A healthy relationship between parents and children will forge a bond that revolves around trust, respect and reliability and will lead to successful interactions. When we have a positive relationship with our children we can influence them to make good decisions, rather than control their actions.  This is something that becomes increasingly more important as they get older because if children don’t feel they are understood by their parents, they might seek this out in from a, sometimes negative, peer group.  In addition, children simply behave better when they have good feelings toward their parents.  How do parents accomplish this, often challenging, task?

1.  Connection before correction.  Try to play at least 10 minutes per day with each child.  Make sure to follow the child’s lead and allow the child to choose the play activity and the pace of play.   Be mindful of how much time you spend with your electronics – Often, when we spend time with our children, we check our email or text a friend, which takes the focus off the child and may make them feel less important.  Schedule weekly time to do things together and create rituals that children can look forward to.  According to Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline, “extensive research shows that we cannot influence children in a positive way until we create a connection with them.”

2.  Offer empathy. When your child comes home and talks about how a friend was mean, actively listen.  We have twice as many ears as mouths.  Express that you understand how hard things are for them. Don’t try to fix things for your child by rushing to provide solutions. Females often complain that the men in their lives want to solve their problems instead of simply hearing them. Children want the same thing. Allow them to cry and avoid trying to move them through their sadness so they can be happy. If a parent offers solutions when children come to them it can cause the child to feel like their ideas don’t matter and that they don’t have the ability to find their own way.  This can prevent them from returning in the future with tough feelings.

3.  Pay attention to your long-term goal.  If building a relationship with your child is a priority, ask yourself, “Will this help or harm my relationship with my child?”  This can be challenging and take self-control, but will help prevent you from saying things you regret.  For instance, calling your child “lazy” when his room is a mess can cause him to use this against himself later.  Instead, speak specifically about behaviors and tell your child to put away his blocks where they belong.  Parents have good intentions with what they say to their children but sometimes don’t think through their statements.  Thomas Gordon, who wrote Parent Effectiveness Training, developed the 12 communication roadblocks, which often begin as helping responses, but end up doing the opposite.  Some examples are name-calling, directing, advising, giving solutions, judging and reassuring.  Read Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children for the complete list and explanation.

 4.  Use affirmative statements.  Not only does telling children specifically about their positive behaviors make them more likely to repeat these actions, it builds their self-esteem.  Praise behavior such as persistence, kindness and patience.  Say things like, “I noticed how you shared with your brother” and “I see how much time you spent on your painting.”  Praise them to other people so they can hear it.  Most importantly, tell them you love them often and be affectionate.

Relationships need consistent nurturing like beautiful flower gardens need to be continually tended.  It is never too early or too late to create a great relationship with your child.  It just takes attention and commitment.