Having a warm connected relationship with your children is definitely one of the most enjoyable aspects of parenting. Doing fun activities together, sharing experiences and having good conversations all make for creating deeply satisfying relationships between parents and children. Such connected relationships have enormous benefits for children, in terms of building their self-esteem and confidence and providing them with a secure base in the world as well as benefits for parents in helping them understand their children and putting them in a place of positive influence.
Another less obvious benefit of connected parent-child relationships is how such relationships contribute to children being safe and making responsible decisions. Children and young teenagers who feel connected to their parents are often less likely to make reckless decisions. Imagine a boy who is put in a risky situation, say where another child puts pressure on him to steal, smoke or drink alcohol. If the boy is disconnected from their parents, then they are less likely to know where he is, who he is with and what is happening. As a result he is more likely to feel there is no consequence from taking the risk. Alternatively, if the boy feels connected to his parents, then he is likely to feel that he will have to account to them and more likely feel influenced by their wishes. Further if the parents know where he is and the other child he is with (as well as their parents), then the other child is less likely to suggest the risky activity. It is the web of supportive connections and relationships that help young children behave responsibly in many situations.
Maintain a connection
There are lots of simple things you can do to build a warm connected relationship with each of your children and teenagers. Even if things are fractious between you at the moment, take one or more of the steps below and begin to turn things round and get you back on track.
Get to know their special interests
Take an interest in each of your children’s special interests and hobbies. Even if you don’t like what they are interested in, it is worth taking time to find out what they like about it. For example, rather than only criticising their use of video games and social media, could you take a positive interest and let them teach you about them. Could you join them in one of their video games or watch some of their favourite YouTube clips together? You could even make their use of social media and technology dependent on them taking time to show you how it all works. Before letting young children use a new technology a good principle is to take time to get to know it together.
Try to have a daily ‘chatting’ time with each of your children
Healthy families have routines which allow for daily times of connection between parents and children. These connecting times can be simple everyday events such as reading a story before bed or sitting down together to eat dinner (with phones and the TV turned off) or walking together to school or having the ritual of a cup of tea and a chat when they come in from school. Each family is different and all that matters is that most days you have this connecting time with each of your children. If you are lucky, such connecting times can become habits that lasts through the teen years. For example, in many families the nightly ritual of reading a story before bedtime with a younger child becomes a nightly chat and check in with a teenager. Though the specifics change, the habit of talking and connecting before bedtime continues.
Build shared hobbies together
Shared hobbies and interests are great sources of connection between parents and children. Following a football team or watching a favourite TV show or cooking/ baking together all create regular times of connection and enjoyable experiences together. Such shared hobbies can get you through hard times. The relationship between one father and son I worked with was saved by a shared passion for Manchester United. No matter how fractious the teenage years became, they still had to watch the match together and review the performance.
Take an interest in their friends and school work
As children get older they develop their own interests and friends and it becomes harder to stay connected. As a parent you can’t leave things to chance, and you have to actively take an interest and get involved were you can. Take an interest in their school work and their friends (and even get to know their friends’ parents!) as well as all aspects of their lives. The more you get to know their world, the more open the lines of communication between you become. This means they are more likely to come to you if they are in distress and/ or to talk to you about dilemmas and difficult choices they are making. It is from this position that you are most likely to have a positive influence when they are making important life decisions. When your relationship with your children is positive and warm, they are more likely to listen to you and follow your lead when exposed to risks and dangers.
Tips for going forward
Take a moment to reflect how warm and connected your relationships are with each of your children.
“Do you have a daily connecting time with each of them?
“When do you have the best chats and spend enjoyable time with each of them?
Think of how you can improve the connection you have with each of your children by taking an interest in their friends and special interests and by establishing shared activities and everyday times when you can chat together.
This article was one of a six-part Pressure Points series. Read the others here . . .
Part 1: Don't be a helicopter parent, but don't be permissive either.
Part 2: Five ways parents can connect with their children.
Part 3: Talk early and often to kids about dangers.
Part 4: Responsibility vs freedom: Teens who drink at home are more likely to binge.
Part 5: How to stop a child 'falling in with the wrong crowd'.
Part 6: Will be published in December.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes.