How To Comfort A Child Who Doesn’t Want Connection

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Our parenting instinct is to comfort, console, and care for our children when they are hurt, or feeling sad. But what do you do when your child pushes you away instead of letting you connect? It's tricky, but here's our advice...

I had just finished a stack of paperwork for my sons’ new school. Feeling relieved and a little bit cramped from signing my name a thousand times, I walked the envelopes to the end of our long driveway. (Yes, my kids’ school still uses paper and snail mail…rural living.) My son was pushing himself in the wagon toward the street. I turned just in time to see him veer toward the ledge separating the driveway from the grass. He swerved to the right, tipping himself out of the wagon and onto the hot asphalt. My instinct was to run to him. I spotted my husband at the back porch and could see him jump as fast as I did. We met our son just as he crawled out of the grass. Both of us walked toward him with arms outstretched. His dad said, “Oh no, let me see your arm.” I exclaimed, “You’re bleeding, is anything else hurt?” Our son turned away from us in anger, pushing us aside with his good arm and stomped toward the house. Still worried, we followed trying to offer the help of bandaids and ice packs. That’s when we realized, we were offering a consolation that he was not able to receive.

Everyone processes emotions differently. For our son, when he feels any strong emotion, his brain shuts down. When he was little, he experienced various traumas including neglect. When a child’s needs are met consistently the child will be able to process a variety of emotions in a way that is healthy. When a child’s needs are not met consistently, that child will develop a way to cope with emotions that is often not healthy. Our son’s needs were not met when he was small. When he cried, someone did not come to comfort him. Consequently, when he feels pain, embarrassment, anxiety, fear, hunger or anger his brain does not expect the adults in his life to help him. It doesn’t matter if a loving adult has been in this child’s life for one year or 20 years, the child will still have the memory of not being cared for. As the adult in this child’s life, it can often be frustrating to follow our instinct to comfort or help only to be rejected. It can feel as if we will never gain this child’s trust. There is good news though. Healthy connection and healing can happen.

The child who pushes us away physically, can still communicate. We just have to find the right language and the proper time.

The child who pushes us away physically, can still communicate.

After our son was hurt, it was our instinct to communicate our care and concern for him through verbal communication and physical affection. When we realized we were communicating in the wrong language and at the wrong time, we had the opportunity to change the situation. Our son’s brain, like a simmering pot, had boiled over. He was feeling panic rather than pain. My husband and I agreed that our son was not in any danger from his injuries. He did not need immediate medical attention. Therefore it was safe for us to back off for a while until his brain had time to cool down. We physically stepped away from our son, we did not remove ourselves entirely but rather moved a little bit away. We could still see him and be available if needed but we stopped looking at him. Every few minutes, we checked in with him. We just asked simple questions, “How is your arm feeling?” Sometimes asking non-injury related questions, “Can I fix you some toast for breakfast.” If he wasn’t ready to talk, we did not push. Within an hour, he was able to have a conversation. He finally wanted a hug, that isn’t always the case but we are prepared to give a hug whenever needed! A few hours later, we helped him get into the shower with a soft cloth and some soap to wash his scrape. We waited outside the shower with a fluffy towel and some antibiotic ointment and bandaids.

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Because we didn’t pressure our son to react to us in the way we wanted, we were able to demonstrate that we cared in a patient way. Over the years, situations like this one have happened countless times. At first we were unable to connect for hours after an emotional trigger. Now we are able to connect much more quickly. Connection is important because he will need to connect with others in a healthy way throughout life. As he grows older, the skills he is learning at home about connection, coping and emotional regulation will follow him.

  1. Wait for the right moment – watch your child’s body language to see if they are ready to connect.
  2. Try different forms of connection – verbal, touch, eye contact etc. but don’t push, offer the connection without expecting anything in return.
  3. Be patient and accept whatever type of connection your child offers – eye contact, smile, conversation.

Have you found other ways to connect that are successful? Share them with the community in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.