16-Year Old Refuses to See His Mother

My 16-year old son refuses to spend time with his mother (my ex-wife). What should I do?


DR. RUTHERFORD:  Dealing with a child of this age has its own challenges. It isn’t like when children are toddlers or elementary-age when we could “make” them go to the other parent’s house. A sixteen-year old is much more independent than a small child, of course, and stronger desires as well. We can’t overlook the possibility, too, that the child shouldn’t go to the mother’s.

MOLLY: This question was submitted by a father based in Pensacola, Florida. He elaborated that he and his ex-wife have been divorced for three years. They used to have a shared custody agreement until his son and his ex-wife got into a huge argument and she kicked the son out.

Since then, neither of them have spoken to each other and his son has been very happy just be living with his dad. The son suffered from some depression and anxiety during this period, for which he has gotten professional help and is now doing much better.

The father worries that sixteen is too young of an age for a child to cancel his relationship with his mother and has encouraged both of them to reach out to the other, but they both refuse.

DR. RUTHERFORD: It may be that the father may actually have to let go of the idea of the son having a relationship with his mother. It sounds like neither the son nor the mother want to have any contact at this point. The son is lucky to have a father that loves him and wants to be with him.

MOLLY: Isn’t it essential for a child to have a relationship with his mother if she is alive?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Well in an ideal world that would be true. But clearly there are some deep issues going on between the son and his mother. To push them to be together when they’re not ready to be together will probably exacerbate the problem. I suspect that some of his anxiety and depression is probably related to his relationship –or lack of relationship– with his mother.

MOLLY: Do we need to be concerned about the long-term effects on the boy from not having a mother present in his life?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, we do need to worry about that as there certainly can be long-term consequences on a child’s psyche when there are prolonged absences from a parent. However, in this case, if the two of them are not ready to have contact and actively refuse to, there’s not much else that can be done at this point.

It’s very good that the son is in treatment with a professional counsellor now, and he should continue in therapy because I’m guessing that his symptoms likely have to do with his stormy relationship with his mother. Think about what that would be like to have a mother who refuses to have anything to do with you. He has a lot to work through.

It would be hard to imagine that this primary relationship won’t impact him as he begins to establish his own relationships with women, but good therapy can help him to separate his relationship with his mother from his other relationships in his future.

Kudos to this father who is there for this child. In the business of psychology, we often say that a child needs just one good parent to make it in this world and it sounds like this child has that one good parent on his side.

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Power Struggles with a Toddler About Eating


My two-and-one-half year old holds his dinner in his cheeks for hours and refuses to swallow the food!

DR. RUTHERFORD: I can see how this must be a very frustrating behavior for this parent to deal with.

MOLLY: This was submitted from a mother in Redlands, California. She added that at dinner time, her toddler just doesn’t want to eat. She serves him foods he likes and withholds snacks after nap time in order to encourage him to eat his dinner, but he is very clever about it. To get her to stop nagging him he will stuff his cheeks full of food (“he has pretty big chipmunk cheeks,” mom reports) and holds the food in his mouth until bedtime!

DR. RUTHERFORD: At this age, he’s smack in the middle of control issues. I think he values the fight with the mother more than anything to do with the food itself.

MOLLY: How can she prevent the inevitable arguing that goes on about this behavior?

DR. RUTHERFORD: It really takes two people to have an argument so she can opt out of the argument.

MOLLY: How exactly does a mom “opt out” of an argument like that?

DR. RUTHERFORD: You see, if she can remove the battleground between the two of them, it will put the ball in her son’s hands, so to speak. Control issues arise when one party feels they don’t have any power in the situation. Changing the balance of power by empowering the child can change the dynamic in this situation.

The mom might want to try putting different foods of her choice into small bowls on the table at his mealtime and telling him that he can choose whatever he wants and however much of it that he wants. Then she should walk away from the table and see what the child makes of this.

She will need to be consistent and do this with every meal for a while, and I would recommend that during this time she not sit with him at the table. Two year-olds are very concrete in their thinking and if she’s not sitting right in front of him, he’ll be less inclined to continue the struggle over food because there’s no one to engage in a power struggle with him.

Another tactic she might try is to add some lightness to the situation, by smiling at him and saying, “Awww, you look just like a chipmunk.” Not in a shaming way but in a light, joking manner that may help ease some of his control issues.

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Raising Happier Kids: Update


banner_sueatkinsWe’re so grateful to all our readers and supporters for helping us reach 30 reviews on Amazon! We’re so happy you’re enjoying our passion project and thrilled that you’re sharing copies of Shaping A Secure Start with your community. 

Be sure to tweet and share with friends, and check out our featured post on Sue Atkins’ blog: We’re Not Exactly Born Knowing How to be Good Parents

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How to Prepare a Child to Travel Alone

Flying alone can be nerve-racking for both child and parent. Dr. Rutherford gives you easy steps to take before, during and after a flight to make the journey easier for your child.

