"I watch their softly tousled heads slumbering on their pillows, and sadness wells up in me. Have I drunk in their smiles and laughter and hugged them, or have I just checked things off my to-do list today? They're growing so quickly. One morning I may wake up and one of my girls will be getting married, and I'll worry: Have I played with them enough? Have I enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of their lives?" -Janet Fackrell
It's part of our job description as parents to guide our kids and keep them moving through the daily routine. All too often, that means setting limits, denying requests, correcting behavior.
Sometimes we're able to be emotionally generous, so our child doesn't perceive our guidance as "negative." More often, kids give us the benefit of the doubt because all the other loving, affirming interactions create a positive balance in our relationship account. That's why creating those positive interactions with your child matters so much.
Research shows that we need at least five positive interactions to each negative interaction to maintain a healthy, happy relationship that can weather the normal conflicts and upsets of daily life.
So when we're short on positive interactions, our relationship balance dips into the red. As with any bank account, we're overdrawn. That's when kids resist our guidance and develop attitude, whether they're two or twelve.
Life is busy, and you don't need one more thing for your to-do list. Instead, why not create a few daily habits that replenish your relationship account with your child? After thirty days, any action becomes a habit, so you don't have to think about it.
Here are 21 things you can start doing today to build a closer relationship with your child.
- Snuggle with each child for five minutes when they first wake up.
- Take an extra minute to sit down with your kids at breakfast, asking what each one is looking forward to today and enjoying them.
- Instead of yelling at your child to keep him moving through the morning routine, empower him by helping him make a chart with photos of him doing each task, and let him be "in charge" of himself while you just smile and point to the chart, asking what he needs to do next.
- Write a love note to slip into her lunch box.
- When your child expresses unhappiness about going to school, acknowledge how he feels: "You wish you could stay home today, I hear you."
- Skip together as you walk to the school bus, or sing happy songs in the car.
- As you hug her goodbye, tell her you can't wait to see her this afternoon and hear all about her day. Remember to say "Have fun!" instead of "Be good!"
- During the day, find five minutes here and there to simply close your eyes and get centered. Try to get organized before you leave the office, so you can really leave your work behind and turn off your phone. In the evening, you'll be able to give your family the best of you, not what's left of you.
- Turn off your phone and music when your child gets in the car with you at the end of the day, and listen to her most and least favorite parts of the day.
- When your children get into a fight, keep your sense of humor, listen to both kids without taking sides, and help them work out a win/win solution.
- When he has a meltdown because you cut his sandwich wrong, don't make a new sandwich, but remind yourself that tantrums signal distress, not defiance. Stay close and compassionate so he feels safe enough to cry and empty all those upsets out of his emotional backpack. You'll all have a much better evening.
- Help your child feel seen and encouraged by verbally noticing everything they do that is positive: "I notice that you fed the dog without being reminded...I notice how you have been focusing on that homework for fifteen minutes...I notice how kind you were to your sister when she was upset."
- Commiserate and encourage as you help her study for her spelling test.
- Laugh at his jokes.
- No matter what your child says, empathize. Actions may need to be limited, but all emotions are acceptable. When you acknowledge how your child feels, you strengthen your connection and build emotional intelligence.
- Spend fifteen minutes of special time with each child, just following her lead and pouring your love into her. This habit alone can transform your relationship with your child. When she wants to use the couch cushions to build a fort, say yes. Let her be the director and tell you what to do.
- At dinner, ask an interesting question and give each child time to answer while everyone listens. (Here are 250 ideas for questions to ask.)
- Have a short pillow fight before bath time.
- Empathize and keep your sense of humor when he doesn't want to stop playing and get ready for bed, even while you insist.
- Listen compassionately to her long story about troubles with girls in her class, without getting over-excited or jumping in to fix anything.
- Notice that you're getting frustrated about getting him to bed, and calm yourself down. Then, reconnect with him and use that warm connection to get him tucked in.
- Lie with each child for a few minutes in the dark, just snuggling companionably and telling him that you feel so lucky to be his parent. Send her off to sleep with a sense that all is right in her world.
Time-consuming? Sure. You can't do everything every day with each child. But most of these practices don't add much time to your day; they just make it go more smoothly.
And when you create habits like these, kids cooperate more, fight less, and WANT to follow your guidance. You strengthen and sweeten your relationship, every single day. So when you get to the teen years, your child will be open to your influence and might even ask your advice. And that's better than money in the bank.