Parenting Tweens and Teens — Part 2: Emotional Connection and Balanced Parenting
After I began studying psychology and human development in college, I remember giving my parents some critical feedback about their parenting. Their reply hit home.
“We totally agree,” they said. “We could have done a lot better.”
My parents essentially told me that they did the best they knew how, but it would have been great to know more. “Kids don’t come with manuals,” they pointed out.
Now that I’m a parent of teenagers, I sometimes get karma-like reminders from my kids that I, too, don’t have all the answers.
Research has consistently shown that there are some universal principles that are important in parenting. But there’s a caveat because every kid is a unique individual. As we explore some time- and research-tested principles for optimal parenting, we need to continually reground ourselves in the first and most important principle for our parenting: the foundation of love. The second principle that’s critical is creating emotional connection. Love is the foundation for our “parent house” and building strong relationships with our children is part of the framework.
Building Emotional Connection
“Connection” is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. We use it when referring to technology and the Internet and in relation to social and business networks. Of course, “connection” is also used to describe our interpersonal relationships. You might say, “I have a really good connection with so and so,” or “You and I just aren’t connecting.”
Connections are always changeable. Good ones can become bad and vice versa. Creating positive connections with our kids is key to building strong parent-child relationships. Here are four ways you can improve your connection with your child:
- Spend time together. There are always factors—such as the demands of work or maintaining the household—that keep us from spending quality time with our children. But it’s critical to make and spend quality time with your kids. Try to make family mealtime a ritual. And when face-to-face interactions aren’t possible, take time to share a handwritten note or even a short text.
- Engage empathy. The more you can understand your child’s world and feelings, the more you’ll be able to connect. Listen more than you talk. If your child isn’t talkative, make an effort to understand where they are coming from. Think about what it’s like to be their age. Think about what they are going through. Also, take care not to let your own frustrations and anger get in the way of this. Be willing to be vulnerable and share your feelings with them, as appropriate. As a family, try sharing the best and worst parts of your day. Share the emotion you felt and why. A fun topic can also be to share something funny or embarrassing that happened to you during the day.
- Have fun. Families that play together stay together. Kids learn and connect through play, and research shows that play helps all of us learn better and enjoy life more. Sprinkle fun into your daily life with your kids. Share your favorite music as you clean up after meals or do chores. Go outside and throw a ball. Ride bikes around the neighborhood. Wrestle playfully with your younger kids. Having fun also means having a sense of humor. Look up funny videos or share new jokes. Fun is a powerful connector.
- Customize your love. Different children prefer to connect with their parents in different ways. Some like playing sports, others talking about science or doing experiments, and some enjoy working in the garden. The possibilities are limitless. The key is to try to bond in a way that is appealing to your child. For more ideas on this, check out Gary Chapman’s bestseller, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers.
Invest in the “Relationship Bank Account”
You might feel discouraged at times by your level of connection with your child, but it can be helpful to think of each relationship as a bank account. You can make deposits and withdrawals. If you want to improve connection, think about doing it little by little, one deposit at a time. Pick one of the four ideas above and try doing something a little better. When that “something” becomes a habit for you, turn your focus to something else on the list.
Just remember that the more deposits you make into your child’s “relationship bank account,” the more likely your emotional connection with them will grow.
Next week, check out Part 3 of this series and learn about the third principle of boundaries and how to effectively use them in guiding your child’s growth.