When you are a parent, you know it is a full-time job, regardless of your work or other side hustles. You also know how fulfilling being a parent is, at least most of the days.
A parent-child relationship nurtures a special and strong bond, though it does not come without challenges. You want what is best for your children, as much as you want to be your best version as a parent.
Perhaps you are a full-time working parent juggling between bringing your career to the next level, while being a supportive and present parent. Or maybe you are a stay-at-home parent spending the whole day running chores and providing for your family’s wellbeing and unity. Both scenarios come with their own challenges. You may be judging yourself for not having enough quality time at home with your kids, or for spending too much time around them and none for yourself.
What you feel, say, do, do not say, how you react and behave; your kids are observing your every single behavior and modelling it for years to come. Building a positive and healthy relationship with your kids helps them developing their physical, emotional, mental and social skills.
Below you can find 5 ways to strengthen the bond with your children, to help you stay connected and foster a close and robust parent-child relationship.
1. Show love and affection: Tell your kids you love them as often as possible. It can sound silly, as you know deep in your heart how much you love them, but it is important for them to hear it. Show affection by hugging them, patting them in the back, holding hands while walking outdoors, smiling at them. Love and affection will not spoil them, rather making them feel loved and safe. Even when you get mad or disappointed in them for any number of good reasons, remember to show your children how unconditionally you love them. If you are not the most affectionate person on earth, no need to despair. There are many ways to show your kids you love them, apart from all the hugs and kisses, until you feel more comfortable expressing affection (which you can practice by the way!).
2. Be present and playful: Kids are like X-Ray machines! They can sense if you are sitting next to them, yet thinking about work or the chores you have to cross from your to do list. Be in the present moment while you listen to them or play together. Put your phone and laptop away, turn off the TV and close all your mental tabs. Regardless of how old your kids are, make sure you play with them. Following their preferences, it could be from any kind of role-playing to playing soccer, reading books or cracking jokes together. Especially with younger kids, playing helps them develop a range of resources, such as, language skills, creativity, emotions and social skills.
3. Listen and empathize: Creating a safe space for open communication is paramount for an open and healthy communication. Learn how to listen and be empathic without immediately jumping into conclusions or interrogations. Try to see things from your children’s perspective, showing them respect and understanding. Intentional communication is something you can try. It is essentially about talking with instead of talking to, where you move towards mutual understanding and getting both your needs met. Practice active listening by noticing what is being said and the feelings being communicated both verbally and non-verbally. Do not rush into the dialogue, try to remain calm (even when you listen to or see something you do not like) and avoid interrupting or judging. When you use intentional communication, you are not only building skills as a parent, but also helping your children developing their social and emotional skills.
4. Be consistent and predictable: Consistency and predictability help to create clear rules and manage expectations. Remember when you used to visit gramma or grandpa and they would let you run free, spoiling you with candy and rarely replying ‘no’ to your whims?! You’d go back to your parents and immediately feel the difference in the rules. It is not about playing good cop/ bad cop, rather having routines and boundaries in place. Establishing routines (family meals, evening bath, bedtime story, among others) and showing consistent behaviors have a positive effect in your children’s development. Avoid behaving differently to similar situations, for instance, being permissive about playing with a ball inside the house and overacting the next day when your kid breaks a vase. Predictability does not mean lack of spontaneity or creativity! You can still surprise your kids by picking them up earlier from school to go grab an ice cream or offering them a gift outside the usual celebrities.
5. Seek out one-on-one time: Spend quality time with your children. Especially if you have more than one kid, it is important to make time to strengthen that unique bond. It can be tough to accomplish when you have two or more kids, but it is not impossible. This can happen according to your schedule and both your and your children’s preferences. Perhaps it is a favorite sport or a crafting activity you can do together, a walk outdoors in the nature or a movie night. What matters is that you are available, meaning you are in the present moment. Children can sense when your mind is elsewhere and you are not paying them attention, even if you are sitting next to them nodding your head.
Whatever parenting style you put in practice, make sure you show your kids – through words, gestures, experiences – how much you love them and how they can always count on you. Parenting is not about giving your children all the answers, rather providing them with robust values (and a few tools!) enabling them to make their own choices throughout their – hopefully – remarkable journey.