Challenging Parent-Child Relationship?
Try These 6 Strategies To Improve This Important Relationship In Just One summer
At MPS, we get a lot of parents who crave a closer relationship with their child or teen, but for one reason or another, their relationship with their young person is strained.
Sometimes we’ll have a parent who may have several kids, but there is just one child they never seemed to bond with. This parent-child relationship is characterized by a lack of warmth, miscommunication, and hurt feelings on both sides. This often occurs when there’s a mismatch in personality types between parent and child.
For example, I worked with a family one time where Dad had a close relationship with the preteen daughter, but mom and daughter constantly argued and had a miserable time together. For this particular family, mom was an introvert with low energy. She liked nothing more than to curl up with an art project and not talk to anyone for the whole day. On the other hand, the daughter was extroverted and high energy. She loved sports, being loud, and speaking her mind.
This mismatch in personality styles caused a lot of conflict in the relationship. Mom was able to identify more with her other two children because they were similar to her personality style, but when it came to connecting with the daughter, it was a nightmare.
Another common situation we encounter at MPS is when a non-custodial parent (a parent who shares custody of their child with another parent) hasn’t spent much time with their child, and they haven’t had the opportunity to establish a good parent-child connection. When non-custodial parents have infrequent get-togethers with their child, it often feels formal, uncomfortable, and strange for both parent and child.
You might be experiencing a similar disconnect with your own young child, tween, or teen right now and feel defeated and like there’s nothing you can do to improve this important relationship. You might have even tried working on the relationship in the past, but for one reason or another, it just didn’t help.
But I’m here to give you some good news: you CAN improve your relationship with your child no matter how old they are or what the circumstances may be. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, then you WILL see results – and you’ll be so happy that you went to all the trouble because when you have a close and positive connection with your child, you’ll feel pretty close to complete.
You might be skeptical, but I’ve seen lots of parent-child connections that seemed to be permanently broken turn around after working on the relationship and become a really great thing for both parent and child.
In this article, I’ll give you specific tips and strategies on how to build or repair your relationship with your child over the summer (or what’s left of the summer). In this previous article, I go over basic parent-child communication strategies that I recommend to all parents working on their relationship, but this article focuses solely on using the summer to connect with your child.
Now, remember that this definitely isn’t a quick fix, but if you implement one or more of these strategies this summer, then I know you’ll start on a path to a better bond with your child. It also doesn’t matter WHEN you start focusing on your relationship with your child – it could be summer, winter, spring, or fall – it just matters that you commit to making your relationship with your child or teen a priority in your life.
I know you can do this, so let’s get started. I have seven strategies for you.
Strategy #1: Schedule Planned Activities
Parents and kids often get into the bad habit of avoiding each other. They use the excuse of work, school, or friends as a convenient way to get out of spending time together. However, summertime provides an excellent opportunity to force parent and child to be together and to create a better relationship.
The first step to repairing or improving your relationship with your child is to actually make time to focus on this relationship. Spending focused time as a family becomes real once you schedule it. Anthony Robbins once said:
“If you talk about it, it’s a dream. If you envision it, it’s possible. If you schedule it, it’s real.”
Make your relationship-building time real by getting it on the calendar NOW.
Whether you have custody of your child all the time, or you’re a non-custodial parent who shares their time with another parent, the way you schedule summer bonding time might be different, so let’s talk about that now.
For parents whose child lives with them all the time, the intent here is to set aside focused time to work on this relationship. What’s really effective here is to plan regular times to connect with your child throughout the week – like regular dinners together or Friday Game Night as an example – as well as special activities like vacations or tickets to a special, one-time event. The point here is to create fun and relaxed excuses to be together to work on the relationship.
On the other hand, parents who share custody of their child with another parent might have scheduling challenges. While keeping your custody constraints in mind, make an effort to put aside other “life things” and schedule time to be with your child – and make sure this time counts too. Prioritize your child by temporarily putting aside work, social, and personal tasks and stress. It’s important that your child knows that they are a priority to you.
For parents who need to take a court-approved parenting class as part of their custody agreement, then I’ve got the perfect online class for you. Go to https://moderncoparentingcourse.com/ to learn more about our 100% court-approved parenting and co-parenting classes that I teach online.
