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I don't like my child

It's a taboo topic, but falling out of love with your child is more common than we think.  

It's an unwritten parenting law that we, at all times, must love our children. And of course we do. Its just that sometimes, if were brutally honest, we don't like them very much. We may have given birth to a child with half our genes, but sometimes it can feel as if our child was swapped at birth by fairies. Just who IS that creature running around creating havoc?

Parents are often surprised to find they aren't alone when they pluck up the courage to confess their feelings to friends. I used to say he drove me nuts, which was a cop-out. The truth was I didn't gel with him. I admitted it to a friend at a party once and I felt so relieved when she said, Honey, we all hate our children every now and then. Everyone knows you're a great mum. You're doing fine. A huge load lifted off, says Maree, 32.

If you have more than one child it is likely that you find one child fits your personality more than the other, while another may have a nature that grates. While minor personality conflicts are very common, what happens when one child seems to create constant feelings of anger, hostility or disappointment?

Child psychologist Michelle van Dyk says the bottom line is that if you have more negative interactions with your child than positive, you'll struggle with your relationship.

Why does this happen? Van Dyk suggests a number of reasons.

* Personality. Either there is a mismatch, or the parent and child are very alike. It may awaken painful memories that the parent would rather forget.

* Behavioural problems. When family outings are ruined, parents are routinely embarrassed by full-on tantrums in public, every meal is a battleground and toys or household property is regularly damaged, it is no surprise that a parent may begin to actively dislike the child causing so much angst.

* Clingy children can create resentfulness in parents craving a bit of me time. They can be harder to like as their anxiety often presents itself as tantrums and melt-downs. Parents can find their emotional reserves drained. It is not uncommon for parents to feel first resentful then guilty about their desire to get away from the constant demands.

* It's possible the child has an underlying problem which may make them harder to get along with. Some children may appear different, with sensitivities and physical difficulties that make their ability to cope more challenging than the average child, Van Dyk explains. The child may be viewed as odd, clumsy or plain annoying, but there may be an underlying disorder affecting their behaviour. A book that explains this in depth is The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Kranowitz.

What should you do?

Whatever the reason, it is important to admit there is an issue. Talk it over with a good friend to begin with, and then consider getting support from a professional your GP, Plunket nurse or early childhood teacher are good starting points and can help you find support to get to the cause of the problem.

Work on finding positive interactions with your child. Remember, disliking a child today doesn't mean you'll feel the same way next month, or next year.

Finding a means to have more enjoyable time with your child is the key, explains van Dyk, "Spending regular 20-minute blocks of time throughout the week playing with them is a very effective way to improve your relationship and increase the number of positive interactions. Make this floor time where you get down on the floor and play one-on-one with them.

Van Dyk adds this is not the time to multitask. Switch off the phone and TV, and focus on them. Children can sense if you are distracted thinking about the bills you forgot to pay or what you're having for dinner so make the effort to be totally attentive. Follow your childs lead and let them enjoy the time without feeling like you are teaching them. They want an attentive play partner not an interrogator. So watch what they do closely and from time to time comment on it or describe it: You put the hay in the tractor or you've got the green block. Make it a fun time where both of you relax and enjoy the time together.

No matter how irritating he can be, every child needs love and attention. Taking the time to create some happy moments with your child will help you find those all-important likeable bits about him to help you get through future aggravating incidents.


Find out more about your own personality. Sometimes recognising your own strengths and weaknesses can help you identify areas of similarity and differences in your relationship with your child.

Take a step back. If you don't have any space, it's hard to work through your feelings. Find a friend who can take your child for an hour and go for a walk, or a quiet coffee. Take it as complete alone time. Let your mind freely wander and allow yourself some head space.

Take a look at your history. What was happening around the birth and early days? Is it time to put a few of those feelings behind you? Let go of any long term hurt or disappointment to separate it from the relationship you have now.

Adjust your expectations. If your first child was a breeze and your second is harder work it's difficult not to compare. Avoid comparisons with other children as much as possible. Check your behavioural and developmental standards for your child are reasonable. You might be expecting too much.

Focus on the positives. Write down three nice things about your child and put them on your fridge. If you can't think of three, ask someone who likes your child to tell you what she can see. Read them every morning and night, and find ways to see those aspects in your child more often. Praise these attributes, and label your child with them. "That is really generous, "you are thoughtful", or you are so funny."

Place people around your child who fit with them. Encourage your children to spend time with people who dont get rubbed up the wrong way by them.

Seek help if you need it. If your feelings are causing huge bursts of anger, adding to feelings of depression or affecting the rest of your relationships seek help. Talk to a family therapist and work it out.

Focus on the Flip Side

If you and anyone else can't see the positives in your child make a list of all the negatives and find a positive flip side. Strong-willed? He's a perserverer. Takes everything apart? She's inquisitive. Find ways for them to display the positive sides of their natural attributes, and praise them during those moments.

Mums tell the truth

* The mums interviewed for this story chose to remain anonymous

Just so determined

Finding her tricky to like completely took me by surprise. We had an easy pregnancy, a lovely birth and she was just the cuddliest baby. You'd pick her up and she'd just flop into you. She slept well too and didn't really cry.

She was sunny. She was also really determined. She was crawling at five months, when she spied something on the other side of the room that she wanted she'd just grunt her way over there to get it. She never threw temper tantrums really, just set her mind on something and worked out how to get it.

There is still, at four, this huge drive in her. That's what I find so difficult.  She won't scream or stamp her feet. She'll just persist and persist no matter how many times you say it isn't going to happen. It's exhausting. It completely turned me off spending time with her.

I found her really unlikeable and, to be honest, its only in the last few months I've begun to change my impression. A close friends taken a liking to her, and is telling me all the cool things she sees in her. It's helped me to see the same things, and helped me begin to like her again.

On a rampage

He just never slept, right from the beginning. And the moment he could move it was all on. He was climbing out of his cot at 13 months, which we discovered when he climbed out the cot, out onto the open windowsill than onto the roof. Luckily I went up to check and went after him. The window stayed firmly closed after that!

He's always been really destructive - I had to remove all the books as he would rip them to shreds, and he's destroyed pillows, toys, put hammers through walls. The list goes on.

The repercussion of all of this is he's not the most popular boy to be invited over parents don't want him at their house. So I've struggled at feeling really isolated, and I feel like its all his fault. A job at my old work came up recently and I've taken it and put him in care two days a week. Taking a break seems to help me cope, though I haven't really noticed a huge change in his behaviour.

Rachel Goodchild is an Auckland author, and mother of three who is a trained primary school teacher

This was first published in Treasures Magazine