“Sometimes I just don’t understand my child.”

There is no doubt that building a relationship with your child takes work. Developing and engaging in healthy ways can seem even more complex amid juggling work, school, friends, social media and technology. Despite these challenges, it is still possible to build a strong relationship with our children through creative activities.

Just as taking care of a garden and nurturing its growth produces better results, spending more focused time and attention on our relationships work the same way: the more time spent and energy given, the stronger the relationship.

Here are some helpful strategies to make a big impact and start the building blocks of establishing a positive relationship.

Find the Time

A daily dose of one-on-one, uninterrupted time can seem counterintuitive or overwhelming, especially in our busy lives or with a child who is struggling with challenging behavior. Children and adolescents will seek attention in any way possible, whether it’s positive or negative. This means positive attention increases positive behavior and continued negative attention increases negative behavior. Spending focused, purposeful time together on a daily basis can start to reverse negative attention-seeking and establish the building blocks of a stronger and healthier relationship.

Try to maintain consistency around one-on-one time, no matter what type of day you or your child may have had. Consistency shows your child they are important and you may be surprised at how much they’ll open up without pressing. If either of you have had a bad day, use this as a “restart” button for the both of you.

Engage in activities that are interesting and interactive, but not competitive, in order to prevent behavioral outbursts. Get outdoors, throw a baseball, give each other a manicure, cook, do a puzzle, etc. Make an effort to have uninterrupted time - this means no cell phones, no chores, just focused, positive attention.

image of mom and daughter talking

Focus on the Positive

Praise small efforts to reinforce behavior that is being learned. Children and adolescents are learning something new every day so encouragement goes a long way! An example often used as an adult is to think of a job where you felt valued. Most often, a positive work environment is the result of positive leadership, where praise is provided, hard work is recognized and your needs are heard.

Listen with Intention

Quite simply, let your child know you’re listening. This can be difficult when we’re multi-tasking or your child goes on, and on, and on. Just being present and showing you’re interested can open up an opportunity to encourage them to continue to talk in the future.

Hold back from judgement. Children and adolescents’ brains are going through radical changes and they may experience big feelings over things we adults see as unimportant. Validation can go a long way. Saying, “This must be tough for you” or “I can see why you’re feeling hurt” can keep a conversation going and let you child know you respect their feelings.

Ask questions like, “What was your favorite part of the day?” to increase the chances of having a conversation and reduce the likelihood of receiving short and vague answers like “okay” or “fine”.

Speaking of Respect

Children learn social skills through their daily interactions with adults and are constantly observing how adults interact with one another. Respect is mutual. How we talk with our children greatly influences how they treat others, including their parents!

Spending positive one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis and simple gestures like acknowledging their feelings or praising small tasks can be a great foundation to building a stronger relationship. The truth is, when we focus on building relationships, we’re able to spend less time on negative interactions and more time enjoying our children.