Jenny shared her story with determination and a hint of disappointment. “As I was growing up, I didn’t have a very close relationship with my mom. I felt like she didn’t like me. I wanted my relationship with my daughter to be different. I’ve gone out of my way to make our home a safe place for her to talk and share. I take a personal interest in her life. But now that she’s 13, it seems to be harder. She doesn’t share the same things with me as she did before. I need new strategies to connect with my daughter.”
Unfortunately, some parents, unlike Jenny, are content to allow the teen years to create a chasm in the personal relationship between parent and child. Some believe it just has to be that way. Others seem too tired to do the work to build new bridges. When parents change the way they interact with their teens, even closer relationships are possible. Deeper conversations, significant interactions and positive experiences can make the teen years a rewarding time for both the young person and the parents. Spiritual interaction is strategic and requires a bit more forethought than in the earlier years. Building relationship is foundational to passing the faith on to your kids.
So what is “relationship,” how do we build it, and why is it important? Relationship is more than just living together as a family. Relationship implies a deeper connection. It’s a heart response toward one another that says, “I know you; I like you; I enjoy being with you.” When parents and children have a strong relationship, they value one another and are open to learn.
Building relationship comes naturally for some parents but is more difficult for others. Nonetheless, it’s not optional. Close relationships between parents and children are the tool to help kids catch the convictions they’ll need to be the world-changers God intends for them to be.
So how do you do it? Relationships don’t just happen, and certainly maintaining close relationships takes work. Some parents find connecting with young children easy. They curl up on the coach for a special read-aloud or a favorite movie. The shared experience leads to gentle hugs and feelings of closeness. Tickling games, fun desserts, cute nicknames and family outings all bring closeness to families with young children. Older children often connect with their parents differently than when they were younger. Conversations about feelings and opinions, playing games together and sharing in a hobby or skill help parents and teens connect in heartfelt ways. Here are a few things to keep in mind when seeking to build relationship.
1. Be intentional. If you’re expecting relationship to grow on its own, you may be disappointed. Take initiative to get to know your child’s heart. Try different things and make mental notes about what works and what doesn’t.
2. Stay focused. If the goal of an activity is to deepen closeness, then save the instruction giving and correction session for another time. Noncritical listening breeds closeness. Eye contact and physical touch say, “I’m interested in you.” Parents should always be sensitive to the relational component of their parenting, but some events and activities can have the primary goal of developing closeness. In that case, you may choose to postpone correction times that may work against you goal.
For this few minutes, you may have to look past the wiggles of a preschooler or the misplaced values of a preteen. You’ll likely come back to those issues later, but in this particular moment, stay focused on relationship as much as you can. Of course, that’s not always possible. Sometimes parenting requires that you give up what you thought might be a special relational time because a child needs some form of discipline now. Hopefully, though, there are times when you’re able to focus on building relationship as the goal.
3. Be available. Relationships don’t always grow on a schedule. Your elementary-age child may open her heart to you just as you’re trying to tuck her in at night. Your teenager may come home from an activity and be eager to talk. Be on the lookout for opportunities when your child is reaching out to you. It may be subtle or at a “bad” time, but if possible, stop what you’re doing and give your full attention.
4. Activities help. Working together to accomplish a goal is a great relationship-building tool. Cleaning the garage, making a new recipe for dinner, or going on a family trip to the park all have the potential to deepen relationship. Working and playing together build connection.
5. Develop traditions. Family traditions bring closeness and develop strong family bonds. Holiday traditions, vacation traditions or even Saturday morning breakfast traditions all contribute to relationship building.
6. Watch your timing and listen. Sometimes older children respond well to being treated like adults. Sometimes they need to relive tender moments in more playful ways.
Building relationship requires careful observation and sensitivity in order to meet kids where they are and connect in ways that touch their hearts.
Excerpted from “Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told” by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. Published by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson. Copyright 2015.
Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN, are the authors and editors of numerous books, parent-training curricula, and children’s programs designed to strengthen families. They are the founders of the National Center for Biblical Parenting and Biblical Parenting University. Find out more at biblicalparenting.org or biblicalparentinguniversity.com.