30 JanBonded: A Parenting Guide to Strengthening Your Relationship With Your Child by Kelsey Allen-Dicker, LCSW The bond between parent/guardian/caregiver and child can have such a significant impact. The most critical and strongly researched phase is the bond between infants and their parent/guardian/caregiver. However, maintaining and strengthening developmental foundations in the child through interpersonal relationships can continue across the lifespan during childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The bond between parent/guardian/caregiver and child can also have a profound influence on the parent as well but this article will focus on the ongoing impact this bond can have on the child during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. How can the parent/guardian/caregiver – child bond benefit the child? To name a few: It can strengthen the child’s sense of trust in their environment and their self-confidence It can bolster their exploration and movements towards independence It can model emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills It can build their social skills and insight into interpersonal relationships It can help them make sense of their identity It can support them in experiencing love and passion for others It can influence their ability to repair and problem solve In the many stages of child and adolescent development, the parent/guardian/caregiver can be met with barriers and resistance which can influence their bond and also cause the parent to question their approach. How can the parent/guardian/caregiver help strengthen the parent-child relationship? Be Human Showing your human qualities to your child can offer such significant benefits. This can be done through honest and vulnerable display and communication of your emotions. Of course, parents will have to set boundaries with age-appropriate topics to share and language. Modeling can also be such a beneficial learning approach for children. They can learn through witnessing their parent’s reflection on a situation, their parent’s healthy and appropriate connection in relationships, their parent’s communication of and display of coping with problems and/or mistakes, their parent’s problem-solving strategies, and their parent’s coping tools and use of resources. A part of being human is making mistakes even if we are parents. Modeling the art of healthy repairs with the child can have such a lasting impact. It normalizes to the child that mistakes happen, displays tools to resolve conflicts, and most importantly strengthens your bond. Connection Days as a parent can be long and hectic, and often your child’s unwanted behaviors stem from their need for increased attention. Creating and maintaining a line of communication during childhood years can help prepare your family for communication and for the potential barriers with communication during adolescence. How do you connect with your child? How can you carve out and prioritize time to connect 1:1 with your child? Qualities to consider during 1:1 time with your child: Short, meaningful time (aim for at least 10-15 minutes) on a daily basis Use active listening skills Give undivided attention (without screens present) Signal that you’re listening through eye contact, facial expressions and body language Avoid interruptions Make them feel heard rather than providing evaluation, judgment or problem-solving Be mindful of your child’s verbal and non-verbal communication Provide validation, reflection, and empathy Recognize and accept your child’s perspective as understandable even if you do not agree with it Repeat back your child’s words and elaborate on them Show understanding and share their feelings Structure Consider using open-ended questions to encourage a conversation; family discussion topics, conversation starters or flashcards can be helpful guides Use a visible feelings chart for guidance Use I – statements I feel _____ because ______ when ______. Consistency Connection can be made when your child is emotionally regulated and dysregulated. When your child is dysregulated, prioritize safety and show your dependability by remaining with your child even if there is no verbal exchange. Their dysregulated behavior is often their way of communicating that they are in need of help. Your physical presence during their time of need can be such a profound message to them. Empowerment In a world where many choices are made for them, encourage their voice by giving your child the opportunity to choose a topic or an activity to do together. Energize the Positive Take a moment to reflect on your last interaction with your child…Was it focused on a positive action or choice of theirs? Was it focused on a problem or a poor decision? If the ladder, it can be an exhausting cycle that can negatively influence the bond with your child, your emotional health as a parent, and also your child’s self-esteem and how they subsequently respond to themselves. Howard Glasser created and developed the Nurtured Heart Approach which stresses the need as parents/guardians/caregivers to energize and celebrate their child’s positive choices and moments (whether small or big) through reinforcement. When reflecting on your child’s last difficult moment, what lens did you view it in? Dr. Becky Kennedy, author of Good Inside, recommends to consider what is the “Most Generous Interpretation” when your child is having a hard time. This interpretation can help you better understand your child’s perspective and guide your next parenting steps. Boundaries Even though children may resist rules or boundaries, they benefit and grow from clear and realistic expectations as well as firm and consistent limits. Creating boundaries when children are young can help support their feelings of security as well as safety. Through structure, children can better grasp their place in the world and how the world works. If you’re recognizing that a shift needs to be made within your family dynamics regarding boundaries, consider the 4 P’s – Prioritize short-term and realistic goals, Prepare and Plan as a unified front with the adults in your household how to roll out, and lastly be Patient with the process and remind yourself that with new boundaries the child’s behavior can get worse before it gets better. Resources/Tools Read books with your child on important topics, milestones, and dilemmas. Books can add an additional educational resource for the child, bolster your relationship, and reduce the potential for lecturing. Reflect on your own self-care. Is your internal tank empty or full? How do you need to improve your self-care in order to better provide for and connect with your child? Use local community events, resources and activities as outlets for bonding with your child. Connecting with your child does not need to be expensive. Consider individual or couples therapy with a focus on your parenting approach and/or parent support groups. A well-known proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child”. Examine how you can utilize or expand your network for support.