Parenting is one of the most fulfilling and challenging jobs in the world, and it requires your constant attention for years and years. Balancing your work and personal life and your familial and parental duties while dealing with economic pressures, long term separations from extended and immediate family members, and often negative influences of social media have combined to create an unpredictable and ever changing landscape in which you need to monitor, support and positively impact the development of your child. No wonder you sometimes feel overwhelmed, wishing there was a guide book somewhere that might help!
You don’t actually need that book, because as a parent you really only have to do one thing - continuously nurture a positive relationship with your child by investing your time and effort with them. If you keep this in mind as your child grows and changes, you will sustain a close bond that lays the foundation for their personality, life choices and overall behavior resulting in their strong social, physical, mental and emotional health. The strength of the connection between you and your child will guide you both through the ups and downs of their changing self, and help them develop the motivation and ability to make good choices in their lives. Loving parents create loving children.
Why is a positive parent/child relationship important?
It supports their physical, cognitive, linguistic, and emotional development.
It makes it more likely they will have positive social relationships with others.
It teaches them to regulate and express their emotions under stressful and difficult situations.
It helps ensure that they can perform well academically and socially.
It helps them feel optimism and confidence.
It helps them develop strong problem solving skills.
It teaches them the skills and values they need for future success.
What erodes a positive parent/child relationship?
Verbal, physical, emotional neglect or abuse of any type; constant criticism, shouting, insulting, or harming a child causes long term damage. So does being absent or neglecting a child’s basic needs, including attention and affection. Children feel insecure if parents are not present or responsive to their needs and they can become clingy and overly emotional.
Authoritative parenting: results in fearful and mistrusting children with low self esteem, poor social skills and can result in disobedient, impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Aggressive parents create aggressive children who do not know how to manage their emotions.
Mistrust: both parties need to be able to prove they are trustworthy, even after they have made a mistake.
Disrespect: from either party, as this is the basis of a trusting relationship. Respect is mutual and must constantly be earned.
Enabling: not allowing a child to take responsibility for his/her choices and mistakes and allowing them to blame their problems on others creates the expectation that the parents will always come to the rescue and a belief that nothing is the child’s own fault. Hold your child accountable for their actions.
Poor communication: poor or non-existent communication between the parent and child results in a loss of the bond and no reason to understand each other’s perspective or care about each other’s thoughts or feelings. This results in anger and bitterness.
Inattentiveness: relationships that are not nurtured on a regular basis eventually break down. Do you know your child’s likes, dislikes, friends, struggles? What is happening in their life?
Ignoring certain behaviours: Attention seeking behaviors, disrespect, defiance and chronic problems or misbehavior, or giving in because it’s easier or you don't want to have to deal with a scene or tantrum. Children sometimes become defiant when there is a disconnection from their parents in attachment, commitment, involvement and/or belief.
In the case that your parent/child relationship has deteriorated beyond repair or other factors are involved such as divorce, developmental problems or emotional health issues, professional counseling may be necessary and is highly recommended.
How do I strengthen my relationship with my child?
Reserve talk time with your child every day. Just 10 minutes a day will begin to establish good communication habits. NO distractions, NO technology, NO others included. This could be at bedtime, while playing together, during a walk, while doing homework or cleaning up, while driving, and any other time you can fit it in. Make eye contact. Comment or encourage without judgement. Establish the habit of conversing in an open manner. Tuning in and talking about what’s going on with your child lets them know they are loved and valued and tells them they are a priority in your life.
Be warm and loving with your child. Tell them you love them often. Even on a tough day, make it clear that you don’t like their behavior or poor choice, but you still love them. Praise them, give them hugs or pats on the back. Tell them you are proud of them. Show acceptance.
Pay attention to your child’s behavior. What is it telling you? What might be a trigger or a reason for a particular response? Ask questions to try to identify the real issue.
Listen and empathize. Encourage them to openly share their feelings. Try to see things from their perspective. Be in the moment without distractions. Provide reassurance and help solve problems. When you work with them to find a solution, they also learn. Be a good role model and show them how to behave by your own words and actions. Be available when they need support, encouragement, care or assistance.
Play together. Play is important to young children’s development. Let them guide the play and direct your participation. Play alongside if that suits them better. Join some of your older child’s outside activities like sports, movies or bike rides, and demonstrate an interest in taking part. It does not matter what you play, just enjoy each other’s company.
Have meals together. Prepare food together and eat together without technology, at least occasionally. Meal time is a great opportunity for conversation.
Involve yourself in your child’s extra-curricular activities. Attend games and performances and school events. This demonstrates your interest, recognition and involvement in their lives and teaches them how to participate in their community.
Be trustworthy. Don’t sneak away and leave your child with someone else without saying goodbye and reassuring them you will be back. Stick to your promises so your child learns to trust what you say. Show respect for your child by explaining if you need to change any plans. Give them privacy and keep their confidence.
Set clear boundaries, rules and consequences for how your family treats each other and enforce them consistently. This provides structure and guidance for your child’s development. With older children the rules can be agreed upon by both parties. Hold them accountable and let them face the age appropriate consequences if they choose not to follow the rules. Resist the temptation to rescue them or reduce the consequences, even if they make a fuss. Giving into this encourages manipulative behavior.
Develop an attitude of service amongst family members and towards others. Encourage your children to think of others and be kind and helpful, and praise them for this behavior.
Positive relationships with children are based on being present in the moment, spending quality time and building trust. Attachment, monitoring, communication and involvement are essential to maintaining a relationship. Your relationship with your child will evolve as they develop and their needs and interests change, but the more time you spend to strengthen your parent/child relationship, the more success you will have guiding your child through life's ups and downs and helping them to be happy and successful.