Most parents want a strong relationship with their children so that when the difficulties of life happen, parents are able to help their children as best as possible. However, sometimes it can be difficult to connect with our children in a meaningful way for both them and for you. To add to the difficulty, the way that your children connect and communicate with you will change as they age and mature.
When children are younger, the main way they communicate with their world, and those in their world, is through play. As adults, we tend to become disconnected from play (and rightly so) as it is no longer our primary, or most effective mode of communication. Playing with our children in a way that allows them to express themselves, their thoughts, feelings and hopes is something that requires a conscious effort on the part of parents.
A good way to accomplish this, is to let your child have a time where they can pick what they want to play and how they want to play it. Your job as a parent in this situation is to follow the child and “listen” to what they are playing. In this time, we step back from directing, correcting and leading our children, to enjoying the time with them and learning about them. These “play talks” help strengthen the feelings of closeness and safety children have with the adults in their lives.
As children get older, they rely more on verbal communication. The pre-teen and teenage years can be an extremely difficult time in the parent/child relationship. Teenagers are supposed to begin the process of separating themselves from their parents and becoming more independent. This does not mean however, that there can be no sense of connectedness and relationship. Many times, if the ground work has been put into place when the children are younger, the transition to a more mature relationship between parents and teenagers occurs naturally.
Time previously spent together in play, will transition to time spent talking or being silent together, doing activities, or just being around one another and sharing family time. As when they were younger, allow the teenager to “lead” your time together. Listen when they want to talk, and be silent when they don’t. Do activities they enjoy and show your pleasure at being able to spend time with them.
As with any relationship, there will be ebbs and flows and ups and downs. The key to maintaining a sound relationship with your child is by making your relationship with them a priority and continue forming a relationship of openness and trust.
Cassie Beltz, Licensed Mental Health Counselor