Click below to watch the video.


Interested in more videos? Click here to check out our newly launched Raising Happier Kids YouTube Channel.  

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Son Scared to Make New Friends After Being Bullied


My 11-year old son refuses to socialize with any of the other children in his school. I am very concerned!

@thinkstock/iStockDR. RUTHERFORD: I share her concern about this 11-year old boy.

MOLLY: This question was submitted by a mother in Ottowa, Canada, and she elaborated that in the 3rd grade her son was bullied every day by another student and it went unchecked by school officials. The bully was very physically aggressive: hitting, kicking, throwing rocks and eventually knocking her son’s two front teeth out. They ended up moving schools but her son is having a lot of difficulties making new friends.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I’m not surprised that he’s feeling reluctant about making friends. It sounds like he was bullied quite a bit with no protection from the school or anyone else. His issues are now beyond using a sticker chart or other small things that we could possibly think of for him to do at home to help him recover from what happened to him.

I’m suspect he may be suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) because of the amount of trauma he experienced. It’s no wonder he doesn’t feel safe befriending kids in his new class.

MOLLY: What do you think the parents can do to help him? It’s a heart-breaking story and seems so unfair to this poor child.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, it is very unfair, but it’s even worse than that because this is the kind of early trauma that can follow him through the rest of his life. That’s why it’s so important for him to get some professional intervention. He needs to see a trained therapist for help processing the trauma that he experienced.

MOLLY: What kind of treatment forms are there for this?

DR. RUTHERFORD: There are several possibilities. One is talk therapy, which will be very, very helpful because recovery from trauma involves talking about it over and over until it stops haunting the person.

Another form of treatment that has been successfully used in treating trauma and PTSD is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). She’ll have to find an EMDR therapist to perform this therapy but it can make a huge difference for someone with PTSD, and has been used with a lot of war veterans for this reason.

MOLLY: What might happen if his PTSD goes untreated? What types of behaviors might his parents see in him later on in his life?

DR. RUTHERFORD: PTSD can severely influence the rest of someone’s life in negative ways.

For this child, he may continue to shy away from others into adulthood and become even more introverted and lonely. Or, he may end up becoming a bully himself as a self-protective measure. Neither one of these possibilities is a good thing as they will interfere with him establishing a successful relationships as an adult.

I’m really glad that this mom wrote to us now because he should get into treatment immediately, if not sooner.

In general, the closer one is to the time of the trauma, the more effective it can be to get treatment and experience a recovery. While it’s certainly never too late, it’s better to do this therapeutic work now while he’s still a child and the trauma is still fresh. We wish him the very best on this journey.

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The Most Important Thing You Never Knew About Your Baby

@thinkstock/Jupiterimages When my son was fifteen months old, my husband and I were invited to my best friend’s wedding in Jamaica. It would have been cost prohibitive to take my two kids along so I planned to leave my son and his older sister in the care of their grandparents and favorite babysitter. I was proud of myself for coming up with such a great solution.

Then I talked to my mother. A clinical psychologist for more than thirty years, my mother strongly advised me to reconsider leaving my son at this young age.

She counseled, “Generally speaking, a primary parent shouldn’t leave a child for several days in a row before the child is two years old because it could negatively affect a child’s ability to maintain relationships all the way into adulthood.”

I was shocked. “Not even for a weekend?” I asked.

She shook her head. “The first eighteen months of a child’s life are spent attaching to the primary parent. This attachment provides the foundation for a person’s self confidence, self-esteem and ability to trust others throughout their entire life.

If the attachment is disrupted early and repeatedly, the child may have trouble trusting anyone in their life.” This seemed like new information to me, and I wondered if other parents of my generation were aware that our seemingly benign parenting decisions could be setting our kids up for unhappiness as far ahead as their workplace and marriage.

What else might I not know about parenting in these early months? I felt lucky to have my mother as a resource. She has literally watched generations of children grow into adults in her office, and seen firsthand the effects parents have on their kids’ emotional wellbeing.

I quickly realized that my mother, Dr. Susan Rutherford, had a lot more to share on the topic. So much more, in fact, that we are publishing our first e-book to help parents do their best to protect their children’s emotional future during their earliest months of life. As it happened, I threw caution to the wind and went ahead on our trip to Jamaica. I paid for this decision for five long months following my return as the mother of a child who no longer slept through the night out of fear I would leave again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to make parenting mistakes in order to learn from them?

If you’re interested in learning more about how the first Shaping a Secure Start18 months of your child’s life determines their future self-confidence, self-esteem and ability to trust others, you can read our new ebook, Shaping a Secure Start: Parenting Your Child During the First 18 Months. Not just for new parents, Shaping a Secure Start can also be used as a guide for parenting older children to help them become better adjusted kids (available on Amazon and other retailers).

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