by Henry Cloud
Children don’t like to be reminded that they need anyone but themselves. They want to make their own decisions, solve their own problems and never have to ask you for help or support. They want independence so badly that they will often get into serious trouble before letting their parents know what’s going on.
Two kinds of dependency often get confused here. Functional dependency relates to the child’s resistance to doing the tasks and jobs in life that are his responsibility. This means he wants others to take care of things he should. For example, a teen asks his parents for spending money instead of getting a part-time job. Don’t enable functional dependency. Allow the teen to feel the pinch of being broke. It will help him apply for work.
Relational dependency is our need for connectedness to others. Relational dependency is what drives us to unburden our souls to each other and be vulnerable and needy. Then, when we are loved by others in this state of need, we are filled up inside. Because they need so much, children are especially relationally dependent. Over time, as they internalize important nurturing relationships, they need less; the love they have internalized from Mom and Dad and others sustains them. Yet, to our dying day we will always need regular and deep connection with emotionally healthy people who care about us.
You need to promote and encourage relational dependency in your child to teach him that mature, healthy people need other people; they don’t isolate themselves. Your child may also confuse the two types of dependency, thinking that if he asks for comfort and understanding, he is being a baby. Help him see that needing love isn’t being immature. Rather, it gives us the energy we need to go out and slay our dragons.
You see that your child has a problem, but he may isolate himself in his omnipotent self-sufficiency. It’s the old “How was your day?” “Okay” dialogue. Confront he isolation. Tell him you don’t want to lecture him – you want to know how he’s feeling. Don’t enable his illusion of not needing others.
One way you can help here is by waiting until you are invited to help. If you rush in and pick up a kid who falls down before she cries for you, she can easily develop a stance that I am so powerful that I don’t need mom, as she doesn’t have to take responsibility for asking for help. Let her choose to ask. It’s not easy to watch and wait while your child gets to the end of herself. It tears at any caring parent’s heart. But it is only way the child can realize her need for support and love, and her lack of total power to live without it.
While your child is learning how to need others, help him not to feel helpless in relationships. Encourage him to express his wants, needs and opinions to those with whom he is close. This is true especially in his relationship with you. He didn’t choose to be in your family; that was your decision. He can have some choices in how to relate to you, however. For example, give him some leeway in establishing his own rhythm of when he needs to be close and when he needs distance from you. Don’t be intrusive and affectionate when he clearly needs to be more separate. Yet don’t abandon him when he needs more intimacy. Another example is to encourage him to share his feedback on family activities. He has input, and his input matters even though he doesn’t have the final say-so.
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