QUESTION: My son wants a relationship with his father, but his father doesn’t want one with him. How can I let my son know this without hurting him?
DR. CARABALLO’S ADVICE: I am glad that you are asking this question. As a single parent it must be difficult for you to address this situation without fears of hurting your child. It is normal that your child wants a relationship with his father. All children will have questions, concerns, and worries when they do not have a relationship with one of their parents. It is even more complicated when the absence is voluntary.
Honestly, there’s really no good way to tell a child that a parent does not want to relate to them. Generally, parents should talk to children according to their age, the circumstances of the child and the family. Parents should serve as a buffer against unnecessary information, including conversations or disagreements between adults. Children’s questions should be addressed directly and simply at a level they can understand.
The main message that you have to communicate repeatedly to your child is that his father’s absence is not his fault. Explain that his father does not have a relationship with him due to his own problems, it’s nothing that he did. You can tell him that his father has made some mistakes in life, just as we all do, and the biggest of those mistakes is that he does not have a relationship with his son.
Children who are abandoned, neglected or abused by their parents may develop a belief system that they are unlovable and unworthy. Generally, this leads to a sense of shame and low self esteem. A healthy self-esteem is a child’s armor against the challenges of the world. Children who have positive beliefs and feelings about themselves will have an easier time navigating through the life challenges.
Here are some things that you can do to help your child:
-Support your child, no matter what his age, in expressing his feelings about the situation.
-Validate his feelings. Make him feel that you love him although he is angry, frustrated or misbehaving.
-Allow him to ask questions about the situation, but remember to answer responsibly and on a level he can understand.
-Make him feel safe, loved and wanted every day. Provide regular opportunities to connect with your child.
-Make sure your son understands that he is not responsible for his father’s decision.
-Give positive and accurate feedback.
-Provide opportunities for your child to develop a relationship with other male figures, whom you trust an can relay positive messages to your child.
-Be affectionate and tell him that you are proud of him.
Karen Caraballo, Psy. D, ABSNP
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