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                                     Challenges to Responsive Care


In your daily interactions with your child it’s best if you can attempt to figure out what’s on their mind, particularly when something has upset them (See previous section). If you can make sense of the meaning of their behavior, it will allow you to respond in a helpful way. This can have the most beneficial results for his or her physical, emotional, and social development.


This is not always easy, and research has shown this won’t happen consistently. Keep in mind, no parent is perfect! Knowing that, it’s important when you don’t understand what your child is experiencing to let them know. Explaining to your child that you missed what was causing their distress, and then trying to mend the situation builds a sense of trust in your child that you are there for them. This allows you to repair the relationship and move on in a positive manner.


It’s good 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. For example, there will be times when your child is doing or saying something that will either ‘trigger’ an emotional overreaction or you may block out your child’s distress altogether. 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. For those times that your child does or says something where you find you’re being ‘triggered’, see the list of sites that can help you understand this better.


So, what happens that leads to you not responding in a helpful way? As mentioned, everyday stresses- job, managing the house, your children’s schedules, extended family, etc. can all lead to missing or misinterpreting your child’s distress (or excitement when they’ve discovered or learned something new). Understanding what’s leading to these reactions is important in order to get a handle on them. More often than not your emotional reactions are related to what happened in the relationship with your parents, or an earlier trauma that you experienced and has little to do with the immediate relationship with your child. As for your parents, for better or for worse they 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 beliefs 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 your parents can have a negative impact on the interactions with your children. Those unhelpful reactions to your child’s behavior may result from being raised by parents who were frequently unresponsive or harsh in your moments of distress.  


An important question to ask yourself is how did your parents typically respond to those situations 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, and whether or not they attempted to repair their ‘misses’ may make it difficult for you to respond to your child's' distress in a helpful manner.  Unfortunately we often 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, and consequently you’ll feel 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. Also, if you experience ongoing depression and/or anxiety it can present a serious challenge to understanding your child. This can be further complicated if alcohol or other substances are 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.


Of course there are situations where you feel upset that may call for normal parental limit setting. That’s the job of parents. The overly harsh reactions to what your child is doing with no attempt at repair is what’s critical to your child’s wellbeing.


For more information to better understanding the relationship with your children, typical 'triggering' situations and other challenges, please see Challenges Resources.

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