- Positive parent/child relationships can be built every day.
- Invest time in your child without distraction, letting them take the lead.
- Giving your child consistency and responsibilities can instill self-esteem.
If you’re a parent, you know the job has many joys as well as some challenges. There are the days when you feel all you’ve done is nag your six-year-old to please put on her shoes so she’s not late for school or argue with your 16-year-old about driving after curfew. The trick is to avoid letting those challenging days become an everyday habit. If you’re looking for ways to build more positive and healthy relationships with your children, try following this advice from Hayley Quinn, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Swedish Pediatrics - West Seattle.
1. Spend quality time with your child doing what she wants to do.
You should commit to having good interactions with your child above and beyond the normal day-to-day routine. One of the best ways to do that is to set aside about 15 minutes each day to spend time together. The key is to let your child choose the activity, whether it’s putting together a jigsaw puzzle or playing with toys.
“I tell parents to call it special time, when the parent is focused on the child,” Dr. Quinn says. “It’s best if it can be done at the same time every day — after dinner or in the morning after breakfast, for instance. Structure it so it’s part of your routine. I want to make it doable for parents; if it’s longer than 15 minutes, the parent’s attention begins to be pulled in different directions.”
If you have more than one child, time should be spent with each one individually so they don’t have to compete for attention. The concept can be adapted for older kids by just finding regular opportunities to check in with them and ask about their day, whether it’s on the drive home from school or walking the dog together around the neighborhood.
2. Catch your child being good.
Your child is practicing the piano, which allows you to get some chores done and start dinner, but then he picks a fight with his little brother, disrupting your rhythm. If you get upset about the fight, you’re not alone. Giving attention to negative behavior is something we tend to do as parents. But what if, before the fight even began, you stopped what you were doing and praised your child for putting in the time to practice his instrument? That’s what Dr. Quinn calls “catching the positive.”
“Give some attention to the positive behaviors you want to see in your child and it sends a message to your child that their behavior is appropriate. It will build resilience and self-esteem in kids; it teaches them how to regulate themselves,” Dr. Quinn says. “Make it really specific, not just ‘Nice job.’ If your child has been playing nicely with his sibling, say, ‘Wow, I like how you’re sharing with your brother.’”
3. Be consistent with discipline.
Setting boundaries, limits and consequences is different for every family, but whatever you do you should be clear and consistent. Dr. Quinn likens inconsistent discipline to playing the slots in Vegas: sometimes you get money and sometimes you don’t, and if kids only get disciplined for their actions some of the time, it can be confusing and they don’t know what to expect.
“Kids try to see patterns and make sense of things,” she says. “You do them a disservice if you’re not being consistent with what you expect. Again, this helps build self-esteem and self-efficacy because kids are learning what the boundaries are and how to regulate themselves accordingly.”
It’s never too late to adapt your rules and set up a new system. Dr. Quinn urges parents to not overhaul everything all at once because that can be too hard for parents to sustain. Instead, pick a small number of basic ground rules and start there. If you have older children, get them to collaborate on the new boundaries. “They want to be part of what’s going on in the family, and it empowers them to make good choices when they are part of the planning,” Dr. Quinn says. “It actually can start a great dialogue between parents and kids.” For instance, if you have family boundaries with video games, your child might feel that you don’t think he can be responsible and that you’re treating him like a younger kid. “By collaborating with your teen, you can bring to light these kinds of internal experiences your child has when you set those limits and boundaries.”
4. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to family time.
Any time together is valuable and with everyone’s busy schedules it can be tough to plan a big family outing every week. So, when you do have time all together, think about how it is being spent. One way to not spend that time: on a screen.
“If there is a family outing to go do something, there should be a commitment on the parents’ part to be there fully and be part of the child’s world, instead of multiple outings when you are distracted,” Dr. Quinn says. “If you’re at the park and constantly bringing out your phone and posting to social media, that doesn’t mean anything to the child. There should be a family expectation that no one is on a screen.”
5. Put your child to work.
Your kids may disagree, but chores are a good thing, because they promote participating in and contributing to family life. It’s also another great way to instill healthy self-esteem from a young age. Dr. Quinn notes that her two-year old helps feed the family dog, and she says two or three small chores like that are a good introduction to family jobs for toddlers.
“The chores should be related to their daily routine, such as putting their jacket on a hook when they come home or putting their backpack in a certain area,” she says.
As kids get older, they should also be responsible for their daily care but still have a task that contributes to the family as a whole. “Follow their interests. If they ask to help feed the dog or if they’re interested in setting the table, let them do that. We know older kids who have some responsibilities around the house tend to be more conscientious and aware of the needs of others and more self-reliant.”
Looking for more parenting advice or answers to your questions about raising healthy children? Visit the Parentelligence section of our blog and download the Circle by Swedish app.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.