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How do I build a relationship with my child?


"Often, when my son Abby doesn't listen, I see Abby's father, the man who hurt me so much. He didn't listen to me saying ‘no’ either. It gives me the same feeling as when it happened and then I get angry and start yelling: “Why don't you do as I say!” When I subsequently want to comfort Abby, it seems as if he can't hear me, as if he doesn't want to come to me. Then I get angry with myself and feel like a bad mother. Mothers shouldn't yell. I feel worthless and I feel bad about myself. Then I get angry with Abby again, because I feel like this because of him!


Stress management

In this situation, Jocelyn is experiencing a ‘stress outlier‘. This happens to everyone from time to time. When you are very scared for example, or when someone does something terrible to you. An outlier can go up or down. Look at the picture below:


Window of tolerance


A little stress is good, because it helps us to stay active and focused. As long as you stay in the green zone, so without outliers, you can think clearly about what you do and how you do it. And you can keep thinking about what the effects of your actions are on others.

Your stress window: Window of Tolerance

Every person needs a certain amount of stress to do the things that are needed. This stress remains within the ‘stress window’. You can continue to think calmly, plan and so on. In case of danger, your brain sends a strong signal: danger! An alarm response occurs in the body. The stress level increases rapidly in such a case. If the stress level is too great, you end up in the red zone. You lose control. You respond, but your responses are severe and intense and without control. Or you get into the lower grey zone. You lose yourself, too, but you no longer respond. You seem numb, or frozen…. It's like you're not really there. It can be difficult or confusing for your child if you barely show any response for a long time. This can make your child anxious and withdraw or try much harder to get your attention.

Jocelyn and Abby

Abby's behaviour reminds his mother of bad things that happened in the past. This memory gives her so much stress that she responds without thinking. She starts yelling. She's in the red zone.

This is stressful for Abby, too. He is small and can't yet express what it's like for him. He may get scared and will not be able to do anything. He comes into the grey zone and retreats. He may not even hear his mother anymore.

Jocelyn feels like a bad mother and a bad person. This is stressful again, and it makes her angry with Abby. She thinks he's making her angry on purpose, or she thinks that he has all the bad characteristics of his father. It's hard to see anything positive.

Jocelyn and Abby are stuck in a negative cycle.

If you also feel you're in a negative cycle with your child, the following exercises can help. Choose the exercise(s) that suit your situation.