Challenges to Responsive Care
As shown in a previous section, fairly consistent responsive care of your child will have beneficial results for his or her physical, emotional, and social development. However, this is something that often challenges parents to do on a consistent basis. For example, at times your child may be doing or saying something that makes you feel uncomfortable or angry. Of course it may be a situation that calls for normal parental limit setting. However, you may realize at that moment, or perhaps sometime later, that your reaction to that behavior was overly harsh or punitive. This might be an indication that something is being triggered in you that may be more related to what happened in the relationship with your parents than the immediate relationship with your child.
The more you are able to recognize these feelings when they come up in your day to day interactions with your children, the more you can manage them and respond in a helpful way to your child’s distress. Highly charged emotional situations with your children can trigger responses in you that are harmful to forming a trusting relationship. Understanding the triggers to these emotions is critical. These moments with your children are the times when it’s most important to pause, take a moment and try to imagine what might be going on in your child's mind that's causing their distress. It's also important to wonder what's going on in your mind. Difficulty in doing this often results from being raised by parents who were frequently unresponsive or harsh in your moments of distress.
And, if these situations happen consistently, it's going to be difficult for you to provide comfort and security for your child when they're upset about something. Consequently your child's ability to trust and rely on you will get eroded. This may also lead to your child having trouble forming close, trusting relationships with others. This can also interfere with your child's ability to cope with problems and can lead to difficulty managing their emotions. This may turn into a lifelong problem, and your child may struggle with shame and low self-worth through life. Also, they will be less willing to learn and explore because of their anxiety about the reliability of your care.
For better or for worse, your parents were your teachers on how to raise children. And of course their parents were their teachers. One of the challenges that parents face is holding onto beliefs that were learned from their parents about what works best for raising children . Many of these ideas of course may be helpful, but the challenge is to sort out those beliefs and practices that aren’t so helpful. Our brains build up models of how parenting works based on interactions with our caregivers. Care that was consistently unresponsive from them can negatively impact the interactions with your children.
An important question to ask is how did your parents typically respond to those experiences you found distressing or traumatic. Was it with sensitive support or with neglect or criticism. Everyone has had the experience as a child of their parents being critical or unresponsive in situations that were upsetting. This, depending on how often it occurred, can make it very difficult to respond to your child's' distress in a helpful manner. We unintentionally recreate the family situation that we are familiar with. A caution to keep in mind is that changing your behavior from how you were treated by your parents can unconsciously imply that you are rejecting them. This can lead to your feeling conflicted. Unless you are aware of this, a consequent fear of loss of their love (whether real or imagined) may hinder your ability to act differently.
It’s important to keep in mind that there will be always be times when you won't be tuned-in or very responsive to your child for a variety of reasons. Allowing yourself to be distracted by life's everyday demands is probably the biggest factor. Also, a certain amount of this is actually helpful in that it helps the child develop a tolerance for frustration. However, when this is something that happens on a regular basis, problems can occur and it may be helpful to examine what is happening that is getting in the way of being tuned in to your child.
Keep in mind, no parent is perfect! When you realize you may have missed or misinterpreted what your child is expressing, it is very important to let your child know that. That allows you to repair the relationship and move on in a positive manner.
Also, if you experience ongoing depression and/or anxiety it can present a serious challenge to being a responsive parent. This can be further complicated if alcohol or substance abuse is being used as self-medication for these problems
The temperament of your child and their genetic background also plays a role in their development. These factors can make your job easier or more difficult, depending on the mix of child and parent temperaments. This, however, is something that can be handled if you are sensitive to your as well as your child’s particular makeup, and can then make the necessary adjustments.
For more information, please see Challenges Resources.