Do you sometimes wonder what happened to the close bond you had with your child? Do you feel like you are stuck in power struggles with your child and do you find yourself constantly arguing together? Do you often find yourself nagging at your child and criticizing your child? Do you wish that you and your child just had more fun together? Here are some tips for restoring and maintaining a strong, loving relationship with your child.
Young Children: Special Play-Time
For young children, a great way to build a positive relationship is to share in play. Children express themselves mainly through play. Play is also a very important way that young children learn. Spending some time with your child every day enjoying play together can help you connect with your child in an intimate way. There are several ways you can optimize playtime with your child.
- Devote 10 or 15 minutes each day for “special playtime”, in a way that fits well into your daily schedule. When you and your child come home from school/daycare, and/or work could be an ideal time to reconnect with your child through special playtime and unwind for the day.
- Let your child lead the play. As parents it is sometimes very difficult to suppress our urge to structure or guide our child. However, during special playtime it is important that your child knows that it is their time. Within reasonable limits of safety and respect for property, allow your child to take the lead, and follow your child in play.
- Reflect on what your child is doing, and on the feelings your child is expressing. Try to avoid asking questions. An example of reflecting is: “I see you are putting the blue block on top of the green one” or “You look really happy! I see that smile on your face!”
- Try to avoid evaluative feedback when you are playing, simply comment on what you see. Say: “I see you are using a lot of colors”, instead of: “What a beautiful drawing”.
- Be fully present with your child. Turn off the phone, computer, radio, and television, and give your child your undivided attention during these 10 or 15 minutes.
Older Children and Teens: Enjoy Activities Together
For older children it is also important to take time to share in activities you enjoy doing together. Learn what your child’s interests are, and see if there is an activity he enjoys that you can share together. If it is difficult to find such an activity, try to find moments to enjoy each other’s company while you do the dishes, go to the grocery store, or go for a walk or bike ride together. What is important is that you share your time with your child and have fun together. Whether or not the child’s interest is something that is also interesting to you is less important. When you are spending this important time together, enjoying each other’s company, please avoid talking about subjects that usually cause friction or conflict, like homework, chores, or other sensitive issues. Just focus on hanging out together and having fun!
Throughout Childhood and Adolescence: Open and Honest Communication
Another essential ingredient to building and maintaining a strong relationship with your child is open and honest communication. This is an ongoing process. Being open and honest with your child does not mean you have to tell her everything. Being open and honest with your child looks different depending on your child’s developmental level. Some things are not appropriate to share with your child because she is not developmentally ready. However, it is important to be as honest as possible when answering your child’s questions in an age-appropriate way.
An important aspect of open and honest communication is being able to admit to your child when you are wrong, and apologizing when you have made a mistake. This is not a sign of defeat. It is human to make mistakes and all of us mess up sometimes. When you apologize to your child you are modeling that you are taking responsibility for the mistake you made, and you are treating your child with the respect that you expect her to show you. This can be a very powerful lesson for your child.
Reciprocity is essential in communication, and so is showing your child that you are listening. One way of showing your child that you hear him is by reflective listening. When you use reflective listening you listen to your child, without interrupting, until he has finished speaking. Then you summarize to your child what you have heard, and give him the opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding or misinterpretation you may have had. Reflective listening is also a way to show empathy for your child, by letting him know you understand (or you are trying to understand) what he is thinking and feeling. When you validate your child in this way, it will be easier for him to hear your point of view as well, and it will be easier to avoid a power struggle.
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