that I wouldn’t be enough. Guilt because we hadn’t planned better and I had to leave her with her grandmother everyday to go to work. Guilt because the stress of it all caused me to snap at her during our precious time together. An environment of fear, guilt and stress are what I brought this dear girl into. Is it any wonder that she had trouble sleeping and eating? Is it any wonder that she began biting her hands and resisting our hugs?

    The worst part is that instead of prompting me to adjust her environment to alleviate her stress, her behaviors only served to make me feel more fearful, guilty and stressed out. I will become angry when I see her still biting her hands because it reminds me of all the ways I’ve failed her.

    Luckily for our two other kids, I’ve been able to be home and have not had to deal with parenting from a place of fear and guilt, but only love. You can see the difference. But i’m ready now to start letting go of all the guilt and fear that have ruled my relationship with my daughter. I know it will not happen overnight, but i’m hopeful we can get there soon.

  4. Hi Carrie,
    Thank you for all of your posts! They help me so much! My daughter is highly choleric and is 6 1/2. We sent her to preschool even though my gut feeling was to homeschool. Ever since she started preschool, our daughter is constantly comparing herself to the other kids in everyway. We also noticed that she really would behave well, but once another child was with her that she considered to be a friend, her parents opinion did not matter. If we said don’t do something and her friend was doing it, she would not listen and would do it anyway. When we finally pulled her out of pre-k she was 5 and had 3 years of schooling under her belt. We homeschool, limit tv, no computer, no video games, limit her activities, pick and choose the peers we like her to play with, we noticed some change. However the one area that has not changed is this constant comparing of friends. She constantly wants to know what the other children she knows is doing. She is very preoccupied with what they are doing. She constantly wants her homeschool to be exactly the same as what she thinks “school” does with her friends. We also still experience not listening to her parents when friends are around and copying the actions of her friends. We do a lot of warmth, loving talk, calming activities for her, but it still has not changed.
    Am I making a mistake picking and choosing her peers that she spends time with? Is there anything else I could do to help her ease this issue. (Which to me she spends way too much energy worrying about what her friends are doing.) I know there is a deep issue that she is telling me but I’m not exactly sure what it is and how to help her. Any advice would be great. Thanks. maria

  5. parent child to sleep? is there a post on going-to-bed ideas/rituals? I’m wondering what you mean by this little part, not to mention just trying to digest the rest.

    ~ tired mama of 3.3 and .3 yr olds

  6. @Syl,
    Re: reading that her outbursts are normal for a child with a new sibling…

    Where did you read this? I’d love to find out what is ‘normal’ for a toddler/child with a new sibling. I’d love to read ANYTHING on that topic.

    Thanks, Carrie, if you don’t mind!

  7. Thank you Carrie,

    I’ve been able to locate an attachment councillor in our area. I think this is a great idea.

    Also, when thinking back, I really think that my son (now 16) became extremely peer oriented while involved in football. It was the first time that he had been separated from us every day after school and did not eat with us for months (except on weekends, and it was difficult to get him to get him to sit). At sixteen it is difficult to say no to organized sports, but I think that for next year I will make sure that we all eat together even if it is a little later in the evening. My four year old daughter will have to snack more in the afternoon….


  8. This topic is near and dear to me as my older three children for several years went to their father’s house once a week. He parents VERY differently and when the children were young, it was easy to dread them coming home because of the behavior difficulties. Inner work saved ME. The fruits of that inner work saved THEM. We began praying together before they left and when they arrived home. We prayed (Erik and I) while they were gone. It made such a big difference because it pulled our focus from the frustration and right to the children. Now only my middle son visits and we still go through some of the same rituals with his visitations. He returns home calmer.

    Visualizing how the Creator sees your child helps so much. Giving love is easy when you can see the love given by God.


  9. Hi Carrie

    I have been reading up about ‘Aware Parenting’ a concept I read about on the ‘Noble Mother’ Blog. I wondered if some of the ideas could help when there is a disconnect.

    What about story telling? Maybe telling stories from your own childhood or make up a ‘healing’ story?

  10. We have always known that our daughter is different. No book I read ever helped me understand my daughter’s inability to fall asleep. We defaulted to attachment parenting techniques, but were often stumped.

    Last year we took her out of school, realizing that the long days were just too stressful for her. I resigned from my career and am now home full-time. She is definitely happier.

    Just a couple days ago, we finished an evaluation process (with Meg MacDonald for anyone near Portland, OR) that let us know that the regulatory system in her lower brain has not fully developed and the best way for this to develop is to co-regulate with me or my husband. For those interested, you may want to look up ‘interpersonal neurobiology’.

  11. I just wanted to comment to Michelle, above, who wrote so movingly about Fear and Guilt – I am holding you in my heart, because, honestly, that is just how I have been – it could have been me writing those words. I went back to work after the birth of my son (aged 7 now) and felt disconnect and then fear and guilt for a long time over that (I didn’t want to go back, but was pressured into it, and the only way I could deal with it, was on certain levels to disconnect from my son because the pain of leaving him each time was so great). Fortunately I have been able to stay at home with my younger daughter and be there for both children, but I have been carrying a lot of guilt around this issue. Reading Carrie’s post and your words has made me realise I need to do some work on myself to resolve these issues and connect with my son, without over-compensating inappropriately due to my guilt.

  12. Dear Carrie,

    I was told to use time-outs, even by my counsellor to discipline my 4 year old son. After reading that you do not follow it, I want to learn loving alternatives. Will you please let know your posts on this? I would love to read them all.


    • Sujata,
      Try searching “time-in” and “temper tantrums” on this blog (use the little search engine box) – they all should come up.

  13. Julie,

    I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear that somebody is having the same experiences. I’d love to hear what you are doing with your son and how it is working.

    For me, I was very ashamed that I was having difficulty connecting with my daughter. It took some courage to even admit that many of our difficulties stemmed from my fears and guilt.

    Our first baby steps toward reconnecting have begun and I’m really encouraged so far.

  14. Every time I hear success stories of parents managing to reclaim peer attached kids “We took away all the electronics” is part of the solution. And every time I read that I groan because it seems so exaggerated, especially when it’s an older child.

    It just annoys me when people make electronics out to be the evil…on the internet. Which requires them to use a computer. It just seems hypocritical. TV and computer can be useful tools and even encourage bonding moments if used correctly.

    My son uses the computer to type his little stories for hours upon hours. Should I forbid this because computer=bad. When writing by hand, his little hand starts hurting after some time and gets frustrated with spelling (the computer has spell check). If I wouldn’t let him use the computer, he wouldn’t write. But I DO want with to write. So in this case, I don’t see why I should discourage this. My kids also watch the Discovery Channel and have a Spanish PC game. Those things are great. And they’re still limited so they don’t interfere with bonding.

    Obviously babies shouldn’t watch TV and toddlers have no business on a computer. So now I feel like I’m not being fair because it seems like the posts were at least were clearly referring to younger children. But- peer attachment is what is really ruining our kids. Completely taking away the TV and computer won’t fix that. Actually, if you do it to a over nine year old, they will resist and be less willing to bond with you. You DO need undisturbed bonding time, but limiting both and getting out of the house frequently to bond should take care of that.

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