Advice abounds for ways parents can nurture their relationship with each other, yet experts say it’s wise to give similar strategic attention to the relationship with one’s offspring.
Building a strong bond with children takes intention and year-round care, too, two authorities recently suggested.
“We believe the foundation of communities are the relationships and families within them,” said Chris Beach, executive director of the Richmond-based nonprofit Relationship Foundation of Virginia.
“When parents are more active in the lives of their children, the chances of their children being successful increases tremendously,” said Beach, who is a father of four sons, ages 7 to 13. “You are showing your children how to have healthy relationships in the future.”
Dr. Kenneth Barish, a New York-based professor of clinical psychology who has worked with children and families for 30 years, agrees.
“We spend so much time as parents trying to teach our children to do what is good for them, (such as) to do well in school, that we spend less time developing our relationship with them,” said Barish, author of the book “Pride and Joy,” in which he offers guidance on how parents can create more meaningful experiences with their children.
Beach and Barish both think the most important way parents can nurture their children is with time.
“On average, people (spent) close to $160 per person for Valentine’s Day, and in America alone, 445 million cards are sent during this holiday,” Beach said. “But being present with your children and showing them love can go a lot further than a present.
“The more time parents spend with their children, the less their children will be on the internet, playing video games or watching TV.”
Barish, father of two adult children, advises parents to spend at least 10 minutes of one-on-one time with each of their children every evening.
“Ask about what has happened during the day,” he said. “If a parent has been angry with a child, talk about why and discuss ways to make the next day better. Parents can also share stories about when they were kids. Children love this.”
Beach said loving relationships between parents and children yield the following benefits:
- An ability to trust. “If you have great trust with a parent, you’re more likely to trust others.”
- Greater self-esteem. “Kids are more likely to try new things and take chances if there’s someone there showing them the way.”
- Respect for others. “When someone respects you, you have more respect for yourself. Parents can give this and model this.”
Barish, who also writes for PsychologyToday.com, offered a few more suggestions for parents:
- Listen well. “If we spend more time listening to our kids, the more often they will listen to us.”
- Be less critical. “We want our kids to do well, but if we are too critical of them, they feel badly about themselves and angry at us, and we’ve created a vicious cycle.”
- Problem-solve. “Instead of becoming critical for a child not getting good grades, for example, ... put the problem in front of the child and say, ‘This report card doesn’t look good. What do you think you can do — what can we do — to make it better?’ That’s a completely different approach, and it starts with an appreciation for their point of view.”
- Express pride. “When a parent says to a kid, ‘I’m proud of you,’ that’s one of the most important things a parent can say. We’re not proud of them for their accomplishments, but for their effort and their character, for the kindness and concern they show to another child in class — that they worked hard. When you do this, you’ve created a positive cycle where kids are motivated to put forth more positive effort.”
Beach and Barrish acknowledge that parenting is hard work, but as with anything worthwhile, it’s work that’s worthy of the labor.