Thoughtful Parenting: Building strong relationships with our kids

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— It is common for kids to go through phases when they are more connected to one parent than the other. Sometimes, though we love them deeply, we may butt heads more with one of our children than another. 

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

Events also can trigger a rift in our relationships with our kids. Divorce, a decision to move, a tragedy or even an argument about family rules can drive a wedge between a parent and a child. If you're feeling disconnected, it is important to be intentional about repairing the relationship before this temporary phase becomes a permanent pattern in your relationship.

When kids feel out of sync with a parent, almost any conversation can trigger the stress response in their brain. Often, we want to jump right into difficult conversations or fix a problem behavior, but if our kids aren't feeling secure in their attachment to us, they tend to react with resistance or simply shut down.

All healthy relationships develop in stages, and they can be repaired in stages, as well. The ability to shape our kids' behavior relies on a foundation of safe and secure attachment. When kids feel attached, parenting is simply easier. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you build strong relationships with your kids so those difficult conversations can be much more productive.  

Get close (literally): Show your child you enjoy his or her company by looking for opportunities to be near your child. This might include snuggling, playing chess or cards, going on a walk, building Legos together, offering to brush hair or give a foot rub. If possible, take your child on an overnight getaway. When kids get a sense that their parents don't enjoy their company, they move toward becoming peer attached rather than parentally attached. Being close via proximity is the first step toward a healthy relationship.

Connect: When you have something in common, whether it's watching a favorite sports team, a favorite dessert, a love of fishing or a common obsession with a reality TV show, you can use that connection to strengthen your relationship. Intentionally plan an outing around a common loved activity. If you don't feel connected by a common activity, ask your child questions about something of interest to him or her, a favorite sports team or video game, and make certain you are present when he or she gives an answer.

Ask: The first two steps allow kids' resistance to soften. When they feel safe and secure, they will be more open to tough conversations. Now is the time to ask him about his new girlfriend, how she did on a math test or whether there is something you can do to help your child fall asleep at night or get up in time for school in the morning.

Remember, relationships with your kids take work just like relationships with your significant other takes work. When the relationship seems to need some fine-tuning, see that as an opportunity rather than an obstacle and enjoy the process.

Kristen Race, Ph.D., is the founder of Mindful Life, an organization dedicated to helping families become more resilient to the stress in their lives. She has been a member of the First Impressions executive committee for the past five years.

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