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Why children are indifferent to their parents

 Why children are indifferent to parents (Photo: iStock)

Rael Kaireithi has been having difficulty communicating with her 14-year-old son for two months now. No amount of threats or sweet-talking has penetrated her “cold son’s wall. Whenever she attempts to break the ice, she is met with a stone-faced reaction and indifference. 

Unfortunately, her husband Paul Kareithi works out of the country, and the telephone conversations with his son have been tense as well. At times Peter (the son) has hung up on his dad. In the last attempted conversation, his son blocked him. 

“It has been frustrating and has affected my work because I lack concentration at work earning me a warning letter,” says Rael, adding that this forced her to seek help from a counsellor, and a mediator. 

Lisa Wanjiro, a counsellor and mediator says that every parent wishes to bring up children who are compassionate, and well-networked, and to achieve this dream, parents put immense love and energy into raising their children. 

However, she notes, this is not a walk in the park as some parents find their children becoming indifferent or emotionally distant.

“Understanding the root causes of such emotional displays that keep a child distant is crucial and critical and can help bridge this gap,” says Lisa, adding that emotional availability plays a critical role in a child’s development. 

She gives the following reasons why children might become indifferent towards their parents. 

Lack of emotional availability 

Emotional availability, says the expert, plays a critical role in a child’s development. “When parents are physically present but emotionally absent, sometimes due to work stress, personal issues, or simply not putting emotional connections on their priority list, then the children can feel neglected,” says the counsellor. 

According to the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, children with emotionally unavailable parents often develop emotional detachment as a coping mechanism. This lack of emotional support, it reads, can make children feel uncared for, leading to indifference. 

Overly strict or controlling parenting styles 

Mary Wairimu, a firstborn in an orphaned family of five girls and two boys (now adults), says that before she sought help on the root causes of the indifferences from her siblings that frequented her parenting role as a young adult, it had become a journey she loathed. 

“I learnt when I sought help from a psychologist that while discipline is necessary, an overly strict or controlling approach can backfire, and without noticing it, due to pressure, I had become a controlling and commanding 'mother', and my word was final,” says  Mary. 

According to Mary, children raised in highly authoritarian environments often feel suffocated and may rebel by becoming emotionally distant. 

“Many studies, and research conducted by psychologists have found that children who experienced high levels of control and low warmth from their parents exhibited more signs of emotional disengagement,” she says. Constant pressure and lack of freedom can make children view their parents as adversaries rather than allies. 

​Lack of quality time together

According to the experts, for parents who have many things to do, spending quality time with their children can be challenging. However, she adds, it is crucial for building strong emotional bonds.  According to a study in paediatrics, children who spend quality time with their parents are more likely to feel valued and loved. When parents are frequently absent or distracted, children may feel unimportant and withdraw emotionally. Quality time builds communication and understanding, reinforcing the parent-child relationship. 

​Unresolved parental conflicts

Lisa says that children are highly perceptive and often pick up on parental conflicts. After going through psychological and counselling sessions, I realised that the constant chronic conflicts and an unhealthy home environment that I had created unknowingly (unhealthy for her too) were the root cause that led to her siblings shutting down emotionally as a defence mechanism. 

Henry Ndetei, a family psychologist, says that when children are exposed to continuous parental conflicts, they are at a higher risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems. “Witnessing unresolved conflicts can make children feel insecure and anxious, leading to indifference as a form of self-protection, says Henry.

Lack of positive reinforcement 

Positive reinforcement, says Lisa, helps build self-esteem and a sense of worth in children. She says when parents fail to acknowledge their children’s achievements and efforts, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment. “Children who receive regular positive reinforcement are more likely to develop healthy emotional bonds with their parents, and a lack of appreciation can make children feel undervalued and indifferent,” says the expert. 

Technological distractions 

Family relationship experts say that the digital age has made parents and children increasingly engrossed in technology, noting that excessive screen time can interfere with face-to-face interactions and weaken family bonds. A report by Common Sense Media highlights that children who spend more time on digital devices often have weaker emotional connections with their parents. When parents are also preoccupied with their gadgets, it sends a message that they are not fully present, leading to mutual emotional disengagement. 


Lisa says that lack of emotional connection, harsh criticism, inconsistent parenting, seeing parental conflict, not spending enough time with them, or overprotection can all cause children to grow disinterested in their parents. Emotional detachment from parents can result from these circumstances, which can cause feelings of neglect, perplexity, and a yearning for independence.

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