We’ve all been there: our child does something inappropriate, but how we respond is also not so great. When we discover our child is using pornography it can be particularly difficult not to react in ways that alienate our children. The question arises; what can we do to heal the relationship with our child after we have created distance between us?
We alienate our children when we say things such as, “How could you?” or “Good boys/girls don’t look at pornography!” We can also alienate by the expression on our face when we discover our child’s pornography use. Serving out harsh punishments or instantly removing all technology when pornography use is discovered damages our relationship as well.
RECOGNIZE WHAT JUST HAPPENED
First of all, we need to recognize what just happened from our child’s point of view. They have also just learned that it may not be safe for Mom or Dad to know everything about them. They feel shame and may react in anger or in wanting to hide from us.
It is true that our child has broken our trust by looking at pornography, but we break their trust by reacting harshly to such a sensitive matter. There is brokenness on both sides. We are the adults in this scenario and the ones who need to try to fix the brokenness that has just happened.
USE YOUR MISTAKE TO TEACH
The amazing thing about times we make mistakes as parents is that it creates an opportunity to teach our child. We now have the opportunity to demonstrate to our child how to heal a relationship after hurting someone. Children learn this much better from watching us do it than hearing a lecture.
It is important to do relationship repair after rough parenting moments. This helps our relationship with our children deepen, stops trust-rifts from growing, and also shows them how to have empathy—a concept that can’t really be taught.” —How to Do Parent-Child Relationship Repair, by Andrea Nair
By slowing down, admitting our mistake, and asking for forgiveness, we demonstrate how we want our children to relate to us when they make a mistake, such as viewing pornography.
USE YOUR MISTAKE TO GROW CLOSER
The funny thing is, having to work through rough spots like this is what brings us closer together. In a way, the fact that we as parents have something to apologize for helps our children be more willing to own their inappropriate behavior. For this to happen, we must fully own our own inappropriate reaction to learning our child viewed pornography.
We might say, “It was wrong of me to yell like that,” or “I’m sorry for what I said, looking at pornography does not make you a bad person.” Our children need to hear us say that we were wrong. We demonstrate that being wrong is human and that being wrong does not need to destroy family relationships.
Real Life Example
Here is my bad parenting confession to you. This is not about pornography, but a really good example of a really bad reaction on my part.
It was summer vacation and our children were old enough to be home alone for a while. My wife and I were getting tired of coming home to a dirty house so we gave each child a chore, my twelve year old daughter was to do the dishes.
When I got home from work I walked directly to the kitchen to see if she had done them. The dishes were still in the sink. I turned to my daughter who was smiling at me and went off on a rant about how irresponsible it was to not do the one task I had given her when she had nearly all day to do them.
Then my daughter broke down in tears. I could tell by her reaction that I had missed something important. Between sobs she told me she had decided to surprise us by cleaning the entire house by herself, even dusting all surfaces and cleaning the bathrooms. In the process she had lost track of time but she fully intended on doing the dishes.
You ever have one of those parenting moments when you wanted to crawl under a rock? That’s how I felt. As I took the time to look the house over I realized it was immaculate. “Worst dad ever,” was the award I felt I deserved at that moment.
I sat us down and spent twenty minutes apologizing for my horrible behavior and for not even bothering to look around to see what she had done before noticing what she had not gotten to yet. That memory is still very painful for me.
But that painful event gave us an opportunity to talk through our feelings and affirm our love for each other. That awful parenting moment made it easier for my daughter to confess her mistakes to me later on.
FIVE STEPS WHEN WE REACT BADLY
- Calm Down. We need to put the brakes on our emotions and take a few deep breaths before we try to repair the damage we have done. Don’t follow rash actions with more rash actions.
- Own Our Mistake. Our kids need to hear us say, “I made a mistake.” We are going to want them to be able to say the same to us someday, so let’s show them how that is done.
- Ask Our Child How They Feel. Our child just heard us blow up at them. They should have the right to tell us how they feel, even if it is hard for us to hear. We should not defend ourselves when they do this, just let them talk.
- Reaffirm Relationship. Our children need to hear that our relationship with them is more important than their behavior. We can deal with their porn use later, right now they need to be ensured that we love them no matter what.
- Do Something Together. In the article, How to Mend a Broken Relationship with Your Son or Daughter from Imperfect Families, Nicole Schwartz suggests, “Engage in an activity together: Rather than allowing the distance to continue, work to find something to do that gives you a chance to be together. It may be a board game, shooting baskets, taking a walk or even playing a video game.” In other words, we don’t just tell our children we love them, prove it by choosing to do something fun with them.
We will have to provide protective consequences to avoid future porn exposure, but when there has been a rift in relationship that discussion can wait. Taking steps to heal the relationship must come first if we want our children to trust us enough to tell us when they are exposed to pornography in the future.
We don’t have to wait to react badly to our children to put this into practice. Think of a time you reacted badly to something your child did, even if it was not related to porn use. Find a time when your child is not in a rush, remind them of what happened and how you reacted, then go through the five steps above. You can start to heal your relationship now!
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Parents can help their kids heal from pornography exposure or use. Our SMART Plan shows you how to begin.