It is not a huge surprise that the secret to a happier later life is having close relationships with your parents, but having a close relationship with your child in this time-starved day and age is not something we can presume will “just happen”, but instead is something that needs to be worked on.
With the quality of our relationships with our children having potentially such a huge impact on our children’s lives way beyond they leave their care, just what do we need to do to build a close relationship with our children? It is this topic that is the centre of this instalment of Expert Editions as I dig deeper with Maggie Stevens author of ParentFix and parenting coach.
Just why is it is to important to build a close relationship with your child?
Studies have shown that it is relationships that make people the happiest. Your child needs you, even though at times it may not seem that way. When a child feels loved and secure in his relationship with his parents, he will be more self-assured, successful and have a more positive outlook on life.
What are at the foundations of a good parent-child relationship?
It is the responsibility of the parent to create an environment where a comfortable parent-child relationship can exist. Your home should be a safe haven for your child. Parents should do more listening that talking and a child should be able to express her ideas freely. Children, especially teens will experiment with a variety of opinions and concepts as they grow and learn. It is important as a parent to try to be understanding throughout this time period. Your child should know what it is you believe and why you live your life the way you do, all the while letting them find their voice. When a child is allowed to do this, they will eventually emulate what you believe as a parent.
When a parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their child, what happens?
When a parent is not involved in a child’s life, the child struggles. They may do this through rebellion, withdrawing, attention seeking, struggling in school. They will constantly be searching to satisfy that need of love from a parent. Some children will find another adult to meet those needs, which may be a positive if the adult they choose is a good role model. Others will continually search for affection from other sources which may ultimately not be in the best interest of the child.
So it isn’t it enough to just tell our children we love them?
Telling a child you love them is important, but following up with acts of love will solidify that love. Unconditional love is what we are talking about here. Your children will make mistakes as they grow and learn. No matter the outcome or the discipline that comes with it, your child needs to know you will always love them.
When should parents start working on their relationship with their child from?
Working on your relationship with your child begins the day they are born. Spending time together doing things you both love from infancy throughout the teen years will create a strong bond. It is never too late to start, even if you must enlist the help of a professional. Children are forgiving and need your love. It may take a bit more work to have change the relationship with a teen, but never give up.
How exactly should parents go about creating a strong relationship with their children – could you offer some practical examples?
Go to where your child is. By that I mean show interest in what your child loves. if your child spends most of his time playing video games, sit down and have him teach you how to play (even if you detest it). Offer to take your son to get food or take your daughter on a shopping trip. The time you have alone together, riding in the car or eating brings conversation and lets you know what is going on in your child’s life.
The goal is to do something your child likes and keep the atmosphere positive. This is not the time to remind your child to clean his room or get homework done. Have fun, just as you would with a friend. Building a relationship is more important than crossing items off your list of things to get done. So use this time to work on building your relationship. Remember: Relationship first, responsibility later.
What advice do you have for time-starved parents who want to work on building their relationship with their child/children?
This is difficult with how busy we all have become. If you let your family relationships suffer, it will eventually take more time and money to repair later. As a parent you need to figure out a way to make time now. Shut off your cell phones, turn down the TV and get some quiet family time…even individual child time. Reading to your young children at night is important. Attending your older children’s athletic games or recitals shows you care. Be available to talk when your child walks in the door after school.
A good idea is to have a family council where the entire family discusses ways to create family time. If having dinner together is important, have dinner at an hour when all can be there. It may be that you need to de-clutter your life, cutting out too many extracurricular activities. If you do it together as a family you are showing your children they are important to you. Then make that time, quality time so they will begin to value it too.
Is it ever too late to start working on strengthening a parent’s relationship with a child?
It is never too late. Like I said earlier, children are forgiving. You just have to make sure you follow through with positive parenting. If you find all you do is argue with your child, enlist the help of a professional or a religious leader. Be willing as a parent to make changes. Do not expect your child to take the lead. You are the adult and need to take responsibility to make this relationship work.
How will strengthening your relationship with your child earlier on help with adolescent years?
I strongly believe that the strength of the relationship with your child determines the outcome of your child’s behaviour.
I remember as a teenager making a conscious decision to not participate in certain activities because I knew my dad would be disappointed in me. He never said anything, but I had spent enough time with him to know what his reaction would be. I loved and respected him so much, I could not bare to lose his trust.
I worked very hard to gain that trust with my own children. Of course they made mistakes, but none that would alter the path that led to happiness and success. If you do not believe this concept, look at the families around you. Where you see a strong parent/child relationship, you will see well adjusted children.
Anything else you would like to add?
Parenting is not only a responsibility; it is a privilege. You owe it to your children to be the best parent you can be. None of us are perfect parents and so it takes a bit of effort to succeed. Put in the time it takes to learn how to be a good parent. Be open to change. Children give immediate feedback. If something is not working, change and try a new way. If you find yourself blaming your child, something is wrong with the way you are parenting.
Good luck and happy parenting!
Maggie Stevens is author of “ParentFix”, Maggie is the mother of five children. As a child advocate, she devotes most of her time to ParentFix, a non-profit organization. Professionally, Maggie works with youth groups, parent groups and educators offering parenting help in today’s world. She believes the health of any society lies in the strength of its families and that strengthening families will strengthen communities and nations. For more information see the ParentFix website here.