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The Cycle of Shared Anxiety | Reasons Your Child May Be Rejecting You | The Rejected Parent Newsletter

This newsletter is for parents who are being rejected by their children and those who support them. I will be sending regular newsletters to give suggestions and support to parents dealing with rejection from their children on all levels. I generally support parents whose children are 18 years and under; however, some of this will apply to parents with adult children as well.

Hello Reader,

This newsletter is part of the Reasons Your Child May Be Rejecting You series. Anxiety can take on a life of its own and make it seem as though there must be something wrong in the rejected parent’s home. When a child refuses to go to one parent’s home or cries before or after returning to the receiving parent, it appears to that parent that something bad may have happened.

Now, the anxiety cycle begins. The receiving parent, who tends to be anxious, interprets a child’s crying or being upset about going to the other parent’s home as if something is wrong. What this parent doesn’t realize is that it's normal for children to be under some degree of stress transitioning between their parents' homes. It’s hard for children to pick up and change their living situation regularly. Some children are more resilient to this activity, while others have difficulty with change.

Parents stop communicating and trusting one another during a custody dispute or any court involvement. After all, many are in the middle of the battle of their lifetime. They are so caught up in litigation that it’s hard to view anything in their lives without seeing a threat from each other. That includes whether something bad is happening to their child in the other parent's home.

When a parent becomes anxious around their child, it can be as contagious as a virus that instead lasts months or even years. The child picks up on the anxiety, starts to feel anxious, and then acts that way when separating from the parent. A parent’s anxiety can give a child the signal that there is something wrong and they shouldn’t leave that parent. If children sense parental anxiety around transitions, they too get anxious, which in turn may result in a child crying or being upset about going to the other parent’s home.

It starts subtly at first and then takes on a life of its own. And now the Vicious Cycle repeats itself; like an infinity symbol, it’s never-ending and continuous. Now, out of completely irrational thought and without any evidence, the anxious parent connects that something bad must be happening at the other home.

Have you ever been around someone who panicked and noticed that your anxiety level was raised? Observing the anxious parent gives a child the message that there is something wrong, and they are already dysregulated because they are worrying about their anxious parent. We repeat this cycle a few times, and the child refuses to go to the other parent’s home completely. Now, the other parent is the rejected parent.

I’ve heard children say things like, well, it just feels like there “must be something wrong.” Therefore, they don’t want to go now because suddenly, they don’t feel safe with the other parent. This is because the shared anxiety with their anxious parent has now been projected onto the other one.

Then, something else can happen that reinforces the anxious parent and child. In this whole made-up emotional mess, the rejected parent gets frustrated and starts to express that to their child. Done! The child perceives them as a threat, and they now won’t leave the anxious parent’s home.

The good news is that the rejected parent can help flip this around by focusing on the child’s emotional experience AND not expressing frustration. No matter how ridiculous the accusations or reactions are, the only thing you have control over is your reactions to your child.

What can you do to help if you are caught in this situation? Within every opportunity you have with your child, focus on their feelings and perspective. Do activities that they want to do. Check in with them and see how they are doing in their lives. Keep everything positive and focused on their developmental needs, changing their perception and showing them there is no reason to be anxious.

-Cathy Himlin


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