How to cope with an emotionally distant child

Do you ever wonder what happened to your sweet, affectionate, “glad to be part of this family” younger child? Did your child enter adolescence with a sudden cloud of distance, brooding, sullen behavior, and a desperate need to be as far away from your family as possible?

Though it’s one of the more heartbreaking aspects of parenting, raising a child means living through the loss of personal involvement and influence we may have enjoyed in their younger years.

The teen years are marked by explorations of autonomy, independence, and identity outside the family system: Kids might want to spend more time in their rooms. They’re going to think their friends understand them a lot more than their parents do. They’re going to push parents away. It can feel pretty horrible.

It’s important to realize that this change is not personal or unique to your child—this is the way your adolescent is learning how to be an adult. Though it can be a painful part of parenting, your child’s individuation is a good and healthy thing.

As uncomfortable as it might be as a parent, your child’s distance from you is actually right on track: the teen years mark their transition into the adult world. Hopefully, they’ll take the skills you’ve helped them to learn into their lives as young adults.

Remember though – just because your child is stepping away from the relationship he had with you when he was younger doesn’t mean he’s allowed to be disrespectful, nor break the rules of the household. Having healthy boundaries means allowing, even encouraging, independence while holding your child to the rules and expectations of your home.

When living with the developmental needs of a teenager gets to you, remind yourself that your child’s needs for time with her friends, and time alone, are developmentally appropriate. Stay firm and clear in your expectations and boundaries, while doing your best to support her development as an individual. And be sure to take care of yourself – there is a very real grief in leaving their younger childhood behind.

For more help on this subject, check out James Lehman’s article series on Sudden Changes In Children. He does a great job explaining individuation and gives some helpful tools while also discussing sudden behavior changes that might point to another serious issue.

This is not an easy part of parenting, for sure. But giving our kids space to find out who they are, within a safe and respectful environment, helps them become healthy, well-adjusted adults.

Wishing you the best this week.


Darlene, Empowering Parents Coach

Darlene Beaulieu is a parent to two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 16. She has been an Empowering Parents Coach since 2009 and has helped thousands of families in that time. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in school and community settings helping children and families with academic, social, and behavioral issues.