Creating a close and positive parent child relationship is a crucial aspect of parenting. Despite its importance, building strong parent-child relationships 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
The early 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, this 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 success1.
The benefits of a positive relationship on child development are numerous. Advantages like these contribute to future child success in the following ways.
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 performance2.
Parent-child interactions in the child’s early years 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. Young children learn to self-regulate through watching and mimicking their parents.
Mental Health and Well being
A healthy parent-child relationship is strongly associated with a child’s mental well being. Research shows that having a poor connection is a risk factor in developing depressive symptoms3.
Relations with others are vital innate motivators in humans4. 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.
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.
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 blog.
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 have worked 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 missing homework, poor grades, unfinished household chores, and poor discipline arise.
Many parents unknowingly spend more time damaging the relationship than strengthening 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.
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 up than pouring a lot of water into a leaky bottle. In addition, if spending more time together means more conflicts, then it’s like flooding that bottle with undrinkable water.
So, to strengthen the relationship…
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 really have a discipline problem… you have a relationship problem.
For some parents, to repair is to apologize if you feel that you might be wrong in a recent fight. You don’t have to take on everything. Point out the part you could have done differently. If your child’s feelings were hurt, apologize.
Admitting a mistake will not undermine your authority. You show that you’re big enough to take responsibility for a mistake. That will earn you respect.
For others who don’t have a clearly wrong moment, use these steps to repair:
- Start with the biggest conflict.
- Evaluate whether being right in it is that important to you.
- Imagine 20 years from now, will you care more about winning in this fight or your relationship with your child.
- Talk to your child about your decision in #3.
- Invite your child to discuss alternative solutions together, collaboratively. Do it together. A relationship takes two.
- Go down your list of conflicts and repeat #1-5.
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 attachment5. Responsive parenting has many positive effects on a child’s psychological development.
Being responsive means meeting your child’s emotional needs. For instance, attune to your child’s emotions. Acknowledge your child’s feelings when they are in distress or emotionally 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.
Even 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”.
But 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 bond6.
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.
Respect Builds Relationship. Lack of Respect Destroys Relationship.
Mutual respect is crucial in every healthy relationship. A positive parent-child relationship is 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 desire7. Human beings 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. Have a good conversation. 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 helps them build confidence. Language development is another added bonus to the new communication habits.
Love Them Unconditionally
Unconditional love from the parent 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 unique bond between parents and children.
Final Thoughts On Parent-Child Relationships – Change is hard
Building a close, secure 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 creating a long-lasting bond with our kids is not easy, but it’s very well worth it. The last thing we want is to have an estranged relationship with the ones we love.
- 1.Vaillant G. TRIUMPHS OF EXPERIENCE: THE MEN OF THE HARVARD GRANT STUDY. Harvard University Press; 2012.
- 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.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.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.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.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.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