Most parents have a natural drive to want their children to succeed in life. Without studying child development and other fields like psychology, it is difficult to know which parenting techniques support healthy development of children. Here are four suggestions that may help children thrive and parents build strong relationships with them.
1. Build Strong Attachment
When children have strong bonds with their parents or caregivers, they tend to feel more secure, confident and more at ease with life in general. These characteristics can carry over into adulthood. This task may seem like an easy one, because parents naturally love their children, but there are things parents can do to help build attachment, making children feel secure.
Starting in infancy, the core of trust is created. By attuning to children’s basic care needs, parents may notice subtle signs before infants cry or toddlers throw tantrums. For instance, they can respond to an infant’s signs of hunger prior to the child going into distress. When an older child has a lot of energy, the parent can offer a game or other movement opportunities. The constant message is: you see me, you get me and you are here for me. This leads to belongingness and a safety-net for trying things on their own. A secure base can start anytime. Young children, like adult children, want to be seen and supported by their parents.
2. Be Interested and Engaged
It’s easy to let life fly by with all the daily routines. Parents should make time to engage with children and be interested in how they see the world. When a child tells a parent a story, they are being creative, taking a risk, performing and showing courage. Parents should support these efforts.
When children ask to play or when a teen wants to go have lunch, it’s a great time to fully embrace the moment. Open conversations between parents and children encourage a lifetime of such interactions. When parents engage, they live life with their children, rather than just keeping the family ball rolling.
3. Be Human
Parents make mistakes, say things they don’t mean and are fallible in general, because they are human. Some parents believe they can’t make mistakes, and fear becomes a prison in which they hide their flaws. Golden Rule: Parents do not have to be perfect.
It is important to show children that the world won’t crumble if people are not perfect. They watch parents consciously and unconsciously. It is important to be patient with personal error and be okay admitting when wrong. One of the most effective ways parents can build a relationship with their child is to apologize when they lose it, are impatient, abuse power or show lack of interest. Children are very gracious when parents apologize, and will often express warmth in return.
4. Don’t Shame
Parents sometimes shame children when they are triggered by certain behavior. When children misbehave, some parents will get angry, disengage or say hurtful things. Any parent may react this way, but shame is damaging. It gives the message that children have to be “good” in order to be loved, or worse—they are not worthy of love.
When parents see bad behavior rather than a bad child, shaming is less likely. In general, giving clear direction is more positive for the parent and the child. Saying “no and stop” all day is very tiring and is negative. Phrasing statements as, “Please sit down, Touch gently and Be careful,” feels better to all involved.
When children are honest and open, even when they did something wrong, parents should see a golden light of opportunity. That’s the time to engage, celebrate the courage of honesty and problem-solve together how best to approach the dilemma in the future. Teens growing up with openness may talk more freely when they need help navigating the many enticements of adulthood.
When parents are centered and engaged, they tend to be more curious, playful and connected with their children. They notice when parts of them are triggered and reactive, and gracefully let their best self lead the way.
Seth Kopald, Ph.D., has been an Internal Family Systems practitioner since 2012. The Arbor Wellness Center is located at 2350 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor. For more information, call 734-395-3319 or visit SethKopald.com.