It can be hard to bear when your son wants nothing to do with you, and harder still when you have no idea why they’re acting this way. They could be withdrawn, guarded, or hesitant responding to care and affection – fewer things are more disheartening for parents to experience.
It can take time and effort, but outside of the direst cases your familial relationship is still salvageable. We promise that they’re struggling just as much as you are, and learning how to properly navigate your son’s feelings is crucial for everyone’s betterment. We’ve made a brief set of guidelines that’ll hopefully make handling this ordeal a bit less exhausting.
Look for behavior that could shed light on the type of struggle your son is experiencing. Work to communicate with them, but respect the boundaries they set. Validate their thoughts, empathize with their needs, and work to bond as a family again.
This could take time and patience, but rushing the process could end up agitating them further. Work at the pace they’re comfortable with rather than setting your own. Lastly, feel free to get the support of other family members if you’re feeling lost or helpless.
8 Steps to Fix Your Relationship with Your Son
1. Look For Common Patterns of Behavior
The first step to fixing your relationship is identifying why your son wants nothing to do with you. We’ll go in a bit more depth with that advice down below.
It’d be quite easy to blame yourself and accept this new dynamic. We’d advise against doing that, as their behavior could well be a cry for help. Your son might not be able to reconcile what they want (i.e. peace of mind, a good family relationship) with how they’re feeling (i.e. shame, guilt), and it’s potentially causing them to emotionally distance themselves from you.
Pinpointing potential triggers help identify the source of their insecurity, allowing you to navigate them a bit more sensitively. At what point in your interactions does your son act defensively?
Maybe they’re cutting the conversation short after you start talking about their future?
Maybe they leave the room once you check in with how they’re doing at school?
Maybe they’re dismissing you when you try asking if they made plans with their friends?
Are they prone to irritability when you try to hold a conversation when they’re in the middle of certain activities (i.e. watching television, gaming, studying)? Take note of the specific situations they end up lashing out the most, then try to be considerate of that conversational boundary.
2. Be Mindful
There’s still the possibility that the reason for their behavior – or at the very least a significantly contributive factor to it – may be due to either your actions or inactions.
Have you done anything to invalidate their thoughts or beliefs?
Have you placed any sort of expectations that might be weighing them down?
Even something as innocuous as comparing them to someone else could adversely affect their, which consequently affect how they’d perceive and act around you.
People remember things said or done to them far more than they would be saying or doing those very same things. You might be hard-pressed to come up with a possible reason in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just give it some consideration, and you might be able to figure out exactly what you need to make things right with them.
3. Respect Their Boundaries
If your son is unwilling to communicate with you at the moment, it would be unwise to insist upon doing so. This infringes on their personal boundaries, and your son would not only be very unreceptive to what you have to say but also end up far more guarded around you after that.
There’s a thin line between respecting their space and neglecting to deal with the problem. The key note to remember is offering to communicate and understand their concerns, with emphasis on making yourself available for them rather than forcing themselves to be available for you.
4. Asking for the Discussion
Try asking your son if he’s willing to talk about what’s bothering them from time to time. Be flexible enough to accept that they may not be available at the moment, but always offer an alternative time or day for you to discuss these worries. Your care will eventually shine through, and they’ll take you up on your offer of support at the pace they find comfortable.
It’s important to establish that this discussion is not a mandatory one and that they’re free to accept or refuse the offer as they please. Your son should be speaking with you because they want to, not out of obligation or under threat of punishment.
They might agree to it in an exasperated tone, or not show full enthusiasm in accepting your offer. These responses can be annoying to receive from your son, but at the end of the day, it’s still reasonable compliance on their part. There’s no need to get upset at them for not being 100% on board with the conversation, so try not to let it get to you and instead focus on what might help.
Where to Discuss
You want to maximize your son’s ability to express themselves comfortably. Going into their room to talk might be seen as encroaching on their safe hub, making your son feel wary, defensive, or irritable throughout the conversation. The choice of venue is a huge contributing factor here. Seek out neutral space – somewhere devoid of skewed influence or even underlying power dynamics.
Ask yourself this: “Does this spot have any privileges I could revoke?” Your son likely has the same question on their mind during these discussions, so freeing them of that worry makes it easier for them to communicate exactly what’s upsetting them.
A nice, neutral option is your house’s living room, but there are plenty of other possibilities that may suit the two of you better. A nearby park, restaurant, or even grocery store could put your son in a more receptive mood for conversation – just be mindful that these spots aren’t as discreet as the first suggestion.
If you’re unable to decide, it might help to just straight up ask your son where they’d prefer to have this talk!
5. Communicate, Validate, and Empathize (Don’t Discipline)
Your son’s emotional well-being is likely a little iffy at the moment, so try to incorporate the three conversational priorities we’ve listed below. These additions should apply not only to your main discussion but also to future conversations with your son down the line.
Communication is a two-way street, but building towards that can be slow-going. Your son probably needs someone listening to their struggles rather than providing solutions or advice. A good way to improve your communication skills is by practicing reflective listening.
Reflective listening is a technique that’s easy to learn but difficult to put into practice. It involves paying close attention to not only what a person has to say, but how they said it. After interpreting someone’s words, you then relay your understanding of the message back to them – this is done to confirm if you’ve grasped the core of their sentiments.
The big difference from normal listening is that your goal here is to clarify existing information, not add to it. It allows the conversation to progress with more depth, granting you and your son a better understanding of their feelings, fears, and frustrations.
