Let’s face it, parenting is the most dichotomous thing you can do. On the one hand, it’s rewarding, heartwarming, and fulfilling. On the other, it can be frustrating, infuriating, disappointing, and hurtful. Whether it’s the best or worst of times in your household, being a parent is fraught with victories you should celebrate and challenges you must rise to meet every single day, even after your children are on their own.
Nurturing a healthy parent-child relationship from the moment your little one is born can make the journey you’ll inevitably share with your kid more enjoyable, fruitful, and meaningful for both of you in the short and long term. In many cases, that journey begins even before a child is born, as the foundation for a strong parent-child relationship is sometimes laid while the child is still in the womb.
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Why a Parent-Child Relationship Is Important
Having a solid relationship with your child is vital for a variety of reasons. Whether a child has a healthy relationship with a parent greatly influences the child’s future. When a child has a good relationship with a parent, he stands to:
- Have a better chance of having content relationships with others
- Develop the ability to regulate his emotions when in stressful situations
- Enjoy enhanced mental and emotional development
- Demonstrate optimistic and healthy social behaviors
- Benefit from better academic success and social and emotional development
- Learn superior problem-solving skills
- Live with greater self-esteem
- Avoid behavior problems
Parenting Hacks to Establish and Maintain a Positive Parent-Child Relationship
The most crucial relationship younger children have is the one they share with their parents. Children learn to navigate the world around them through the relationship they have with their caregivers, and it’s that relationship that kids use as the basis to establish and build relationships with others.
A healthy parent-child relationship is a vital component in a child’s development. The relationship you have with your kids can help them develop a secure attachment to you. When children’s development leads to a secure attachment with their parents, they experience fewer behavior problems, perform better in school, and have more self-esteem and resiliency.
Parents also stand to benefit from having a deep connection with their children. That’s because kids who feel connected to their caregivers are more apt to listen, help out around the house, behave, and follow directions. In addition, children who feel close to their parents are more likely to discuss problems or issues they’re experiencing in their day-to-day life with their folks.
1. Adjust your parenting style.
For you and your kids to enjoy the benefits of a positive parent-child relationship, there are a few things you can do. The first of which is to evaluate your parenting style.
As you probably guessed, the parent-child bond you manage to establish with your kids depends largely on your parenting style. The manners in which parents raise their children fall into four general categories, which are:
- Permissive: Permissive parents are highly responsive to their children’s needs, and they’ll make sacrifices to ensure their kids are happy and content. These parents often let their kids make their own decisions rather than issuing directives, and they rarely set or enforce expectations and rules. Put simply, permissive parents usually act like their kids’ friends rather than authoritative figures.
- Authoritative: Like their permissive counterparts, authoritative parents are highly responsive to their kids, but they make more demands of their children and they set very clear expectations and rules while enforcing them with understanding and forgiveness. Authoritative parents communicate with their children regularly, give their kids’ thoughts great consideration, and use “natural” consequences as teachable moments.
- Neglectful: It’s not unusual for neglectful parents to struggle with their self-image and to have difficultly establishing close relationships with their peers. As the name of this category implies, neglectful parents aren’t particularly responsive to their children, and they typically allow their kids to fend for themselves with little parental involvement or attention given to their child’s needs.
- Authoritarian: Authoritarian parents demand a lot of their kids, but they aren’t very responsive to their kids’ needs, thoughts, feelings, or opinions. This type of parent generally communicates in a one-way direction, from parent to kid. “Because I said so” is a common refrain in a household with authoritarian parents whenever a child questions the rationale of a rule, punishment, explanation, or consequence.
Studies show that an authoritative approach to parenting is the most likely to produce kids who are independent, self-reliant, and in possession of well-developed social skills. If the way you’re raising your young children is more closely aligned with another type of childrearing, you may want to make some changes that may be as simple as adjusting how you communicate with your kids and the frequency with which you talk to them.
2. Say, “I love you.”
Positive parenting involves communicating your affection for your children. One way you can do that is to tell them that you love them. When you say “I love you” to your kids, there is no chance that they’ll misinterpret your words. The statement communicates your feelings in a crystal-clear manner that speaks directly to the heart of the matter.
