Ask the Expert: How to bond with a ‘difficult’, negative child
Mood swings: what sensitivities or personality traits underlie your son’s bad behaviour? Photograph: Getty Images
Q I have three children, aged 12, 10 and six, and my problem is the youngest. He stresses me out in the way the other two never did. He whines and moans all day and is negative about everything. It can become a battle to get him to do the slightest thing.
Every morning I find myself dreading what mood he might be in. When he is a bad one, he can make it a terrible day for all of us. He started school last year and is doing okay but he is a bit of a “street angel, house devil” so other people don’t see the behaviour I get.
I have got some help for him through my public nurse, which has been supportive but it hasn’t changed his behaviour.
They feel the problem stems from when he was born. I was very sick after the birth and then suffered from postnatal depression, and they think that I never bonded with him.
To some extent that is true, because I have always found it difficult with him, which I didn’t feel with my older children. In some ways, he just winds me up: his whining gets to me and, though I feel really guilty writing this, I feel that sometimes I just don’t like him and the way he behaves.
I feel terrible that I feel so frustrated with him all the time. I want to do the best for him, because I love him. Occasionally, we have good days and I just wish it could be like this all the time.
A Though you say you feel guilty in what you have written, I think you have displayed courage in honestly recognising your feelings. Though it is often repressed and not acknowledged, it is very common for a parent to have a particularly difficult relationship with one of their children that can result in negative feelings and ongoing problems.
The good news is that all relationships can be improved, no matter where they start from. All it takes is the honesty to take responsibility for your own feelings, a desire for things to be better and a willingness to work at making changes. I have worked with many parents who bravely admit that they have got to a point of “not liking”their children, but such honesty becomes a turning point for them.
Take time to understand your feelings
The first step in moving forward is to understand the source of your feelings and the challenges in your relationship. You have already started this by understanding the problems in the context of your postnatal depression, but you may also want to seek further counselling to explore your feelings further.
There may be things in your son’s personality that particularly “press your buttons” . They might represent traits you share and find difficult in yourself, or which tell a story of your own upbringing.
In addition, some of the difficulties might be due to your own expectations of how you should be as a parent that might need to be relaxed or changed. Finally, some of your son’s behaviour might be understood in terms of family dynamics and his position in the family.