The key to our parenting is our foundational relationship with our kids. We can know every parenting skill ever developed, and none will work as well if we don’t have the relational base with our kids. Focusing on enhancing and fostering your relationship with your kids won’t magically make all your problems disappear. But it is what will last. Your relationship with your kids is more important than grades, sports, or any other part of parenting.
To be a relationship-based parent, we first need to define what kind of relationship we hope to foster with our kids. This may look differently from family to family, but here are some ideas to get you started.
There are countless ways we can foster our relationship with our kids. Here are five areas of focus to get you started:
Focus on the Individual
It doesn’t always feel like we have what it takes to parent our kids. But we have an innate biological connection that can really set us up for success as parent. So, be a student of your child. Recognize their struggles and qualities. Discover what makes them feel loved and express your unconditional love. Also, understand that as they grow, your relationship may change, but it never becomes any less important. There is no one more important to their development than you.
Focus on Attachment
Connection, attachment, bond. These words are often used interchangeably to mean the basis of our relationship with our kids. From infancy, relationship-based parents seek to meet all the needs of their children and use warmth, affection, and love to foster attachment. As kids grow, we foster our attachment in different ways. Focusing on love languages, quality time, meeting needs, and showing interest.
Focus on Discipline over Punishment
There are dozens of parenting labels out there today, and it isn’t often helpful to get too bogged down in labels, but it can be helpful to see our own patterns of behavior and make changes in areas we need. Being too punitive, or too permissive, or too authoritarian, or too much of a helicopter, can be unhelpful in fostering relationship. Instead, focusing on healthy boundaries and allowing kids to live with the natural consequences of their choices, while being loving and empathetic are all ways research has shown to be an effective parent.
How we choose to discipline our children can have a major impact on our relationship with them. Living in a world with no consequences is as bad as living in constant fear of severe punishment. We don’t want to over punish our kids and make them fearful of us. Fear and punishment have no place in a healthy relationship. Instead, loving boundaries, sincere empathy and understanding, and non-punitive consequences show kids they are cared for and loved.
Additionally, when problems arise, parents who focus on relationship will look behind the behavior. Often, misbehavior is a child’s way of trying to tell us something they don’t know they need to say. Maybe they are feeling disconnected, maybe something is bothering them, or any number of other possible roots could be feeding the weeding misbehavior. Instead of focusing on the behavior, focus on the child.
Focus on Emotional Support
Research continues to show that kids who were raised by emotion coaching parents develop healthy relationship skills and are more successful in many aspects of life. Instead of constantly telling kids to “get over” their negative or uncomfortable feelings, emotional support parents help kids learn what they are feeling and how to deal with those feelings. (Read more on Emotional Intelligence for Kids here.)
Focus on Being Real
There are tons of labels out there for parenting. Helicopter, positive, permissive, lawn mower. Labels we put on our kids can be disabling, and it’s true for us too. Focusing on being a relationship-based parent is great, and so is being a real parent. Let your kids see you struggle and how you overcome. Allow them see you mess up and apologize or make amends. Let them see how you interact with the world. There are good and bad to all these parenting labels, and I think being a real parent is the best we can be.
These five areas of focus are just the start of being a parent who focuses on relationship building.
What other ways can you foster your relationship with your child?
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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