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Parent-Child Relationship: How To Strengthen It

Creating a close and positive parent child relationship is a crucial aspect of parenting. Despite its importance, building a strong relationship is rarely the focus of day-to-day life. Find out why your relation with your kid is important and how to strengthen it effectively.

Why Is A Parent Child Relationship Important

A strong parent child relationship is important because it directly affects a child’s physical, emotional, social and attachment development, which determines the child’s future personality, behavior, relationship and life choices.

In other words, a parent child relationship forms the foundation of the child’s future success. A study at the Harvard University shows that a loving parental relation is the strongest predictor of a child’s future success​1​.

Father and son walk in the park

The benefits of a positive relationship on child development are numerous. Advantages like these contribute to future child success in the following ways.

Secure Attachment

Having a positive parent-child relation fosters a secure attachment in the child. Psychologists have found that securely attached is the best type of relationship because it is associated with many positive outcomes.

Children with a securely attached relationship with their parents are more resilient. They are persevere when facing challenges. They have fewer behavioral problems, higher self-esteem, and better academic performance​2​

Social-Emotional Regulation

Interactions in the child’s early life set the groundwork of the child’s social development.

A positive relationship and family environment also play a central role in a child’s emotional development. Children learn to self-regulate through watching and mimicking their parents.

Mental Health and Well being

The parent-child relationship is strongly associated with a child’s mental well being. Researchers have found that having a poor connection is a risk factor in developing depressive symptoms​3​.

Self-motivation

Relations with others are vital innate motivators in humans​4​. A child is more intrinsically motivated to engage in an activity valued by people they feel connected to. Parents who have a strong bond with their children can influence them effectively and help them succeed.

Future Relationships

The lifelong attachment style developed in early childhood affects the child’s ability to build healthy relations in adulthood. These positive interactions become internal working models for the child, allowing them to develop competent social skills.

Mom and son hug and laugh together

Why “Spend More Time” or “Eat Meals Together” Don’t Work

A lot of advice found on the Internet concerning parent child relationship is ineffective at best, and detrimental to the relation at worst.

You can find advice like “spend more time” or “eat meals together” on every other parenting blogs.

Here’s the problem with this type of advice:

If spending more time and eating meals together were the way to improve relationships, we should all have had perfect relations after the year 2020…

But it didn’t work out that way for many families.

For many parents, that year actually made the relation worse, a lot worse.

This advice would work if the parent already had great relationship with the child and just wanted to deepen it. Chances are, you are not looking for that type of advice because your relation isn’t exactly great yet.

Here’s why this kind of advice doesn’t work.

If a relation were a bottle of water, following that advice would be like you keep pouring water into it, but ignore the huge leaky hole at the bottom. Without first fixing the hole, you will not fill up the bottle no matter how much you pour in.

That means, spending more time together without addressing the source of strain in the relationship is useless.

Parent-Child Relationship Problems

Parenting is one of the most fulfilling and yet challenging jobs. Family life can be stressful. It’s no surprise that healthy parent-child relationships are often put on the back burner every day when the issues of homework, grades, household chores, and discipline arise.

Many parents unknowingly spend more time damaging the relationship than building it.

When problems become too big to ignore, desperate parents try to follow advice condoned by others on the Internet. When they cannot get results with these ineffective advice, they think there’s something wrong with their kids.

Self-motivated learner
Have trouble motivating your child? Check out:

How To Motivate Kids

Mom hugs girl from the back

How to strengthen the parent-child relationship

While younger children care more about how much time you can spend with them, older kids don’t translate more time into closer relationships.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time to connect with your kids. Children need quality time, not just time together. Choose quality over quantity. To continue the analogy, it’s better to repair your relationship bottle and then slowly fill it with clean water than flooding it with undrinkable water.

So, to strengthen the relationship…

First, Repair

Fix that hole in your relationship bottle!

Most likely, there is nothing wrong with your child. If you have conflicts with your child on almost anything, that means you don’t actually have a discipline problem… you have a relationship problem.

Steps to repair a relationship:

  1. Start with the biggest conflict.
  2. Evaluate whether being right in this conflict is really that important to you.
  3. Then imagine, 30 years from now, will you care more about winning this fight or your relationship with your child.
  4. Talk to your child about your decision in #3 and discuss alternative solutions together.
  5. Go down your list of conflicts and repeat #1-4.

Second, Quality

Here are some of the essential qualities psychologists have found to benefit your relationship with your child.

