help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Delighting in Children Who are Not Used to Delight

Cover of "Feelings"

Cover of Feelings

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

When I speak to parents of children with attachment related issues about trying to delight in their children, I hear a couple of common responses.  The first response is that, to be honest, their children are not all that delightful.  The parents I work with have children that lived their first several months or even years with a marked lack of being delighted in, so, because they do not know any better, they do not desire to be delighted in and, rather than feeling good, being delighted in can actually be scary, or intimidating to the child.

Even if you can find a moment of delight during the day, for parents with children with insecure or disorganized attachments I hear that they, the parent, often experience repercussions, sometimes extreme repercussions, (like the kids I have known who have taken what was otherwise a nice day and ruined it by destroying something their parents loved by, say, urinating on furniture on purpose, or cutting up a cherished item) soon thereafter.  I also have parents tell me that allowing themselves to delight in their child leads to the child becoming more demanding because the child either believes that if they do something to make their parent happy they should get some immediate reward, or the child feels good and falsely believes that the good feeling comes from something outside of them (such as the item they were delighting in or an amusement park ride).  In an attempt to continue the good feeling, the child demands more and more of the parent until the parent is sorry they delighted in the first place since they have such an ungrateful little so and so.  While some of that feeling is normal for any parent, for this post, I am focusing on those parents with a child on the far end of the attachment disordered spectrum.  All children test limits sometimes and may engage in some of these behaviors, but attachment disordered children do this as part of an ongoing pattern of behavior, rather than as a part of the normal limit-testing all children do.

What is a parent to do?  If you have a child that engages in the above mentioned behaviors when you try to delight in them, I have a few reminders to help you stay sane and remain in a place of loving kindness toward your child.

1.  Your child may not know how to share a good feeling.  In other words, due to early neglect and/or trauma, your child may not have developed the understanding of how to share good feelings with others.  They may have what I have heard called “scarcity thinking,” meaning that only one person can feel good at a time and, because they may not also have had a chance to develop empathy, they decide the person feeling good is going to be them.  Because they did not have an early environment of shared good feelings, they just do not know how to, well…share good feelings.  Remember too, that having someone notice them may have had a very different meaning for them and the meaning may not have a positive association for them.

2. Your child may not know how to experience delight.  Remember the neuron transmitters from my previous post?  Your child did not get that so, guess what, you get to teach them!  This would be a good time to review my post about chronological age vs. developmental age.  No matter the chronological age of your child, their developmental age is quite a bit younger.  How do you teach a child delight?  Like this: say something along the lines of (with a tone like Mr. Rogers, remember him?) “Look at us!  We are so happy together!  We are feeling the same feelings at the same time!”  Allow the feelings for a few moments but, as you observe your child beginning to take it over the top, in the same tone, “Sometimes I wish we could feel so happy all the time, but feelings come and go don’t they?  It was so nice to have that good feeling.  It looks like we are going back to the regular feelings now and that’s okay.”  In this way, you are teaching your child about the normal ebb and flow of feelings, and building in normalcy about delight to address the first reminder, that all feelings are around for a little while, then leave, then come back again, and that is part of being human.

3. It takes many, many encounters for a child with attachment issues to actually learn how to genuinely delight.  While a baby is primed for good feelings and eagerly absorbs them, they do that because they are also open and actually vulnerable.  When a baby learns to delight, their vulnerability has paid off.  For your child, the vulnerability did not pay off, so they stopped allowing themselves to feel vulnerable.  Remembering this can help to ease the frustration for a parent that says, “But she’s lived with me longer than she lived with them!  When is she going to learn that we are safe!”  The answer is that she will learn to feel safe if we can capture the moments where she allows herself to be vulnerable, and during that quick window, you prove to be a safe and loving person.  You prove this by maintaining a playful, loving, accepting, curious, empathic (PLACE) attitude as much as possible so that each time that window opens a little you enhance the opportunity for growth and change in your child, so that next time the window opens a bit farther for a bit longer until, eventually, it stays wide open.

4.  Think of the alignment of the planets in our solar system.  If one planet were to be knocked off-balance, the others pull it back into place using their gravitational pull.  Similarly, for your child, when they come to you having become accustomed to being the “problem child” then you treat them as if they are not, they seek familiarity (they realign the planets as they know them) by doing something to make you as angry as they are used to parents being.  We call this seeking homeostasis.  I find one way to help if you have a child who does this is to name what is happening.  In a matter of fact, gentle tone, I would suggest saying something along the lines of, “Having fun can make people uncomfortable or worried sometimes.  I think it makes you feel that way.”  Or, “I am so sad when you are too scared to let yourself be happy without making yourself pay for it later.”

I find we can be most compassionate when we can look to the origin of the issue rather than taking the response of our child personally.

If you have a child with a history of attachment issues, what have your experiences been with delight?

Related Articles:

June 15, 2012 - Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, Parenting | , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. […] help4yourfamily Advice on how to have a happy family from an expert. Skip to content HomeAbout meDisclaimerMission statement ← Delighting in Children Who are Not Used to Delight […]

    Pingback by Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 6/18/2012 | help4yourfamily | June 18, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] me that their adopted or foster child just can’t seem to stop when things are going well and find a way to get into trouble every time they have a good day. If you have a child like this, I would suggest that for the child’s benefit, you pare down […]

    Pingback by tips for gift giving and the child with a history of abuse « help4yourfamily | November 21, 2012 | Reply

  3. Hi! The post you refer to about developmental age vs chronological age is not there when I click it 😦

    Comment by Sherri Lynn Valenzuela | May 13, 2014 | Reply

  4. […] Delighting in Children Who are Not Used to Delight Find some YOU time this weekend people.  YOU need it, right? Love Matters, […]

    Pingback by Sharing Info From Kate Oliver, LCSW on Delight | Wisdom For Adoptive Parents | May 16, 2014 | Reply


What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: