If a parent has an aversion to something a child enjoys doing, how do you solve that problem?

“To ask how to solve the problem of having an aversion to something a your child enjoys doing, is to ask how you and your child can solve the problem created by you in effect having a visceral aversion to your child innocently enjoying learning.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


“If a child wants to play violent video games, but the parent has a visceral aversion to violence (‘pretend’ or otherwise), such that even the sounds of violence (again, pretend or otherwise) causes the parent physical and emotional discomfort, how can the parent and child solve that problem?”

“If a parent has an aversion to something a child enjoys doing, how do you solve that problem?”

I sympathise, and I have in the past experienced something similar. We are all human. We all have hang-ups.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that such questions are in effect asking how we and our children can solve the problem created by us in effect having a visceral aversion to our children innocently enjoying themselves learning.

That is not how it feels to us ourselves of course. But that is the reality in effect.

If you are a parent in a situation like this, recognise that your aversion is a psychological handicap—a hang-up, an area of irrationality—in your own thinking. It is your own problem, not your child’s problem to solve with you. It can be very liberating to realise that this is what it is. I remember when (several decades ago) I realised that I had a hang-up about violent films. Until that moment, I would feel very bad whenever there would be a violent film on TV, but somehow, when I realised that I just had a hang-up, that realisation in itself lessened the amount of unease I felt in connection with violent films.

Once I could see that my aversion to violent films was, well, a bit of junk in my own mind rather than evidence that violent films are in themselves horrible, and that it would really be a lot better if I were able to enjoy them like normal people can, I felt very motivated not to make my hang-up my children’s problem. I was aghast at the thought of spoiling my children’s enjoyment of these films in any way.

Having said that, it is vital to be kind to yourself about such hang-ups. It is no good making yourself miserable by beating yourself up for being a human being with hang-ups like we all have. And taking a self-coercive approach, as if it were possible to forcibly stamp out such irrationality, will just make it worse. But obviously you will want to devote energy and creativity to finding your way around your aversion, rather than passing it on to your children.

Noticing that your aversion is an irrational part of your mind, not your core Self, can make it possible not to accord the aversion quite so much significance. Taking an IFS-style (Internal Family Systems) approach—neither coercively trying to stamp out that part of your mind (which will just entrench it further), nor being run by it—is much more likely to enable that part of your mind to relax. For more on this, see: How can I drop the anti-rational part of my mind that interferes with me taking my children seriously?

Of course it is not just your children who will benefit from not having to bear the cost of this irrationality: you yourself will be free of it too, and who wouldn’t want to be free of an aversion causing so much distress?!

Perhaps find other adults who do not share this handicap, to engage with your children in this sphere, to make it less likely that the children will become ‘infected’ by your irrationality. I did this and I strongly recommend it.

Of course to do this, you have to be aware that your aversions are your own issues, and sometimes that is not easy. One way to check whether an aversion you have is reasonable or not might be to ask a few friends who take children seriously what they think. The chances are, they will not all have the same hang-up, and you will be able to get some helpful feedback from them. Of course by the time you are asking your friends about it, you already have an inkling that it is a hang-up. Many of our hangups are not obvious to us at all. But if you find something your children like doing or not doing distressing (on an on-going basis, a psychological pattern, like a part of your personality, rather than, say, an aversion to a particular smell when you are pregnant or something!), that may well be a hang-up.

One thing I did (this was before the days of IFS!) was to play fun thought games in my own mind. I played with changing my behaviour and way of being in connection with my aversion to violent films (and spiders!). I asked myself, if I did not have this hang-up, what would I be doing differently? What would people see me doing differently? If I were free of this hang-up, how would I feel? How would I be being? What difference would it make in my life and in my children’s lives? If I were free of it, what good things would be possible that are not possible while I have the hang-up? What positive results might being free of the hang-up have? What would it be like to be thus free? Then, having fully answered those and other such questions in my own mind, I threw myself into being how I would be if I were free of it—not in any way self-coercively, and not just acting as if I did not have the hang-up, but really throwing myself wholeheartedly into being free of it, in the spirit of adventure and fun.

I think of this kind of thing as playing with ideas and new ways of being, not as a duty or something to try to force myself to do. This kind of exploratory, playful, non-self-coercive thought adventure can in itself can feed into positive changes in your psychology, so you find yourself feeling inwardly less/not phobic.

Humour, playfulness, and having fun experimenting your way through these things can make a big difference. At least I myself find it helps to laugh at myself. (This is a lot easier after the spider has just crawled over you than while it is!) Having a laugh about it with your children can make it all seem easier the next time. And if you can’t laugh at yourself as such this time, well, maybe next time! (And hey, you can be a bit proud of yourself for your bravery and for doing the right thing!)

At least if you can see that you have a hang-up, you can address it, or you might be able to. Unfortunately, it is the ones we are unaware we have that probably cause the most trouble for our children. But it would be a mistake to spend a lot of time morosely wondering what horrendous mistakes you might be making that you have not yet noticed. That would be more likely to be demoralising rather than helpful. Instead, relax and have fun! The more you enjoy life connecting with and conversing with your lovely children, the better everything is likely to go—for your children as well as you.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2022, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If a parent has an aversion to something a child enjoys doing, how do you solve that problem?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/if-a-parent-has-an-aversion-to-something-a-child-enjoys-doing-how-do-you-solve-that-problem/

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