Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.
I wrote last week about a Canadian father who recently blogged that he favors his older son over his younger son, Charlie. As I said, I don’t know any parent with more than one child who enjoys each one equally at all times; and I want to share a few tips to help build a strong relationship with your child at moments when it doesn’t come naturally:
1. Look at life from your child’s point of view before you speak or act. How does your child see you, life, and the world? Your frustration, detachment, or anger will often subside when you look at the world though her eyes. Stop for just a moment, put yourself in her position, and ask, “How would it feel to be on the receiving end of what I am about to say, do, or not do?”
2. Find your child’s talents, abilities, and strengths that are different from your own and value those traits because they are different. You and your child can learn from each other through your differences. If you are athletic and your child is artistic, let him know that he is much better artist than you are. This will help him feel that it is okay that he must try harder to throw the ball when the two of you are playing catch. Be mindful of appreciating his natural abilities. Respecting his strengths fosters his self-esteem and teaches him to value the talents of others.
3. Show affection. Sometimes we just have to stop and give a hug, say the words, or look into our child’s eyes to foster the relationship. We are the adults. Don’t wait for your feelings to lead you – tell her that you love her and that you will always be there for her. The pleasure you see in her eyes just might strike something in your heart that builds feelings. Every relationship needs a hero, and the parents must ALWAYS play that role … always. Even though our children often take on that role, it is NOT their responsibility to do so.
4. Spend time with each child regardless of how you feel. Your child will be happy and relaxed if you let him choose the activities he likes often. If you always insist on doing things that you enjoy, neither of you will have a great time. It is certainly okay to expose him to a variety of activities that are new to him, but balance new experiences with those that are truly his passion. Choose to live in the moment with him, and you will both experience real joy.
5. If your child is verbal, talk with her about your relationship. Talking with children can be very revealing because they are so sincere and honest. Your child needs to know that she is important to you—that you are going to be there for her, that you accept her, and that you are not disappointed in her. Your approval about who she is and what she does means the world to her so be specific when you praise her.
6. Keep trying! Do not let guilt cause you to pull away. There are times when you do not like a child’s phase, you cannot stand his behavior, and he is simply not much fun to be around. Do not beat yourself up for feeling this way. Determine that you will work through it and get help, if needed, to teach your child acceptable behavior. Exercise the adult discipline that you expect him to exhibit and don’t hurl words at him that you really don’t mean when you are in an emotional rage. Do not tell your children that you prefer one child over the other. Just be honest with them and say that you do not like their behavior and that you are working through your own frustrations. Be very careful that you do not turn something they cannot control into their issue.
7. Make sure that you are not transferring your own issues onto your children. Sometimes we reject our child because she reminds us of pain in our past. When we think about life from her viewpoint, we realize that she deserves love, support, and a healthy parent. Seek help if you need it in order to be a better parent.
8. Get qualified, professional help early in your child’s life and all along the way. There is nothing wrong with seeking out play therapy if you hit a rough patch and feel you need to better understand how to relate to your child. If you start early in her life, getting help will not seem foreign to her when she comes upon an issue that she doesn’t know how to handle.
9. Never underestimate the power of touch. Every child yearns for the touch of his parent. Play a game or sit him on your lap and read a good book together. Take his hand when you are walking. Kiss him good night every night. Touch heals … so even if your relationship is strained, continue to be the parent who reaches out whether your child responds to you in return or not.
10. Say, “I love you.” Many parents think that their actions express their love so they don’t create a culture of saying it. Ask yourself each day if you have told your child that you love her. If she is older and it is awkward, start with a note, a text, or a voicemail. Do not let her wonder if you love her. Words are healing, and you will feel it the more that you say it.
Most importantly, remember that your words have a lasting effect on your child, and you can never take them back once they are out there … so choose them wisely.