Open-ended questions allow them to have a say in both the direction and pace of the conversation.
A few easy starting examples:
- How are you feeling?
- What made you decide to do (x)?
- How are you doing at (insert hobby here)?
These go a long way towards making your son feel more at ease talking with you.
Avoid interjecting while your son is sharing their thoughts, and never try to railroad the conversation towards a certain topic. Wait for them to finish talking, focus on reacting rather than acting, and strive to make them feel both important and included throughout the conversation.
It’s critical to validate how your son feels, but most parents have a tough time accomplishing this. In fact, they often end up downplaying or even outright disregarding the problems their children go through, furthering their feelings of anger and exacerbating their problematic behavior.
The sentiment you want to convey here is simple: “You are allowed to feel what you’re feeling, and you’re safe to do just that in my presence.” Put any judgmental feelings on the backburner.
If your son is being overwhelmed by circumstances, don’t bring up the inspiring story of you overcoming similar challenges. Don’t teach them to put their responsibilities over their emotional needs. Most importantly, DO NOT belittle their situation – this is a struggle for them to even admit, let alone tackle effectively. Jokes making light of your son’s situation will only agitate them.
Teach your son that it’s okay for them to be bothered, upset, or overwhelmed. Sometimes these feelings might be directed at you or your parenting style, and that’s perfectly fine! If you want your son strong enough to stand up for himself, be ready for days he’ll stand against you.
It’s okay for your son to disagree with you on certain things: disagreement is not inherently disrespectful. Validate these disagreements by meeting them intellectually. Treat them as you would a conversation with a friend or your partner. Don’t bring authority into the mix.
Giving them proper emotional validation will make it much easier for them to approach you with these concerns. It’ll be a huge step forward in mending your relationship with your son and will lower the likelihood of this becoming an issue in the future.
Finally, you need to work on empathizing with your son’s emotional turmoil. If you’re reading this article for help on how to make things right, chances are your child has been acting this way for quite a while. It’s even more likely that they’ve been bottling things up a long time prior to distancing themselves from you. This gap can only be overcome with a healthy dose of empathy.
Empathy involves more questions than assumptions, so try to ask your child how they’re hurting. You may not fully understand the reason why, but treat it as a priority concern to address regardless. A good general sentiment to follow when trying to empathize is this: “I know that you’re in pain, and that’s terrible. I want to provide exactly what you need for it to hurt less.”
If you’re having a tough time applying this, try thinking of it through the lens of equity versus equality. Equality is giving everyone the same thing and should be fair for everyone. This is far from the case and realizing why lets you figure out the best way to make amends with your son.
Say you gave an adult man a car for them to travel… now give the same car to a toddler for them to do the same. The baby can’t make use of the car to get around, as it doesn’t suit their needs. What would help your son’s situation won’t always be what helped you back then, even if both solutions should, in your mind, cover the same type of problem.
If you felt isolated before and found comfort in your own family, don’t assume the same solution would work for your son. They might prefer more time and isolation to self-reflect, or the company of their friends or romantic partner, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Empathy can be tricky to learn but will be sorely needed for future interactions. If you’re struggling to understand it early on, start with the concept of equity as your foundation
6. Work To Bond With Them
Of course, bonding time with your son is still sorely needed. The rift in your relationship won’t go away with a few conversations – fill that gap with warmth, memories, and love. Make sure that, even if that rift between you emerges again, the both of you will be more equipped to handle it by then.
Try to take an active role in their interests. Ask questions about what they enjoy doing, then do your best to support them in ways they’d appreciate. If they’re on a varsity team, show up to watch their games. If they’re eager to have a sleepover at their friend’s place, offer them a ride there.
You want them to feel comfortable enough to share their interests with you, rather than worrying about the notion you could potentially withhold these privileges. Some of these activities might require you to go out of your comfort zone, so prepare yourself accordingly.
It’s also worth sharing your own interests with them, but make sure you restrict yourself to only making offers. You can’t enforce bonding time, and your son is under no obligation to align themselves with your hobbies. The offer itself may be enough – even if they never take you up on it, your son will know that he will always be welcomed in your company.
7. Accept That You Can’t Rush The Process
If your son wants nothing to do with you, accept that it’ll be a slow and arduous process to change their mind. It can take months or even years of hard work to make them feel comfortable around you, and even this depends on certain factors that are unfortunately out of your control.
Mending a relationship is primarily a maintenance problem, so just do your best and keep an eye out for any incremental improvements along the way. Things may not go at the pace you’d prefer even if you do everything right.
But don’t be too disheartened. Progress might be slow, but it will come along eventually. A healthy relationship is always worth the time and effort to build (or rebuild)!
8. Ask For Help From Other Members Of The Family
Lastly, don’t forget that this is still fundamentally a family problem. You don’t have to deal with this alone – feel free to ask your spouse for their input. They’d likely have some idea on how to navigate this difficult issue tactfully. It might even be a good choice to contact your parents (or your partner’s parents, even!) to get their insight on how best to proceed.
Even if your family can’t provide direct solutions to the problem, you’ll be reminded that you aren’t as alone as you believed yourself to be. Now set out to make your son feel just as welcome!
Make sure you first figure out how your relationship with your son was compromised, work to understand them, learn what’s needed to make things right, then learn what’s needed to keep it that way! Be ready for this ordeal to take a while – especially for long-running problems. Most broken relationships can be thankfully fixed with enough time, patience, and effort.