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How to Identify Your Family’s Unhelpful Patterns

Communication between mom and daughter

Children often have their own unique ways in making connections with others. A child may express a certain need through behaviour to their parents, and it can be a challenge to read between the lines. Perhaps you have a similar experience, which is why I would love to share my story with Delft MaMa. In my practice as a Parent Coach, I help parents and children identify unhelpful patterns and find workable alternatives. I would like to warmly invite you on a journey in the form of a case that one mom shared with me.

Rational mom, sensitive daughter

The mom sitting next to me is talking vividly. She gestures while sharing her frustrations, and I notice that no matter how hard or deep she thinks the situation through, every insight ends with a sigh of despair. 

Her story is the following: Mom is married and has 2 daughters, a 9-year-old and a 1-year-old.

Her 9-year-old daughter asks between 4-8 times a day what they will be eating for dinner. And, if the planned activity will definitely happen. And, permission to do something she knows she already has permission for. 

These constant questions are met by the mom with straightforward answers, “Yes, I already said yes, do you remember what I just said? Yes.” Mom’s answers consistently stay the same and should provide enough information to stop asking the same question. In the mom’s opinion.

Which question is indeed the question? (source: own archive)

Identifying Unhelpful patterns

I listen. I ask when her daughter does not display this behaviour.

Mom says, “When I’m alone with my eldest, we have conversations, instead of a question-and-answer round.”

It seems that as soon as the youngest enters the room, the eldest daughter defaults into asking questions.

I ask what mom says when the eldest daughter displays behaviour that annoys her.

Mom shares, “I remind my eldest that she knows that her younger sister needs more attention, and that she should be understanding of her needs.”

Alternatives for solving unhelpful patterns in the family

I acknowledge that the eldest daughter maybe should know how to behave. Her need for constant confirmation however, is her daughter’s way of communicating a need that isn’t being met at the moment.

I invite the mom to allow herself to experience what the situation would look like if she didn’t react immediately to her daughter’s behaviour. I ask the mom to see her daughter’s behaviour and questions as an opportunity to connect to her world. An alternative response could look like this: “I see that you’re having a hard time making space for your sister. We were having a nice time together, weren’t we?”

This way mom first acknowledges what her daughter might be feeling. After this, there is likely more mental space on the daughter’s side to allow attention to go to her little sister.

the emerging Old unhelpful patterns in the family

Mom deems her daughter old enough to know better and behave. I ask what emotions the mom herself is experiencing. Frustrations, annoyance, not understanding why her daughter can’t accept an answer or behave age appropriately near her little sister. 

Mom is disagreeing with every emotion the eldest daughter may be showing, on rational grounds.

When we see, accept and name emotions, we can use our energy for building understanding and fortifying our relationships, instead of leaking energy into how behaviour should be. 

We delved into mom’s own experiences with her parents growing up, and to what extent she felt there was enough room for her emotions. We used several techniques to make the unconscious conscious. One example is the Sand Tray. Using physical miniatures is also an option to make a figurative projection to the situation and feelings.

Figurative projection using physical miniatures (source: own archive)


Fortified with new insights, mom spent the following weeks on becoming aware in her interactions with her eldest daughter. She did this by trying to recognize and ‘park’ her own initial rational reaction, and actively try to connect to the emotional need of her daughter. 

About four weeks later, I spoke with the mom again.

Her feedback was the following: due to reflecting on her relationship with her own mom, she now experiences more mental space towards her daughter’s behaviour. 

Mom now is more aware of how some patterns of interaction with her daughter, are not helping her daughter feel ‘seen’. You can learn the skills of emotional awareness from the Mindsight by Dr. Dan Siegel.

This awareness has opened up space for alternatives, that we are working on now. Mom and daughter have less disagreements, and the daughter seems to seek less confirmation by asking the same questions as much.

Mom is looking forward to using her energy to connect to her daughter, rather than combating emotions with rationale. 


Becoming aware of your part in the unhelpful patterns can give you the power to change the energy in your relationship with your child. Parents who reach out, overcome an invisible threshold to ask for help. Sharing your experience can give the much needed space to alternative, helpful approaches.

Translate good intentions into helpful patterns. I am more than happy to help!

Myrthe Atkinson
Parent + Coach

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