I have a wonderful relationship with both of my children. While I often wondered if we would survive adolescence, we did and now I have two young adults with whom I enjoy spending time. I share this because so many others are struggling to connect, or re-connect, with their children in a gratifying and meaningful way.
For today’s Top Ten List, I would like to share the Top Ten Ways I Built Positive Relationships with my Children . Perhaps you will find a method or two which will help you and your children relate in a positive way.
1. Listen, and I mean LISTEN!
Your children are constantly reaching out to share with you, either through words or actions. You absolutely must take time to listen to what is being said, listen for what is not being said, pay attention to changes in his/her actions, energy level, interactions with others, interest in activities, and school efforts. Most of us do not truly listen to others. It is human nature to take in enough information to begin forming an opinion, then our mind is off and running, crafting a response instead of HEARING what is being conveyed. Listen. Shut your mouth. Turn off your opinion. Suspend all judgement. Listen cleanly and openly. Make eye contact, make your child/children feel they are WORTHY of your undivided attention.
2. Be realistic with your rules, expectations, and guidelines.
Believe it or not, our children WANT parameters! However, exercise caution and flexibility when establishing household rules. If you have little or no guidelines, your child may feel unsure of him/herself, frightened by the unknown, or even abandoned or unloved. Too strict and they will feel suffocated, over-protected, and that you do not trust them to be the individual they are. Each child is unique and what works for one, may or may not work for another. Be flexible, but fair, if you impose different guidelines for different children. A key to success in implementing guidelines is to make corrections when they are not followed, but more importantly, acknowledge your child’s efforts when they ARE followed!
3. Follow through with threatened punishments and be true to your word.
I admit, there was a time when my children were young that I simply felt overwhelmed and I pulled the “Wait until your dad gets home…” card! However, I quickly learned I was setting myself up for less and less authority and respect. If I lost that in the early years, the later years would be a disaster. So I changed my parenting and learned to impose appropriate sanctions for inappropriate behaviors. Truthfully, many times it was ME who suffered from punishments because I not only had to follow through, but often the punishment was loss of an outing or activity that I was looking forward to!
My children also learned they could trust me to do as I said. From the time they were young, I explained to them when they ask me a question, they are entitled to one of three answers: yes, no, or maybe/I don’t know. There were times they asked and I requested time to think things over before answering. Guess what parents, we CAN do that! We do not have to give an immediate, short-sighted answer just because our kids expect it! My kids knew that once I rendered my answer, it was given with consideration, therefore they knew that “no” meant no and I was spared the relentless badgering tactic so many children implement.
4. Spend quality time with your children.
For us, quality time meant anything from sledding to visiting the children’s museum, from shopping to them trying to teach me to skateboard, from fishing to redoing their bedrooms, and from playing a simple board game to talking over boy/girl relationships. Often times, you may have to sacrifice your own preferences, but by engaging in activities your child enjoys, you convey the message that he/she is VALUED! It will not cause you permanent harm to sit through a movie you don’t like, to listen to music that grates your nerves, or to watch your child try to perfect a skill for hours upon end.
5. Get to know your child’s friends.
If possible, start early. Set up play dates at your house, establish relationships with other parents, and be accepting of your child’s friends. Help your child develop friendships and support them as they move in and out of the many associations they will make. In their teen years, kids become very protective of their friendships and you will have to work harder to get to know their friends, but it is important to do so. If your children feel their friends are welcome, they will have confidence and trust in introducing you to their friends. Our home was the “go to” house and while there were sleepless nights and occasional dramas, my children’s friends were comfortable in my home and in my presence and now as they are all young adults, we are developing our own peer-to-peer relationships.
6. Model what you want your kids to be.
Don’t be a hypocrite! If you drink, don’t preach that your children abstain; instead educate them. Model for them appropriate consumption, responsibility by not drinking and driving, and that you do not approve of underage drinking. The same for tobacco use. If you smoke, teach your children the dangers and pitfalls of smoking and encourage them to abstain for their own benefit. Don’t gossip then admonish your child for doing the same; don’t swear and then wash their mouths out for doing the same; don’t drive recklessly and then take away your child’s keys when he/she does the same. Get it? While each person makes his or her own choices, you want to model good behaviors in hopes your children will emulate those.
7. Be transparent with who you once were.
Our children come into this world looking up to us. We are (hopefully) well-adjusted, high-functioning adults. Sometimes this translates into pressure for our kids–from where they are, they do not have the ability to see who they can become. Share with them your biggest childhood fears and how you overcame them. Share with them the insecurities you faced and your foibles in dating. Share with them your successes and how you achieved them. Share with them your mistakes and the consequences. Open up and let your children see you were once a big hot mess, but lived through it and they will gain strength from that…they will also be better able to relate to you as a HUMAN and not just a parental machine.
8. Embrace your child’s mistakes.
Parents, our children are NOT perfect. Lighten up and embrace those mistakes–and for goodness sake, teach your child it’s OK to make them! Mistakes are lessons, growth opportunities, and steps toward becoming a fully functioning, self-reliant adult. Some of your child’s mistakes will be minor and they will find their way through them, but some may be life-altering and require your help. You do not have to like the situation, but please look beyond it to the child you are raising, and help him or her make the best of it. I endured things I never imagined. At times I questioned our ability to get through, but we did and those things cemented our relationships in a profound way. One more thing, regardless how precious your little bundles of joy are, they WILL screw up and cause you pain and embarrassment. Keep this in mind as you judge other people’s children!
9. Own your own thoughts, feelings, judgments, and reactions.
While your children are entitled to your love and attention, you are entitled to set aside time for yourself! If you’re having a bad day, have things on your mind, need a mental break, tell your children you need a time out. If you have had a bad day, don’t take it out on your kids…they weren’t at your office, they didn’t cause the traffic jam, they didn’t overdraw your bank account or cause you to turn in a bad report. As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, “Don’t kick the cat.” You’re an adult, you are in charge of your own thoughts, feelings, judgments and reactions…make them appropriate. If you do behave inappropriately, apologize, have a discussion around the situation, and make amends.
10. Give your child acknowledgement.
I sat through countless Little League games, some good, some not. My son, regardless of how he played, knew I was there to support him and acknowledge his efforts. I wish I could say the same of many other parents. Berating a child, humiliating him/her, comparing his/her efforts are NOT what they need. Listen up…this is my soapbox moment: None of us had children to disrespect them, hurt them emotionally or physically, or to treat them as property. They are special, unique individuals who deserve love and respect, just as any of us do. Please keep this in mind as you interact with your child/children. Build them up, acknowledge and praise them, give them a hug or a pat on the back. Do it often and do it with sincerity, our kids cannot get enough positive reinforcement! Aide them in developing positive self-image and self-reliance and your reward is creating a positive relationship with your child/children.
I am so wonderfully blessed by children who are open and honest with me, who are comfortable around me, who trust I will listen and support them, who are respectful and appreciative of me, and who know I expect them to own their mistakes, thoughts and feelings and do not coddle them. These things did not just occur by happenstance, I worked at it and I worked at it relentlessly. It was my job as a mother to give them the best I knew how. Do your kids a favor by doing your job well!