Strengthen Connection

heartspace connexThe other day a reporter sent out a query about parents wanting to strengthen their bond with their kids.  The request was for quick responses to a couple of questions.

Here are the questions and the responses:

  • What are your top 2 tips for parents to help strengthen their bond with their son or daughter? Please be as specific as possible.  
    • Acknowledge your child’s feelings.  Don’t try to talk her out of them.  These are powerful experiences that kids aren’t always experienced enough to put into perspective.  There will be time to discuss things when emotions settle down.  Instead of saying “Don’t be sad,” say “It seems like this makes you very sad (or mad, or frustrated). That makes sense.  Can I help?”
    • Be fair, clear and consistent about family expectations.  If parents don’t follow through on what they say about kids’ behavior, they show that they can not be trusted for the things they say.  Postpone punishment until there’s a chance to think about it.  Make it reasonable and enforceable.  If parents are not going to enforce a month of grounding, don’t suggest it.  Then discuss it calmly, and give reasons why.  Something might be negotiable.  Or it might not.  If parents go back on their word for the consequences of inappropriate behavior, they demonstrate that they don’t really mean what they say.
  • What are 2 mistakes you see parents making when they try to bond with their kids? Please be as specific as possible 
    • Trying to be a friend and intrude on the child’s autonomy. Children have options for many friends.  They don’t have any other parents. Being a best friend means we share everything.  Wise parents don’t always want to know everything. They want their children to start making decisions on their own. They want their children to know when they need help.  Being the cool parent can be off putting.  Kids want to know that their parents are strong enough to protect them.  Not joining them as one of their peers.
    • Thinking that special times make up for daily grind bonding.  Too often parents are frustrated when that expensive vacation or big name ball game tickets don’t help them connect with their kids.  Kids bond with dependable, loving, compassionate parents.  They bond over dinner.  Believe it or not, they bond over arguments that make no sense.  If parents are working on the day-to-day relationship, teenagers will do their best to take care of themselves emotionally.

If I were going to add on to those with more than a top 2 list I would probably mention how important it is to set an example for children and teenagers about how to behave in loving and generous ways.  Not just to one another, but to others, too.  When children see that the adults in their lives get angry or rude to others who don’t do things “right”, they can start to believe that their messing up will get that same reaction.  They can also learn to use those reactions to their parents when they start trying on independence.  If that behavior is acceptable, it must be true for them as well.

I would also say to parents, be thoughtful in the ways your child is thoughtful, not just the ways you want to be thoughtful.  If your child is more inclined to write a note, write a note to him.  If your child reads science fiction, ask for a title you might read, and then read it and talk about it.

I remember one teenager years ago, whose parents bought her a TV to take to college.  They thought it would be good because their daughter enjoyed TV.  That wasn’t what the daughter wanted.  She wanted to get away from TV in college and she had hinted about a camera which she thought might be too expensive.  Her parents were acting in a loving way, but not listening to the messages she was sending.  She was disappointed, which was not what the parents had in mind at all.

Bonding with anyone takes time.  Sometimes those bonds are stretched due to disappointment or heartbreak.  The task of parenthood is to stick with it, remain the strong one holding on to the bond, and working to bring it back together.

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