Practice Responsive, Warm Parenting

Responsive and warm parenting style can help your child develop a secure attachment​5​. Being responsive means meeting your child’s emotional needs. One of the best ways to do that is to be attuned to and acknowledge your child’s feelings when they are dysregulated.

Spend QUALITY Time Together

Spending quality time with your child doesn’t mean doing more educational activities. It means mindfully attending to your child’s needs. Be present.

Resolving conflicts can become quality time if done right. When there are conflicts, many parents bulldoze over the problem, skip over it or try to sweep it under the rug so they can move onto “spending time together”.

Quality doesn’t mean that only positive emotions are involved. Helping your child develop emotional regulation skills during tantrums, teaching them patiently how to disagree respectfully or encouraging problem solving instead of just saying no, are all quality times well spent.

Use Positive Discipline

Using punishment is the most common way that hurts your relation with your kid. Discipline means to teach, not to punish. You don’t need to punish to teach. Using Positive parenting to discipline can strengthen your bond​6​.

Being positive is not being permissive. You still set reasonable rules and enforce them. But you don’t become mean or punitive when your child breaks your rules. Using positive discipline means teaching, guiding and correcting your child in a kind and firm way. Children as young as 1 year olds can benefit with discipline that is nurturing and positive.

Mom dad kids play together in the living room have close relationships parenting styles

Respect Builds Relationship. Lack of Respect Destroys Relationship.

Respect is crucial in every healthy relationship. Parent-child relations are no exceptions. Respecting a child means respecting that they are people, too. They have their own needs, wants, and preferences. They may be a little ignorant because they still have a lot to learn, but we shouldn’t treat them as less because of that.

Provide Autonomous Support

Besides basic human needs, such as food and safety, autonomy is the next most important innate human desire​7​. Humans thrive when given the freedom to choose and decide on their actions. Allowing our children to act autonomously on things that are not safety- or health-related is a significant motivation booster. Being a controlling parent not only reduces your child’s motivation but also damages your relationship with them.

Allow Open Communication

Talk to, not at, your child to build trust. Make sure to listen to things that bother them; even things may make you unhappy.

Some parents feel that children giving negative feedback or voicing their concerns are talking back. But if you can demonstrate taking feedback with grace, your child will learn to do that, too, when you give them feedback. Letting your child have a voice also boosts their self-confidence. Learning language skills is another added bonus to the new communication habits.

Mother and daughter listen to each other and make eye contact. Helps child exhibit respectful behavior and create connection

Love Them Unconditionally

Unconditional love is the most precious gift you can give your child. Unconditional means you love them even when you dislike their behavior such as not doing homework, when you are mad that they fail the exam, or when you are annoyed that they don’t finish their chores. None of these are more important than the bond between parents and children.

Final Thoughts On Parent-Child Relationships – Change is hard

Building a close relationship with their child is a goal that many parents have but not many actually pursuit. We are too inundated with daily hassles and often forget the most important thing in life — families. Shifting our focus from using shortcut parenting hacks to create a long-lasting bond with our kids is not easy, but it’s very well worth it.


References

  1. 1.
    Vaillant G. TRIUMPHS OF EXPERIENCE: THE MEN OF THE HARVARD GRANT STUDY. Harvard University Press; 2012.
  2. 2.
    Greenberg MT, Siegel JM, Leitch CJ. The nature and importance of attachment relationships to parents and peers during adolescence. J Youth Adolescence. Published online October 1983:373-386. doi:10.1007/bf02088721
  3. 3.
    Branje S, Hale W, Frijns T, Meeus W. Longitudinal associations between perceived parent-child relationship quality and depressive symptoms in adolescence. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2010;38(6):751-763. doi:10.1007/s10802-010-9401-6
  4. 4.
    Ryan RM, Powelson CL. Autonomy and Relatedness as Fundamental to Motivation and Education. The Journal of Experimental Education. Published online September 1991:49-66. doi:10.1080/00220973.1991.10806579
  5. 5.
    Ryan RM, Brown KW, Creswell JD. How Integrative is Attachment Theory? Unpacking the Meaning and Significance of Felt Security. Psychological Inquiry. Published online August 13, 2007:177-182. doi:10.1080/10478400701512778
  6. 6.
    McKee L, Roland E, Coffelt N, et al. Harsh Discipline and Child Problem Behaviors: The Roles of Positive Parenting and Gender. J Fam Viol. Published online April 20, 2007:187-196. doi:10.1007/s10896-007-9070-6
  7. 7.
    Cullaty B. The Role of Parental Involvement in the Autonomy Development of Traditional-Age College Students. Journal of College Student Development. Published online 2011:425-439. doi:10.1353/csd.2011.0048

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