Parents – Never Threaten Your Child With Abandonment


1 – The number-one fear among all people is rejection.
2 – The number-one need among all people is acceptance.
Dr Phillip C McGraw

A child’s greatest fear is of being unloved and abandoned by his parents. Dr Haim G Ginott

Right! That’s it! I’m going now! Bye-bye! A million-and-one parents throughout the world when their child doesn’t want to leave the playground.

It might seem unnecessarily extreme – not to say humourless – to suggest that this last quote can be branded a threat of abandonment, after all no parent really means it. The truth is, our child does not know that, and as can be seen by the quotes from McGraw and Ginott, the latent fear of abandonment and rejection is one that it would be safer never to underestimate.

Neither in jest nor in anger should a child be warned that he will be deserted

Dr Haim Ginott, Between Parent & Child

If our child lingers in the park, the library, or the toy-shop, rather than resorting to frustrated threats, it would be better to calmly (insistently?) take them by the hand and lead (drag?) them out while we say, “I can see that you would like to stay longer. The thing is, we have to do such-and-such. You wish you could stay.”

If our child repeatedly has to come home to an empty house there are various things we could do to make the ordeal more painless. It might be good to:

  • Leave a friendly note.
  • Leave a recorded message.
  • Call them on the phone.

It’s a tough challenge, keeping the demons of rejection at bay in children, and not one that parents are always going to succeed at. Opportunities for it spring up almost every day.

One morning last week I heard Beth coming downstairs. We play this occasional game where I crouch down behind the closed kitchen door and wait for her to open it – she feigns surprise at seeing me there, and does this mock scream. This particular morning the door was open, so when I heard the creak of the stairs I went to close the door. Beth spotted me doing it and immediately turned on her heel and retreated upstairs. I went up to find her lying on the bed in a melancholy silence. She was obviously upset.

“You came downstairs and saw me close the door,” I offered, as I sat on the bed next to her. “It’s horrible to feel like we’re not wanted.”

She nodded imperceptibly, and then moments later she perked up with a smile, “I’m alright, now.”

It might not always be that easy, but with a little bit of thought – and a determination to take the sleeping fear of abandonment seriously – parents can do a lot to shield their children from anxieties about rejection.

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