Don’t reserve those three powerful words for times when your kids are on their best behavior and everyone is getting along. Even when your child’s behavior is out of bounds and you and your kid are fighting, your child still needs to know you love her, so tell her that you do.
As hard as it might be at times, it’s important that kids know the love of their parents isn’t conditional. Whether things are smooth sailing or your family is navigating troubled waters, you need to tell your children you love them and always will no matter what.
3. Make physical connections.
Therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
While hugs are a wonderful way to demonstrate your love, they’re not the only type of physical connection you should make with your kids every day. Here are some other ways you can physically connect with your kids:
- Make eye contact
- Give a foot rub
- Pat kids on the back
- Tousle your children’s hair
- Tickle your kids
- Hold your child’s hand
- Touch your kid’s cheek
- Kiss your child on the forehead
No matter how eager you might be to physically connect with your kids, you may find that they rebuff your physical affection as they age, particularly during their teenage years. During times like that, be patient and ease your way into a physical connection by interacting with your teen on his terms. By refraining from forcing yourself onto your child, you’ll increase the likelihood that he’ll open up about his day-to-day life and welcome your physical touch when he’s ready.
4. Prioritize playtime.
If you want to improve your parent-child interaction, you should prioritize playing with your kids. Playing with your children causes all of your bodies to release refreshing and invigorating endorphins and oxytocin.
Daily play often leads to laughter and lasting memories. When kids laugh and play, they feel more connected, and they’re less likely to succumb to daily anxieties. Kids are less likely to misbehave and they’re more cooperative as a result.
5. Eliminate distractions.
When you’re spending quality time with your kids, you should eliminate distractions. Don’t just put your mobile phone down. Leave it in another room or turn it off. Refrain from turning the television on. If you’re in the car, turn off the radio. Even kids in their early childhood years will notice that they’re not the center of your attention if you’re playing a game on a device or be-bopping to a song.
Although that’s true, it’s worth noting that music can be a powerful bonding tool. If you’re having difficulty communicating with your kid on a given day, invite her to join you for a car ride. Turn on tunes you know your child likes and encourage her to sing along while you do the same. Don’t want to go for a ride? Ask Siri or Alexa to play your kid’s favorite playlist and have a dance party instead.
6. Make transitions easier.
Change can be difficult for adults even when they have a solid understanding of why a change is necessary. It can be even harder for children who don’t necessarily have a firm grip on the situation at hand.
Kids rely on their parents for stability and, quite frankly, sameness. When a change is imminent, it can be stressful for a child. To ease your kid’s anxiety, it’s important to connect with him so he can ease himself into the new situation without worry.
Look your child in the eye as you explain the changing circumstances to him. Inform him about why the change is happening and address him by name so that he’s assured his identity and well-being aren’t threatened by the change. If possible, make your kid laugh so he can release some of his anxiety through his giggles. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and help him work through any negative emotions he might be experiencing so he looks forward to the change rather than fearing it.
7. Engage in some teamwork.
Doing things together reminds your kids that your family is a team. Even when you do chores together, it sends a powerful message that your family is united and that you have your child’s back.
If you want to incorporate more teamwork into your family life, we suggest you rely on Adventures From Scratch. Let’s Roam has created a family-oriented, kid-friendly book of scratch-off adventures that are great for kids of all ages and families of all sizes.
Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition includes more than 50 challenges that are divided into intriguing categories. You can read a description of each adventure and choose one that will appeal to all participants. Once you scratch off your challenge, your family can work together as you complete your shared adventure.
A family scavenger hunt is another effective way for you to infuse your family life with some beneficial teamwork. Whether your kids are in early childhood, they’re young adults, or they land somewhere in between, you and your kids can work together to meet the demands of an in-home family scavenger hunt by Let’s Roam.
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8. Eat meals together.
Mealtimes don’t have to take a lot of time, but you should make it a point to eat with your family. When you eat together, it opens the door to sharing details about everyone’s daily lives as well as general conversation. Shared meals aren’t as much about the food as they are about the company, so don’t focus on the food prep as much as you pay attention to those around you.
9. Spend one-on-one time with your kids.
While spending time as a family is important, it’s just as crucial for you to spend one-on-one time with each one of your kids. Even if it’s just 15 minutes per day, you should dedicate some alone time with each child.
