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My child sets me up to say “NO”

August 15, 2017

WHY oh WHY does your child ask questions that they absolutely know will be answered with a big fat “NO.”

“Mom, can I ride my bike to the gas station so I can get a candy bar?” (Your child is 8 and it’s across a busy highway).

“Dad, can you bring me to the library right now?” (It’s 9pm and you are already in your PJs).

“Mom can we have grilled cheese for dinner?” (After you’ve just announced you are out of bread).

Why does your child seem to delight in causing a fight?  In asking an impossible question and then blowing up over your “no”?

Why does my child set me up to say -NO---Disorganized attachment.

80% of children with a history of trauma, abuse, or neglect meet criteria for disorganized attachment.  So it’s likely that your child has pockets of disorganized attachment.

This means that when your child was first experiencing relationship, their need for attachment and connection was paired with terror and fear.

That the very person who they were supposed to turn to when feeling afraid was the person actually causing the fear.

I explain disorganized attachment much more thoroughly in my blog article “The Tragedy of Disorganized Attachment” as well as the webinar “Untangling Disorganized Attachment.”

Disorganized attachment is one of the reasons your child is setting you up to say “no.”

Your child has learned that when they go to an attachment figure with a need, they are met with rejection.  These earlier experiences have laid the foundation for all future relationship, especially their relationship with you.  Humans are both always driven toward healing and yet always driven to do more of the same.  Your child is unconsciously and not purposefully recreating the pattern of disorganized attachment.  I have a need.  You reject me.

So, what can you do about it?

The best thing you can do that will impact long-term healing and not just short-term behavior change is to surprise your child’s nervous system whenever possible.  Your child is expecting a no??  Find a way to say yes.  Your child is expecting a rejection? Find a way to bring them closer.

Maybe one evening when you are feeling particularly regulated and your child asks you to bring him to the store at 10pm, say yes.  Happily.  Or she asks you to bring her to the library (which is closed).  Say yes.  Drive there, even though you know it’s closed.  Offer to run to the grocery store to get bread for that grilled cheese you’re pretty sure your child doesn’t even really want and only asked for because he knows you are out of bread.  Tell your child they can ride their bike to the convenience store across the busy highway because you’ll go with them.  Say YES when your child expects you to say no.  This surprise in their nervous system will actually lay one brick in repairing the foundation of their belief that attachment figures are rejecting.  Eventually those bricks add up and the foundation becomes stronger and stronger.

Obviously, you can’t do this all the time.  You don’t need to.  But be on the look-out when times your child is expecting a no, is actually setting you up to say no, and you could give a yes (even if it’s ridiculous or inconvenient- as long as it’s not unsafe, give it a whirl).


PS- Don’t forget to check out my upcoming webinar on Wednesday August 16, just in time for back-to-school…A Trauma Informed Approach to Behaviors in the Classroom.

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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Hafetz permalink
    August 15, 2017 7:41 am

    Erroneous attempts to attach can take many forms when trauma in the context of attachment has occurred. This is a limbic process and will not respond to verbal interventions. The child is consciously unaware and will respond to experiential interventions not words. The process I teach to parents is first validate the child’s emotions 1.”Its OK to feel that way” 2. create a secure attachment experience, eye contact touch hug being present. 3. Align with the child. If the child resists you have 3-5 hours to return and create the attachment experience. The child’s brain will modify its attachment anxiety. The process is called memory reconsolidation. The behavior is not the problem its the child’s solution to the problem.

    • August 15, 2017 7:49 am

      Yes Robert!!! My understanding of memory reconsolidation is exactly why it’s a good idea to “surprise” the nervous system. When the child is expecting a no or a rejection, surprise the child’s nervous system with a yes or a welcoming. It’s all experiential. Experiences change the brain- not words!!

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