Children have an innate need to be heard, understood, and to feel seen. This is especially true when it comes to the most significant people in their lives, their parental figures. One of the key factors of a positive parent-child relationship is that of attunement. Parents have the potential to grow a strong, healthy relationship with their children by attuning to them. In other words, when parents are able to relate with their children in a way that makes them feel that who they are and what they do and say matters to their parents, the foundation is in place for a positive parent-child relationship.
With most family’s busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time to spend with your children that allows them to feel truly heard, understood, and important. Even more challenging is that some children may not be as open and may avoid connecting with their parents on this level. However, there are some doable strategies to help parents attune to their children that can be practiced in day-to-day life. In my Hermosa Beach therapy practice I work with both parents and children to aid in strengthening the parent-child relationship. Below are some strategies that parents can use to more effectively connect and attune to their children.
Taking time to just be with your child without distractions — other siblings’ needs, running between after school activities, or technology — can make a huge impact in the level of connection your child views experiences with you. Schedule a chunk of time, each day if possible, to get involved in whatever your child is doing without answering to anyone else or having one eye on your computer, TV, or cell phone. Just getting down to your child’s level and learning about his/her life and what is happening in his/her world can establish a more trusting and open relationship between you and your child. When obstacles come about in the future, it can make it easier to communicate him/her and ensure that they feel that their opinions, emotions, and experiences matter.
You can usually tell when someone is emotionally charged. Not only is there a strong sense and aura around them, but they usually show physical signs as well, such as a change in voice or tone. When we notice other people’s emotions change, we tend to react quickly and without much thought. If we notice someone is getting mad, we go on the defense and get ready to combat that emotion. This is a common misstep in the parent-child relationship.
With children (and adults too) it is important that we pause and come back to our rational minds before responding. When parents take an extra moment before reacting, they are able to coach themselves into doing or saying something that makes the child feel heard and understood. For example, if your child becomes upset because you put macaroni and cheese on their plate instead of marinara, take control of your mind and get rid of unhelpful thoughts, such as “Not again! This kid is so dramatic!” Try to replace it with something that will help the situation and your child move forward, such as “I need to say something here that will bring him/her back from ‘losing it’.” Taking this pause can help you regulate yourself and instead of “reacting”, if will allow you to say or do something that will be constructive in the given situation.
When conversing with your child, try refraining from asking questions that only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Asking open-ended questions can allow your child to open up more and shows them that you truly care to hear their thoughts. For example, if you are noticing that your child seems sad about something, rather than asking “Are you upset?” trying saying “It seems like you are sad about something. What is it your are thinking about?” If your child still does not respond, trying thinking of an experience you had in your life when you felt sad or down and share it with your child. It is more likely that children will open up with their own emotions when they feel that you can relate. If and when your child does open up, make sure to be very careful to not make their feelings or story feel less-than. Listen with the intent of allowing them to feel heard rather than invalidate or dismiss their emotional experience.
One major skill that can help your child now and later in life is the capacity to problem-solve. Discussing options that your child has come up with rather than giving a solution right away can not only help your child grow his/her capacity to find solutions to problems, but also communicate to them that their ideas are important and meaningful. Rather than telling him/her what to do, be a support system, offer up your attention, and ask thought-provoking questions, such as “I hear that you are feeling upset, what are some different ways we can handle this to help you feel better?”
Practicing the above four techniques with your child not only helps strengthen your relationship with them, but it facilitates a connection that is open and loving. When your child is faced with a challenge, obstacle, or crossroads later in life, it is more likely that his/she will come to you for support, trusting that you will provide them with the care he/she needs. If you have further questions regarding how to achieve a positive parent-child relationship, or if you would like to discuss how therapy might be helpful for you or your child, contact me today through phone or email. I look forward to hearing from you!