You should alternate between things your child wants to do and your preferred activities when you spend one-on-one time with your kid. For example, you can play your child’s favorite game on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but go for a walk around the neighborhood on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. No matter how you spend one-on-one time with your child, keep the line of communication open and encourage your kid to share whatever’s on their mind.
10. Allow your children to make decisions.
Even young children seek independence. You can foster their sense of self-reliance and independence by allowing your kids to make decisions—about certain things, at least. For starters, you can let your children choose the clothes they’re going to wear to daycare or school.
The key is to support their choices even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. You want to support their decision-making skills, not undercut them by voicing a contrary or critical opinion. On occasion, you may find that you have to look the other way when your child makes a decision you don’t agree with.
When you think about it, does it really matter if your child goes to school in mismatched clothes? No, it doesn’t. What matters is that your child made decisions about her attire and that she knows you support her choices.
11. Solicit help and opinions from your kids.
Kids feel useful and powerful when you ask them to help out with household chores like unloading groceries or folding the laundry. While that’s the case, a lot of parents miss out on those bonding opportunities because it’s easier to do a given task themselves.
To improve the parent-child relationship you share with your kids, ask them for assistance with household tasks, and be sure you demonstrate your appreciation by thanking them and telling them you value their help. Don’t stop there! Ask your kids for their opinions about certain things like a new hairstyle you’re considering. Be present as your children share their thoughts and actively listen to what they have to say so they feel empowered.
12. Welcome, but don’t overreact to, emotions.
Whether there’s a rational reason or not, kids experience all sorts of emotions, including negative ones. If your child is upset, don’t minimize or overreact to his feelings. Empathize with your child and reassure him while you let him work through his emotions. Let your child know that his feelings are justified so that he still feels connected to you.
Even though it’s hard to witness sometimes, it’s an honor when a child is comfortable enough in his relationship with you to show you that he’s upset or angry. So that the moment brings you closer together, it’s vital that you refrain from letting your child’s emotions trigger negative feelings.
When they’re upset, kids often start out by being angry. If you’re patient and calm, you can help your child work through that feeling and let his more vulnerable emotions come to the surface. Once your child calms down with you by his side, he’ll be more relaxed and he’ll feel an even closer connection to you.
13. Try to see things from your children’s perspective.
To better understand your children’s behavior and feelings, try to see things from their perspective. If you can imagine how frustrating it may be for your kids to wear matching outfits instead of what they’d prefer to wear, you may understand why your oldest daughter picks on your youngest in the car. Similarly, you may get to the bottom of some other behavior problems by adopting your kid’s viewpoint.
If you’re struggling to see something from a childlike perspective, talk to your child about his point of view. Listen and empathize with what your child shares with you. Process what he says, and then try to see the situation from his point of view again. If nothing else, your kid will appreciate your attempt to validate his perspective and emotions.
14. Slow down and enjoy the present.
It’s easy to get caught up in your daily schedule as you leave the office to rush the kids from one extracurricular activity to another before you race home to make dinner, do homework with the kids, and walk the dog. Although that’s the case, it’s advisable to slow down from time to time at least.
When you slow down, you can truly appreciate every parent-child interaction you have with your kids, and they’ll pick up on it. By taking a step back from your schedule and rolling with it, so to speak, you can enjoy the present moment without having to worry about or hurrying through the next activity.
Remember, the present moment is a gift, and it’s a gift that’s even better when you have the pleasure of spending it with your kids. Revel in the present and force yourself to slow down so you don’t miss even a single opportunity to connect with your children.
15. Talk to your kids at bedtime.
If you want to strengthen your parent-child relationships, make it a point to talk to your kids at bedtime. Kids, particularly teenagers, are often more forthcoming with personal information at the end of the day, so you should take full advantage of their nighttime chattiness.
No matter what your kids tell you before they nod off, be supportive and empathetic. If your child has a problem or concern, reassure her that you’ll handle it together the next day. Don’t forget to follow up with your child the next morning, so she’s certain you’re in it together, no matter what “it” might be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Things you do every day at home are opportunities to strengthen your parent-child relationship. For example, work on projects together, eat meals as a family, and talk to your kids at bedtime.
Research shows that the parent-child relationship is closely related to the child’s mental health. Kids who lack a strong connection with a parent are at risk of developing symptoms of mental illness.