What to do When Your Child Pushes You Away

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This post is written by adoptive mom, Kristin who believes that when we understand our children better, we stop trying to change them and instead change ourselves. When our child's behavior becomes off-putting, or prickly, it's often hard to remember that it's an indication of something bigger going on with them. Remembering this, however, can change how we approach our children...

Blackberries are ripening in Indiana. The warm, rainy summer has left our crop of berries abundant. Behind our barn on the east side of our property the blackberry bushes grow wild, twisting and climbing, weaving their way over old tree stumps and hiding the fresh fruit behind tall weeds. I love to grab a large bowl from the kitchen and make my way behind the barn to pick the dark purple berries. I reach gingerly past the thorns delicately pulling the berries free from the vine. By the time I’m finished, the bowl is full, and I head to the kitchen to make dessert. My hands are stained purple and tiny scratches cover my arms, webbed reminders of the delicate and painful work of harvesting this sweet treat.

Raising children can be much like harvesting blackberries. Delicate, careful, painful and sweet. Throughout my years as a parent of 8, I have had the full mix of experiences while raising children. Sometimes our children’s behavior is a prickly. A cranky toddler, rubbing their eyes, gulping sobs of over-exhaustion; A pre-schooler, screaming and throwing the untied shoe in frustration, convinced that they will never be able to tie it without help. The pre-teen switch from holding our hand to pretending they don’t know us. The teenager’s arguing, pushing parents to the brink of exhaustion.

The prickliness points to something deeper though. Just as the blackberry vine produces sharp thorns to protect its delicate fruit, our children develop prickly traits to let us know of something deeper. The toddler needs us to gently place him or her down for a nap. The preschooler needs us to guide with patience and a warm smile of encouragement. The pre-teen needs us to stand a few feet farther away when friends are around, not too far but just far enough for them to unfurl their own wings. The teenager needs us to listen to the argument for further understanding, the need us to guide and make space for them to climb ever further toward the sun.

Children who have experienced trauma may have prickly behavior that protects them from further hurt.

  • A child who pushes caregivers away, may have experienced the loss of multiple caregivers in the past. She is afraid to let you get close for fear that you will leave her too.
  • The child who steals from your purse may not believe that you will provide for him. He slips one dollar bills and half chewed packs of gum in his pocket without even thinking.
  • The child who stiffens when you lean in to hug her may have been touched inappropriately by an adult who was supposed to care for her.
  • A child who defies your boundaries, may be fighting for independence because he has never been able to trust anyone but himself.

When we see the thorns of our child’s behavior for what they truly are- protection, it is a lot easier not to take the behavior personally. We can delicately reach past the thorns and embrace the heart of the child that is fighting to survive.

As your child grows, here are a few things we can do to support them through the prickly parts of growing up:

  1. Try again – when a child pushes you away, be patient. Wait a bit and try again. It is important that children know that they are worth pursuing.
  2. Talk – Keep conversation open, children don’t always know why they are doing the things they are doing, they need your support to understand themselves better. Start by saying something like, “I know you took money from my purse, I also know that when you were little there wasn’t enough to eat. You never have to steal from me, I will always share what I have with you.
  3. Guide – You can re-frame the behavior for your child. Set a boundary around dangerous or destructive behavior but then point your child toward behavior that is helpful safe and constructive.

Have you seen prickly behavior from your child lately? Did you misunderstand it? How are you recognizing it for what it is now?

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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.