How to Respond When Your Kid Shuts You Out
Parenting experts tell us connecting with our children is the key to forming successful relationships with them, but kids and teens have a special talent for pushing the “disconnect” button when interactions get challenging. In these moments, your child may reject your efforts to communicate with them in one of several different ways—and identifying their mode of resistance can help you figure out how to overcome it.
Tish Taylor, child psychologist and author of Fostering Connection: Building Social and Emotional Health in Children and Teens has identified 6 types of “disconnector” personas your child or teen may take on in moments of conflict. As the book outlines, “Disconnectors are a group of characters who, when they feel emotions in a situation, express frustration, irritation, and anger. The Disconnectors tend to withdraw or fight, but do not engage in a way that brings resolve.”
Taylor offers advice on how to recognize and respond to each disconnector character. Next time you encounter one of them during a tough situation with your child, here are suggestions for how to react.
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What spirit your little one has! But raising a little Fighter can wear you down. Here’s how to recognize when the Fighter in your child shows up, and how to react.
A Fighter might:
Try to hurt you or others with “wounding words.”
Strike out by bringing up a particularly painful memory or or trying to destroy something important to you.
Seek power by making you feel worse than they do.
Overpower the situation with relentless negativity.
You might react by being defensive, surrendering to what they want, or giving a harsh punishment. Instead, try one of these tactics:
Slow down and don’t react right away. Try to understand the Fighter is acting out of a lack of emotional control and perspective.
Put some physical space between yourself and the Fighter.
Listen and express your desire to understand how they feel.
If your child throws up a Teflon shield in moments of conflict, it might look like this:
Expressing “It’s not my fault” or being unwilling to see your perspective.
Blaming you or someone else.
Arguing to defend themselves, possibly to the point of not allowing 2-way communication.
You may react to the Deflector by engaging in debate, getting frustrated, or surrendering. Instead, try this:
Ask yourself if there is anything to gain from engaging in argument. If not, say, “I do not want to argue. We can agree to disagree.”
Encourage them to understand there are multiple perspectives on the situation by acknowledging how they feel and how you feel.
Take a timeout if you feel frustrated or angry. Come back to the discussion when you both are calmer.
When your child shows up as the Insulator, they just do not want to engage with you. They act out by:
Physically isolating their bodies by covering their ears or balling up to avoid interaction.
Walking away from the situation.
Deflecting by yelling or not listening.
You may understandably feel confused or frustrated or try to coax them to engage. Try these techniques instead:
Help them feel cared for by saying, “I want to work this out with you” or “Your feelings are important in this situation.”
Tell them you want to help and are willing to communicate by listening to each other. Be patient as they progress from big emotions to being able to communicate calmly.
Try humor to connect and lighten the mood.
When they take on this character, your child is essentially a breathing “STOP” sign. They react by:
Ignoring directions or appearing absorbed by something else so they don’t hear what you’re saying.
Delaying action or saying they will “do it in a minute.”
Direct refusal to comply.
You might react to No Way behavior with coercion, punishment, or yelling. Try this instead:
Attempt to figure out why the request is causing them to feel stressed or overwhelmed so you can help.
Notice if feeling disrespected is causing you to engage in a power struggle. Instead, react with predetermined consequences for refusing to comply.
Wait a minute and then calmly repeat the request.
If the Grumpmeister shows up in one of those moods, it might look like this:
They become visibly irritated and impatient.
They can’t break away from generally negative responses.
They are unable to complete simple, everyday tasks due to low motivation.
When dealing with the Grumpmeister, you might want to placate, become a cheerleader, or avoid them altogether. Try these reactions:
Are there underlying reasons for them to be in this grumpy mood, like lack of sleep, illness, or stress? Acknowledge and address the underlying cause.
Remind them you want to help.
Take a time-out to let irritability simmer down.
Your child is acting like a One-Way Street, and you are headed the wrong direction. Look for this behavior:
Inflexibility and unwillingness to see your position.
Repeating the same response so communication is impossible.
Stubbornness and wanting to argue.
Naturally, you may want to engage in the argument, feel exasperated, or avoid the situation. Here are some more useful responses:
Gently share your point of view by saying “Would you be willing to consider a different thought about this?” or “I don’t think about this in the same way that you do. Can I tell you what I think?”
Express that you want to understand and restate their feelings.
Use a Venn Diagram to show them how your differing viewpoints also share some common ground.
Children and teens may show disconnection by being irritable, defensive, avoidant, blaming, or dismissive, Taylor writes. Once you recognize what kind of Disconnector you’re dealing with, you can practice using the most effective coping technique to resolve problems.
Final pro parenting tip: Watch out for times when you (or other adults in your life) show up as the Disconnector. You might also be the reason communication is breaking down in stressful parenting situations.
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