Creating more profound connections with your child leads to improved outcomes for parents and children. Research shows that parents' physical and mental health improves when positivity increases in the parent-child relationship. Children show higher levels of self-regulation while showing improved responsiveness to parental demands. Building a strong foundation for your family takes time, persistence, and consistency. Find five tried and true, evidence-based tips for improving that already strong foundation below:
Prioritize daily one-on-one time
Spend special time engaging with your child and their favorite activities. Allow them to lead the activity for a few minutes each day. For younger children under seven years old, 5-10 minutes of daily one-on-one time is typically the recommended time, while 10-15 minutes of daily special time is recommended for older children.
During this time, avoid asking your child questions or giving them directions or commands. Instead, practice active listening by using the following skills:
- Repeat back what they say in a neutral tone.
- Notice what your child is doing well ("I love how gently you're playing with the magnet tiles").
- Describe their play ("You're building a really tall tower").
Allowing children to lead positive time-in with parents is a cornerstone to building trust and strength in the relationship.
Catch them being good: Praise frequently
As humans, we are problem solvers. We will notice something wrong and work hard to find a solution. We are inclined to sit back and relax when things are slow and steady. When we only focus on more typically "negative" behaviors, such as whining or tantrums, we negate all the beautiful behaviors children show us daily.
Instead, catch your child "being good." Tell your child exactly what you like that you're seeing, especially if it's something that they are working hard to improve. For a child struggling with low frustration tolerance, we want to catch any moment that child perseveres and stays with a task, even if it's frustrating. Use specific and positive language: "great job working so hard on that," "I love that you stuck with it!", "good work staying so calm. I know that was frustrating". Aim for a 1:1 ratio of daily positive praise and constructive feedback.
Remind children of the expectations
It's important to remember that children are learning how to act in every new situation and setting they enter. Each unique experience is an opportunity for success or for the child to feel negative about their actions. We want to remind children of the expectations at each new experience to allow them the ability to succeed. When we assume children know what to do, we could set them up to fail. Instead, stick to 3-5 positively stated expectations for each activity. For example, you may remind your child that in a grocery store, we practice the following: stay close to your parent, ask before touching something, and use an indoor voice.
Model appropriate behaviors
Parents have an incredible opportunity to model the calming strategies and positive behaviors we strive to teach our children. As much as possible, it can be helpful to talk out loud about daily inconveniences and model how you use adaptive coping skills to handle those moments. Be sure to model talking about your feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. If a parent spills their coffee in the morning, it's an excellent opportunity to speak openly about your thoughts and feelings. For instance, "That is so frustrating, but it will be okay. I'm going to clean it up and remind myself that mistakes happen, and this is a small problem".
If you have a moment of humanness and have a big reaction to that spilled coffee, it can be an opportunity to model appropriate behaviors differently. Talk to your child about what happened, how you felt, and a coping strategy you'll try in the future. Once you're calm, you may say, "Mom had a big reaction to that spill this morning. I was feeling upset and angry that I had spilled the coffee. I realized later it was a smaller problem than I thought, and next time I'm going to remind myself that mistakes happen, and it'll be okay."
Maintain consistent boundaries
Children thrive when parents give them consistent and clear boundaries. Having simple family rules, such as showing respect for each other and having a safe body with myself and others, is a healthy boundary for everyone. Be sure to discuss boundaries and expectations during a calm time. It's important to understand that all kids will push the boundaries here and there. Still, parents should be prepared to stay consistent and help children understand the rationale behind setting limits. Children feel safe with structure and limit-setting. Helping to establish healthy family boundaries promotes a strong foundation.
It's important to remember that building and maintaining any relationship takes time and consistency. There will be moments of conflict and disagreement, and it's important to remember the larger goal. Using the above tools will build a stronger relationship with your child and reap immeasurable benefits.