Love at first sight. That’s how parents describe their first encounter with baby. Every sound is precious and every gaze priceless.
With every day, parenting unravels its secrets and joys, and as all parents can attest, its challenges too. It’s easy to lose heart when the going gets tough. But it’s also worth remembering that each day is a new opportunity to try again.
Here’s what you need to know about your continuously evolving relationship with your child, and how you can build a solid and positive bond to last.
The Parent-Child Relationship: The Specifics
Your connection to your child is by far the most rewarding, yet the most challenging and humbling, of all.
The types of relationships parents establish with their children have been the subjects of much research, and for good reason. A child’s bond with their parents is the most enduring, and also essential in how children relate to the world around them.
Researchers at Purdue University have identified four types of parent-child relationship.
This is the most attached and positive kind of relationship. Children’s physical and emotional needs are being met consistently. That helps them grow confident and able to relate to other children and adults, and become well-adjusted.
Children learn early that they can’t depend on their parents for a secure feeling. They often seem independent but act out or become aggressive and feel unsafe about people and surroundings. Sometimes a parent’s intention may be to foster a sense of early independence. But the persistent ignoring of needs can translate into children having difficulty forming healthy relationships due to lack of trust and self-confidence.
If their needs are only met occasionally, children feel insecure and become clingy. Not having a solid foothold makes them revert to infantile behavior at times while trying to get attention from adults around them.
Children in this category often belong to parents who suffer from depression or have troubled lives, which spills into their children’s everyday life as well. Children’s behavior is not consistent and they seem to be oblivious to other children’s feelings, which makes them more difficult to interact with.
The First Years
Every child is unique. Helpful advice and parenting books are great to have around, as long as you don’t try to make your baby fit into a mold, but rather get to know and understand them.
Full-term babies come ready to enter a bonding relationship with their parents. They cry, whimper, and seek to be held and nursed. Responding to their needs allows them to develop trust and also learn skills that will later help them build healthy relationships.
If in the old days many thought that picking up a crying baby would spoil them, research now says otherwise. Providing a sense of security will help baby know they are safely attached to their parents. That helps them become a more confident toddler who is less clingy and prone to acting out.
By responding to them but not encouraging whining, screaming, or hitting, you’ll help them express their emotions in a positive way. Big life events (potty training, moving, the birth of a sibling, or mom returning to work) can make them clingier and increase their need for reassurance.
Set aside some quality time with your child every day, whether reading to them or playing or just snuggling. That will help them know they are safe and can rely on you, but it will also remind you of the amazing bond you share.
No matter what your child’s age, one thing stands true: Your example is the best teacher there is. Do your best to manage your own emotions well. Raising an emotionally literate child will make your job as a parent easier down the road.
The School Years
As your child is spending more time outside the home, they’ll be communicating with peers and other adults who care for them.
Your budding bond is growing in a different way now as your child brings their daily experiences home. Despite the fact that they are growing more independent by the day, their emotional needs are still very much present. A continuous dialogue with you is essential.
Finding time every day to spend with your child is just as vital as it was when they were younger. Sit down for dinner together so you can chat about the day. A good reminder for parents: Please listen rather than offer solutions to whatever problems your child is facing, no matter how strong the pull to jump in and save the situation.
Listening with patience and without judgment allows them to open up knowing that they are trusted to find a way. That’s one of the rewards of a secure relationship: Your child confides in you knowing you are there for them, but also knowing they are allowed to make their own mistakes as they go.
Keep practicing emotional literacy by modeling calm behavior under stress. Processing challenging situations in a calm way shows your child that no one is perfect and keeping calm helps with finding solutions together.
The Teenage Years
Teenagers need their space and privacy. They also need to know you’re there for them — despite the fact that mainstream media often portrays the parent-teenager relationship as troubled. But that doesn’t need to be the case if you remind yourself that your child is trying to make sense of the world as they mature.
Their preferences may differ greatly from yours. Rather than point out what you don’t like, opt to maintain an open dialogue so that your child will have the confidence to share facts of their life. You might discover that by not imposing or judging, your teenager will actually seek dialogue with you rather than avoid your presence altogether.
Be supportive and make time to listen. When you do, you can understand your child’s struggles and celebrate achievements together.
The Secret to a Secure Bond with Your Child
There is no big secret after all. Provide unconditional love and acceptance.
Spend time together every day with each child. Playing when they are little becomes talking through big topics as they get older, and shows them they are worth it.
Have a dialogue rather than lecturing. Listen. It teaches your child that they have to mind other people’s feelings too.
You don’t have to be perfect. It teaches your child that it’s OK to make mistakes.
Do your best and end the day with hugs.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham, Ph.D.
- Kids Are Worth It! by Barbara Coloroso
- How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish