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How Does Parental Emotional Withdrawal Affect a Child?

by Kristen Moutria

The quality of relationship a child has with you is so important to his development and happiness. A child who has emotionally distant parents is at risk for feeling alone and unloved, and may even have trouble developing close relationships with other people. Dr. Bruce D. Perry, an internationally recognized authority on brain development and children in crisis, reports on the Scholastic website that a child who is rejected by his parents will have difficulty developing emotional intimacy and may even become a neglectful parent himself. If you are emotionally withdrawn, your child will feel isolated and will not get to experience one of the most important relationships in his life.

Loses Capacity for Future Relationships

There is a narrow "window of opportunity" in early childhood in which a child must receive love and affection from you, or her she may lose her ability to the enjoy intimate relationships she needs to be happy. Dr. Perry reports that with severe emotional neglect in early childhood comes loss of the capacity to form any meaningful relationships for the remainder of the child's life. Your child must have touch, stimulation and nurturing in order for her emotions to develop properly. For example, if you do not make hugging your toddler a priority, or choose to zone out in front of the television instead of getting involved with your preschooler's game, you may send her the message that she is not lovable or worthy of affection.

Lacks Emotional Control

If you withdraw emotionally from your child, he may have a really hard time controlling his emotions in the future. According to an article entitled, "Parenting Styles Can Influence Children," published in UDaily, the campus newspaper of the University of Delaware, a child who suffers from parental emotional withdrawal will have many problems dealing with the challenges of the world. He will have trouble regulating his emotions and may become easily frustrated. Because of his emotion regulation issues, his academic life may suffer as well, and in more extreme cases, he may struggle with delinquency issues. If you do not respond to your toddler's cries for attention and instead focus on getting your work done around the house, he may struggle with frustration he cannot control or emotions that overwhelm him. You might even get a call from his teacher that he is having a difficult time focusing on age-appropriate tasks at daycare or preschool.

Resists Parental Dependence

Your child will soon learn that her needs are unimportant and that she need make as few demands as possible if you continuously reject her or push her aside. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. and author of "The Vision of Melville and Conrad," reports in a 2011 Psychology Today article that a child fears that if she continues to "bother" her emotionally distant parents, her efforts will be continuously dismissed and the idea that she is unlovable and expendable will only be reinforced. Because of this, she learns the importance of independence and attempts to distance herself from her parents. If your preschooler needs your help with a task that is challenging for her and you tell her she needs to finish it by herself, she may get the message that you are uninterested in helping her learn and that she should be able to live an independent lifestyle.

Experiences Developmental Delays

Developmental delays may be the result if you do not make the effort to connect on an emotional level with your little one. Dr. Perry reports that the bond between a child and his caregiver paves the way for successful cognitive, emotional and physical development. It is in this social setting that a child learns language, social behaviors and other important behaviors that are required for healthy growth. Spend some time helping your toddler learn shapes and colors, or cuddle your preschooler before bed to show her that she is loved. This will show her that she is safe with you and give her the opportunity to learn and grow like she should.

About the Author

Kristen Moutria has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Evangel University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in education from the University of Nebraska.

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