As children grow up and become more independent, it’s normal for parents to worry that they aren’t connecting enough to keep their kids feeling happy, confident, and secure. If your child seems withdrawn or defiant, or you’re simply feeling out of touch with what’s going on in his or her life, you may feel an intense fear of “losing” your child. Fortunately, solving this problem doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. According to child psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Tali Shenfield, with the six everyday habits below, you can build a stronger, more resilient bond with your child:
1. Talk to Your Child Every Day
Focused, meaningful one-on-one conversations are one of the best (and most accessible) ways to connect with your children. Each day, try to set aside some “screen-free” time to discuss the day’s events with your child and check in on how he’s feeling. Most parents find this easiest to do at night, right before they tuck their kids in for bed, but you can also fit this time in during car trips or walks.
When you talk to your child, do your best to remember what he says, right down to the little details. Kids have a surprisingly keen ability to remember what we tell them, and they expect the same level of attentiveness in return. During conversations with your child, ask supportive, open-ended questions to explore his points, enhance your recollection of events, and show your child that you care about what he has to say. (However, make sure he knows there’s no pressure to answer your questions right away. Your child will feel more comfortable confiding in you if he can open up in his own time.)
If you’re still worried about forgetting what your child shares with you, consider writing down notes after you finish important conversations. Not only will this improve your memory of the discussion, but it will also allow you to look back on your child’s growth and development over the years to come.
2. Engage Your Child’s Interests
Some kids feel more comfortable connecting through actions than through words. This may occur when a child doesn’t want to let his guard down enough to share his feelings directly, but it can also be a matter of personal preference. Regardless of what’s driving your child’s reticence to open up verbally, you can probably reach him by showing an interest in the things he enjoys. This can be as simple as offering to play your child’s favorite video games with him, or as complex as building model vehicles or creating art projects together, depending on the amount of time you both have. The important thing is to let your child select the activity he wants to share and guide the process, while you express your enthusiasm and support for his endeavors. (Never judge, criticize, or ridicule your child’s hobbies, even if they seem unconventional to you.)
3. Share Your Interests
If participating in your child’s interests proves challenging, or he doesn’t enjoy sharing them, you can invite him to explore your world instead. In fact, even if you do enjoy your child’s hobbies, sharing some of your own is a great way to encourage your child to relate to you as an individual. (Sometimes, kids forget that parents are people, too, and not just authority figures.) Try inviting your child to any age-appropriate events you plan to attend, or you can show him what you do for a living if your workplace permits visits. Explain why you’re passionate about your hobbies or profession, so your child gets a better sense of your values and the things that motivate you.
4. Learn Something New Together
Learning a wholly new skill with your child can help you bridge the gap between your interests and his. You’ll also strengthen your sense of teamwork and refine your communication style as you tackle fresh challenges together.
Look for something that neither you nor your child has attempted before, and ask for his feedback before you commit to the activity. (If your child isn’t interested in participating, the exercise will feel like a chore rather than an opportunity to bond with you.) Your new interest can be anything from taking an art or yoga class together, to completing a wilderness survival course, so long as it’s something neither of you has any previous experience with. Working on an equal playing field like this is a great way to connect with a defiant child because neither of you will automatically be placed in a leadership role.
5. Don’t Try to Force Connection
No matter how difficult reaching your child seems, you should never coerce him into spending time with you. Don’t use guilt, threats, bribery, or other persuasion tactics to make your child open up or participate in shared activities. Doing so will only make your child resent you and push back against your attempts to bond with him.
Ultimately, the best way to connect with any child is to make sure he knows you’re there for him: Make it clear that you want to spend time with him, and let him know that you’re always available if he needs to talk, but don’t pressure him.
6. Learn to Balance Friendship with Parenting
Your child needs you to be his most trusted confidante, but he also needs you to act as his guardian. As you share personal conversations and hobbies with your child, never forget that it’s still your job to keep your child safe and set rules and limits. Kids need consistent boundaries to feel secure, and feeling secure is the foundation for trust and connection.
Likewise, make sure you avoid sharing things your child isn’t old enough to handle. Don’t discuss your relationship, finances, or other big adult problems with your kids, as this kind of subject matter makes kids feel helpless, confused, and anxious.
Some kids are much harder to connect with than others, but it’s important to remain gently persistent in your attempts to bond with your child, no matter how distant he seems. Kids need a strong parental connection to develop healthy self-esteem, confidently manage obstacles, and learn effective coping mechanisms. Even if your child doesn’t always express his appreciation for your efforts, the knowledge that you care about him will give him a safety net he can rely on – and that’s absolutely invaluable.