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Build Bridges - not walls

stonewalling- toxic relationships

Welcome to the Child Behaviour Blog -

Like many of you, I know how hard it can be to navigate parent-child communication, particularly during those inevitable conflicts. 

Sometimes it may feel like we're unintentionally building an emotional wall with our children, leaving us unsure about the best strategies to bridge this gap.

We commonly react defensively, emotionally distancing ourselves and resorting to "stonewalling" to avoid more distress. But, this reaction can often amplify the feelings of disconnect.

What we need to focus on instead is the power of positive communication, which is the bedrock of positive parenting techniques and helps us break down these emotional barriers.

In this blog post, we'll shine a light on stonewalling, explore how it generates emotional distance, and provide guidance on what we can do differently. Our goal is to prevent accidental emotional wounds and ensure our children grow in a positive, nurturing environment.

Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful humans on earth.
for what they believe is what they will become.

Dr John Gottman, a distinguished psychologist, has extensively researched relationship communication patterns. 

His studies identified 'Stonewalling' as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." These four toxic communication habits - stonewalling, criticism, contempt, and defensiveness - destroy relationships.

Stonewalling is when one person in a relationship emotionally withdraws, refusing to communicate or engage, often triggered by conflict or overwhelming emotions.

Stonewalling stops open and honest communication in a relationship leaving the person on the receiving end feeling overlooked, invalidated, and frustrated, gradually eroding trust and emotional connection.

According to Gottman, stonewalling often arises from intense emotions and it is the parents' responsibility to avoid it. 

How stonewalling creates emotional distancing

Stonewalling can leave children feeling abandoned, confused, angry, resentful, misunderstood and invalidated, which creates emotional distance. 

Children feel distressed, and might express this through behavioural issues, defiance, emotional outbursts and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Stonewalling disrupts our emotional bond with our child, altering our relationship dynamics.

From a child's perspective, a parent's silence can be felt as a lack of love, interest or concern about what they're going through, resulting in them feeling ignored, insignificant, not good enough or deserving of your time. They learn to doubt their emotions and instincts and question their abilities.

The antidote to stonewalling

The antidote to withdrawing and retreating behind the proverbial wall is to self-soothe.

When emotions run high, agreeing to pause the conversation and step back to calm down is crucial. 

Finding relaxation techniques such as calming music, a quiet moment, a brisk walk, exercise, or something you like to do to regulate your nervous system will help. If you can't leave because your children are too young, deep breathing or sitting with the discomfort while it passes can help. 

Gottman, recommends between 20 minutes to a few hours is enough to regulate your emotions and ground yourself. After this time, it is crucial to return to your child, repair any damage done, and adopt better constructive positive communication.

How A SINGLE MOM stopPed stonewalling

Self-soothing was vital for a single mum of 3 teenagers I recently worked with, the 16-year-old daughter was frequently angry and disruptive and spent time in a children's home because of their volatile relationship.

After a week of working with Mum, she told me she had several argument-free days.

When I asked her how she achieved this, she admitted, "I've been ignoring her for three days." 

It became clear that she would regularly stonewall her daughter to give herself temporary relief, distance and as a form of punishment.

While it may have temporarily relieved Mom, it only exacerbated her daughter's behaviour.

Eager for change, she agreed to talk with her daughter about taking a break during heated moments, calming down, and then returning to address the issue. 

The following week it was lovely to hear that they had been doing this, and when her daughter was stressed, she told mum that she was going for a short walk to calm down, which worked wonders.

Gradually using the other techniques in the Parenting Masterclass coaching programme, their relationship improved so much, her daughter was permanently allowed home by Social Services.

While stonewalling might seem like an effective defence mechanism, remember it profoundly impacts a child's emotional health, well-being and our relationship with them.

Stonewalling is often a learned behaviour passed down by generations in a family and becomes normalised. 

Recognising and addressing this behaviour can pave the way for healthy, open dialogue with our children. Our ultimate goal is to build bridges of understanding, not walls of silence.

So, has there ever been a time when you've found yourself stonewalling? What strategies will you use to break this habit? Please send me a message and let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

All the best 

Ruth Edensor

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