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Creating Close Connections with Your Child

shutterstock_70103152.jpgDo you want to be a great parent?  Do you want to live in a home where discipline becomes unnecessary?  The secret is to create a closer connection with your child.

Of course you love your kids, and you tell them so all the time.  But that doesn't mean s/he doesn't need discipline! It isn’t enough that we tell our children we love them.  We need to put our love into action every day for them to feel it.  And when we do that our kids need a lot less discipline!

What does it mean to put love into action?

Mostly, it means making that connection with your child is the highest priority. Love in action means paying thoughtful attention to what goes on between you, seeing things from the child's point of view, and always remembering that this child who sometimes may drive you crazy is still that precious baby you welcomed into your arms with such hope.

It Takes A lot of energy

shutterstock_69268504.jpgIt takes a lot of effort to fully attend to another human being, but when we are really present with our child, we often find that it energizes us and makes us feel more alive.  Being close to another human takes work. But 90% of people on their deathbed say that their biggest regret is that they didn't get closer to the people in their lives. And almost all parents whose children are grown say they wish they had spent more time with their kids.

How can you be fully present when you’re just trying to get dinner on the table and keep from tripping over the toys?

Being present just means paying attention. Like a marriage or a friendship, your relationship with your child needs positive attention to thrive.

Attention = Love

shutterstock_121067182.jpgLike your garden, your car, or your work, what you attend to,  flourishes.  Of course, attentiveness takes time.  You can multi-task at it while you're making dinner, but the secret of a great relationship is some focused time every day.

If this is too vague, then this is what you are supposed to really do…

1. Start right for a firm foundation. The closeness of the parent-child connection throughout life results from how much parents connect with their babies, right from the beginning.  Research has shown that fathers who take a week or more off work when their babies are born have a closer relationship with their child at every stage, including as teens and college students. Is this cause and effect? The bonding theorists say that if a man bonds with his newborn, he will stay closer to him/her throughout life. But you don't have to believe that bonding with a newborn is crucial to note that the kind of man who treasures his newborn and nurtures his new family is likely to continue doing so in ways that bring them closer throughout their childhood.

2. Remember - All relationships take work. Good parent-child connections don’t spring out of nowhere.  Biology gives us a headstart -- if we weren’t biologically programmed to love our infants the human race would have died out long ago -- but as kids get older we need to build on that natural bond, or the challenges of modern life can erode it. Luckily, children automatically love their pareents.

3. Prioritize time with your child. Assume that you'll need to put in a significant amount of time creating a good relationship with your child. Quality time is a myth, because there’s no switch to turn on closeness. Imagine that you work all the time, and have set aside an evening with your husband, whom you’ve barely seen in the past six months. Does he immediately start baring his soul? Not likely.

shutterstock_128005286.jpgIn relationships, without quantity, there’s no quality. Don’t expect a good relationship with your daughter if you spend all your time at work and she spends all her time with friends. As hard as it is with the pressures of daily life, if we want a better relationship with our kids, we have to take time to make it happen.

4. Begin with trust ~ the foundation of every good relationship. Trust begins in infancy, when your baby learns whether s/he can depend on you to pick them up when they need you. By the time babies are a year old, researchers can assess whether babies are “securely attached” to their parents -  which basically means the baby trusts his parents can be depended on to meet his emotional and physical needs.

Over time, we earn our children’s trust in other ways: following through on the promise we make to play a game with them later, not breaking a confidence, picking them up on time.

shutterstock_117132283.jpgAt the same time, we extend our trust to them by expecting their best and believing in their fundamental goodness and potential. We trust in the power of human development to help our child grow, learn, and mature. We trust that although our child may act like a child today, s/he is always developing and no matter what, there is always potential for positive change.

Trust does not mean blindly believing what your teenager tells you. Trust means not giving up on your child, no matter what. Trust means never walking away from the relationship in frustration, because you trust that s/he needs you and that you will find a way to work things out.

5. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage. Think of your child as a plant who is programmed by nature to grow and blossom.  If you see the plant has brown leaves, you consider if maybe it needs more light, more water, more fertilizer.  You don't criticize it and yell at it to straighten up and grow right.

Kids form their view of themselves and the world every day. They need your encouragement to see themselves as good people. If most of what comes out of your mouth is criticism, they won't feel good about themselves, and they won't feel like you're their ally. You lose your only leverage with them, and they lose something every kid needs: to know they have an adult who thinks the world of them.

6. Remember that respect must be mutual. Pretty obvious, right? But we forget this with our kids, because we know we’re supposed to be the boss. You can still set limits (and you must), but if you do it respectfully and with empathy, your child will learn both to treat others with respect and to expect to be treated respectfully himself.

7. Think of relationships as the slow buildup of daily interactions. You don’t have to do anything special to build a relationship with your child. The good -- and bad -- news is that every interaction creates the relationship. Grocery shopping, carpooling and bathtime matter as much as that big talk you have when there’s a problem.

It’s worth thinking through any recurring interactions that get on your nerves to see how you might handle them differently. Interactions that happen more than once tend to initiate a pattern. Nagging and criticizing are no basis for a relationship with someone you love.

shutterstock_38689594.jpg8. Communication habits start early. Do you listen when s/he chats on endless ly about her friends at preschool? Then she’s more likely to tell you about her interactions with boys when she’s 14. If you aren’t really listening, two things happen. You miss an opportunity to learn about and teach your child, and she learns that you don’t really listen so there’s not much point in sharing.

9. Don't take it personally. Your teenager slams the door to her bedroom. Your ten year old huffs "Mom, you never understand!" Your four year old screams "I hate you, Daddy!" What's the most important thing to remember? DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! This isn't primarily about you, it's about them: their tangled up feelings, difficulty controlling themselves, or their immature ability to understand and express emotions. Taking it personally wounds you, which means you either close off, or lash out, thus worsening a tough situation for all.

Remembering not to take it personally means you:

    * Take a deep breath

    * Let the hurt go

    * Remember that your child loves you but can't get in touch with  it at  the moment       

    * Consciously lower your voice

    * Try hard to remember what it feels like to be a kid who is upset and over-reacting

    * Think through how to respond calmly and constructively

You can still set limits, but you do it from as calm a place as you can muster. Your child will be deeply grateful, even if she can't acknowledge it at the moment.

Don’t let your child treat you disrespectfully. As you set limits, only Act out of love, rather than anger. If you're too angry to get in touch with your love at the moment, wait.

10. Resist the impulse to be punitive. How would you feel about someone who hurt, threatened, or humiliated you, "for your own good"?  Kids do need guidance, but punishing your child always erodes your relationship making the child misbehave more.

11. Don’t let little rifts build up.  If something’s wrong between you, find a way to bring it up and work it through positively. Choosing to withdraw (except temporarily, strategically) when your child seems intent on driving you away is ALWAYS a mistake.

shutterstock_133730825.jpg12. Re-connect after every separation.  Parents naturally provide an anchor for kids to attach themselves to.  When they're apart from us they need a substitute, so they orient themselves around teachers, coaches, electronics, or peers. When we rejoin each other physically we need to also rejoin emotionally. 

13. Stay available. Most kids don’t keep an agenda and bring things up at a scheduled meeting. And nothing makes them clam up faster than pressing them to talk. Kids talk when something is up for them, particularly if you've proven yourself to be a good listener, but not overly attached to their opening up to you.

Be on hand when they come home so you can hear the highlights of their day. Simply being in the same room doing something can create the opportunity for interaction. If you’re cooking dinner and s/he’s doing homework, or you are alone with them in the car, there's often an opening. Find ways to be in proximity where you’re both potentially available.

The most important part of staying available is a state of mind. Your child senses your emotional availability. Parents who have close relationships with their teens often say that as their child has gotten older, they've made it a practice to drop everything else if their teen signals a desire to talk. But kids who feel that other things are more important to their parents often look elsewhere when they're emotionally needy. And that's our loss, as much as theirs.

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