It takes time and effort to build relationships, and both of those are in short supply these days. The self-help books promise short cuts, checklists, tools and magic to help us build relationships in a world filled with noise and overwhelm. And maybe for some relationships, those work. But when it comes to our kids, you can’t escape the need for time and effort. However, you can make the most of every moment spent with a few core guidelines. So here’s how to build relationships with your kids.
The CORE of parenting
While many people will talk about quantity vs quality time with our kids, the fact is that both the amount of time and what you do during that time is equally important. You can’t spend too much time with your kids, and every moment is “quality”. Building relationships isn’t about the time you spend, it’s about the core elements of relationship.
There are 4 ingredients to building relationships: Communication, Organization, Respect and Expectation. Each one of these is important, but it’s the combination of them that helps create solid, close relationships, especially with our kids.
This is one of those obvious elements, because without communication you don’t have a relationship. If you aren’t communicating, you aren’t relating.
What you say is important. Overly negative communication is damaging, of course, but so is overly positive communication. And it isn’t about being balanced or being honest with what we say, either. It’s about being real, tempered with wanting what’s best for them.
How you say something is equally important. Only a small portion of communication is verbal. Your posture, gestures, facial expressions and body language all communicate exactly what you want to say to your kids. Are you saying what you want to be saying, every time you communicate?
One of the core values I teach my kids is to THINK before they speak. Not just to take a moment and think it through, but to use THINK as a checklist. Is it true? Is it helpful? Important? Needed? And most of all, is it kind?
As parents, too often we offer THIN communication. It may be true, and we’re trying to help. We may even be giving important and needed advice, lessons or information. But far too often, we’re not kind in what and how we’re communicating.
It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.
Relationships don’t happen by accident. They require time, effort, and deliberation. Most of us do this automatically, simply because we care. We plan dates with significant others and we arrange to meet up for coffee, drinks, or dinner with friends. But comfortability can make us careless.
Sometimes in caring for our kids, we end up careless with our relationship with them, because we get comfortable in the routines. We’re so busy making sure they’re fed, clean, educated and cared for, that we forget to care about them as people.
It takes a certain amount of organization to make relationships work, and sometimes it takes a bit more than we’re used to when we’re the parent. And that’s because children, especially when they’re younger, can’t reciprocate like adults can. So parents end up carrying the majority of the organizational load.
Sometimes we forget that.
Be deliberate in your relationship with your kids. It’s more than family road trips and days out. It’s noticing things about your kid and doing something about it. For example, it’s noticing moods and giving a shoulder squeeze, or buying a favorite snack just because you know it’s their favorite. Little bits of organized, deliberate relationship-building actions can go a long way.
This is probably the most-overlooked element of relationship-building. But you can’t have a relationship without respect.
Respect is a mix of honor, acknowledgement, and admiration. It means that you know the other person has the ability, capacity, and capability to do something. They can and will choose for themselves, and because of that, we give them room to do so.
Many parents forget that children are still people deserving respect, just because they are people.
We will say things we would never say to a friend or coworker, using words and tones we’d never use with another adult. We treat children as less than us, because they still need guidance, help and protection.
When we respect our kids as people, it changes how we communicate, how we organize our relationships, and what we expect from ourselves and them.
This is the primary core element of relationships everywhere. Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect.
Clearly organized and respectfully communicated expectations can turn mediocre relationships into intimate ones. Unspoken and undefined expectations can ruin relationships.
Expectations can also be defined as “boundaries”. These are the standards of behaviour you will accept in order to continue in relationship as it is right now. It’s the actions and words you want to see from the person you are in relationship with, and the goal of the relationship, all put together in one package.
If you are clear in what you expect, and you communicate it effectively, then your relationship will be much easier. But you can make your relationship harder when you don’t say what you want, and even harder if you aren’t even sure, or if you’re inconsistent.
And this is even more true when it comes to your kids. Kids thrive with clear consistent expectations, with predictable responses. They will feel much more secure with you, and that will mean less fighting and less attention-seeking behaviour.
CORE exercises for your relationship with your kids
Building relationships is like building muscles: it takes time and effort. But you also have to do the right things to build muscles, right? You can’t just run a few miles every day and expect to build up arm strength. And just being in the same house as someone day in and day out doesn’t build a relationship.
So here are a few CORE exercises you can do every day to build up your relationship with your kids.
- Compliment them. Deliberately find something every day that you can praise about your kids.
- Have a conversation about something they’re interested in. Ask a question or share a comic or video. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but a few minutes daily can go a long way.
- Go out of your way to do something for your kids. Whether it’s a favorite treat, a chore or a hug, be deliberate and be kind.
- Look them in the eyes. Take a moment to actually see your kids every day, and not just in passing. Pause and look them in the eyes.
- Let them catch you talking about them, as long as what you’re saying is good. Whether you’re sharing their latest test scores with Grandma or chatting about their skills with the neighbour, let them overhear your pride in them.
- Say thank you. Show them you appreciate that they are doing what you ask, that they are following house rules or treating others with respect.
Be deliberately kind.
The best way to build a relationship with your kids is to be deliberately kind. Look for their best interests, even when it hurts, and be kind. Kindness doesn’t mean not saying no, but it means you aren’t harsh about it. You can be kind even when you need to correct them. Loving our kids should include being kind, so be kind on purpose.