Whether you realize it or not, how well you get along with your children right now is setting the tone for your future relationships with them.
Here are 5 tips that can immediately help you form a tighter bond with your child.
Let Them Be Themselves
Forget what the Austin Powers movies brainwashed you into thinking – you don’t need a Mini Me. Your kid might be nothing like you, and that’s okay. You didn’t have a clone, you had a child. And just as you decided what your interests were when you were little, they should be free to choose theirs.
Maybe when you were a kid you spent countless hours outside playing basketball or participating in any sport you could, but all your child wants to do is Minecraft. While you don’t have to let him do nothing but all-day Minecraft marathons, it wouldn’t kill you to ask your kid the occasional question about the game he loves so much.
Sure, your eyes may glaze over when your child delivers a seemingly never-ending explanation about Creepers and Skins, but try to see past that haze of boredom and look at your kid’s face for a moment. You’ll see a look a delight, not just that he’s getting to talk about one of his passions though. The big thrill will be that you – one of the most important people in his life – is interested in his hobby.
So let him pursue his interests. It may not have been the path you would have chosen, but you never know where it will take him.
Put Down Your Phone
Technology is a great thing, unless you’re the one being ignored for it. Today’s generation of kids have a challenge that my generation never had to face – they’re competing for their parents’ time against a host of electronic devices. And those devices seem to be winning at times.
Computers, cell phones and tablets are all siphoning away time that we could be spending with our kids. We’re missing moments that will never happen again so we can repeatedly try to reach the next level of Candy Crush.
Take a look around the next time you go to a public place. Whether it’s a restaurant, a child’s baseball game or a parent-teacher conference, you’ll see someone there checking out their phone as if nothing is going on around them.
I’m not suggesting you have to completely unplug, but try to be more mindful of the true cost of using that device. Use your phone for any work you have to do and try to save the rest for after your child goes to bed at night.
Do Something with Them
Kids need some one-on-one time with their dads. Carve out a day just for the two of you to spend together. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant – you won’t have to take on a second job to bond with them. If you want to pull out all the stops and surprise your daughter with Taylor Swift concert tickets, I’m sure she won’t argue with that. But it isn’t necessary — all your kids really need for a perfect day is your undivided attention.
Whether you watch a movie at home together while making snarky commentary about the acting or you play some Frisbee in the park, your child will remember that day for a long time.
And if you’re the parent of a teenager, don’t be fooled when your child begrudgingly agrees to hang out with you. Teens need time with their parents just as much as they did at any other age. They just may not like to admit it as much.
You’ll be surprised at how much information you’ll learn during these father-child bonding dates. It gives your child the perfect opportunity to open up to you about stuff you never thought they’d talk about with you. Try not to look too eager though at any conversation with your teenager – they can smell your desperation a mile away.
Even though kids don’t always like rules, they really do benefit from having them in place. The key to rules though is that they have to be consistent.
Kids like things to make sense and be fair. Most children have a very black and white sense of justice – there is no room for gray in their world. So if you have one set of rules for the boy in your family and another set of rules for your daughter, be prepared for some hard feelings.
And if you only punish your children for breaking rules sometimes and you let them skate other days, they won’t know what to expect from you. It’s like working for a boss who makes up the rules as he goes along. Nobody would enjoy that work environment.
To avoid losing your kids’ respect, make sure they know all your rules upfront, that they will be enforced and what the punishments will be.
Be a Realistic Cheerleader
Trying new things is one of the scariest, but most exhilarating things a person can do. Some children are fearless when it comes to testing their limits, while others need a lot of hand holding and encouragement to get to that point.
You can help your kids find the courage to tackle new things by sharing a little bit about your past. Open up to them about a time in your life where you were scared to try something new. Maybe you failed spectacularly, maybe you succeeded – that may not be important. Just telling your child about how you worked through your fear can help create a closer relationship between you two.
But be careful not to give your child false hope and a completely unrealistic view of their abilities. If you know your child is a horrible singer, don’t encourage him to sing a solo in the school’s annual talent show.
You don’t want to be Lucy setting up the football for Charlie Brown knowing the entire time that he’s going to fail. That will cause your child to question everything you claim to be true.
Give These Tips a Test Run
Try each of these tips and you’re sure to see a real improvement in your relationship with your children. But don’t stop there. Parenting isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. You’re in this for the long haul so make sure you keep doing the work.
Shannon Serpette is a mother of two and an award-winning journalist and freelancer who lives in Illinois. When she’s not spending time with her children, she is often pursuing her favorite hobbies – running, metal detecting and kayaking. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.