For both types of parents, your plans don’t have to be expensive or complicated. The most important thing is that time together gets scheduled, but you get bonus points for making that time fun too. If your budget allows it, summer provides the perfect opportunity to take that vacation or road trip you’ve been talking about. If you have a simpler budget, attending local sports events, camping or fishing, or simply holding a video game competition together provides the same opportunity for parent-child bonding.
Strategy #2: Create Downtime Opportunities Where Spontaneous Conversations and Bonding Can Happen
Have you ever experienced the strange phenomenon where you are up to your eyeballs in work and stress – and that’s the exact time your child or teen wants to talk about something important? I know that’s happened to me countless times over the years with my own two kids!
We WANT our kids to open up to us – that’s what creates a close parent-child bond – so we need to provide as many opportunities as possible to allow these spontaneous, heartfelt and emotional conversations to happen.
How do we do that?
In addition to the exciting and special activities like the ones we discussed in strategy #1, it’s equally important to include consistent, relaxed times with your child or teen where you both hang out with each other without the pressure of doing something specific.
I call these downtime activities – predictable and consistent times where parent and child are together, but there isn’t a set goal to accomplish or task to complete.
Create a habit this summer of consistent downtime together with your child. Try not to use this time to bring up touchy subjects or nag your child about their behavior or grades. Use this time to connect with your child over topics that you like about your child. If your child brings up any serious or emotional topics, then go with it. That means they want to talk to you about it – and that’s what we’re trying to encourage.
Some examples of family downtime activities include:
- A 15-minute check-in with your child before bedtime
- Making homemade ice cream and eating a bowl together on the patio on the weekends
- Taking a walk around the neighborhood when you get home from work in the evening
- Friday night game night, where you take turns picking the game to play
- Having dinner together as a family on specific nights.
The secret to the success of family downtime is that if your child can predict and feel confident that they will have time with you on a regular basis, then when they need to talk with you, they’ll know when to do it.
Strategy #3: Use Good Communication Habits
If your goal is to build or repair your relationship with your child or teen this summer, then you have to practice this effective communication skill: connect before you correct.
So many parents that I work with feel the pressure to “solve” their child or teen’s immediate issues during the summer when they get a chance to have some focused time with them – but in my experience, this is counterintuitive!
Kids and teens automatically stop listening to their parents when they feel like they are being “talked at” or lectured. This means that the life lesson the parent is desperate for their child to absorb just doesn’t land. You need your child to be OPEN to listening to what you have to say first before you can discuss the life lesson you want your child to learn. Once you emotionally connect with your child or teen, you can correct them by discussing that sensitive subject.
So how do you connect before you correct?
First, remember to spend time with your child where you have fun with them or it’s not stressful. If every encounter with your child results in a negative or sensitive topic discussion, they’ll automatically learn to ignore everything you say. You’ve GOT to balance positive times with your child with serious times as well.
Next, remember that when you talk to your child or teen, it’s a CONVERSATION – that means a respectful back-and-forth of ideas. Many parents were brought up believing that if their child or teen disagrees with them, it is a sign of disrespect, but that’s not always true. You’re teaching your child how to think through big issues and topics when you are open to hearing your child’s point of view (even if it’s opposite your). Think of this as an opportunity to positively influence your child instead of jumping to the conclusion that it’s a sign of respect or that they don’t love you.
Finally, remember to validate your child’s thoughts and feelings. Validating your child’s thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them – it simply means acknowledging that you understand how they came to think and feel that way. The topic of parent-child communication and validation is a big one, so if you want to learn more about that topic, I’d invite you to download the free ebook I created. It’s called How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Teen So That You Get Your Point Across & Create a Close Parent-Child Bond. Download that resource today to begin having better conversations with your child or teen that includes validation.
Strategy #4: Dive Into Your Child’s Interests
Nothing will improve your relationship faster than participating in one of your child or teen’s interests – even if it’s an interest that you think is silly or uninteresting.
I have a favorite story of a previous patient and her family. Dad and teen daughter hadn’t gotten along with each other for years. They fought constantly, avoided each other when possible, and just couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
However, dad DID have an interest in repairing this relationship with his daughter, though. He came to me one day after our family session and asked what he could do to feel close to his daughter again. I suggested that he dive into one of his daughter’s interests as a way to connect. He thought I was nuts! He thought that by giving his daughter’s frivolous interests attention, it would signal that she could get away with her rude and obnoxious behavior. He felt like it was rewarding her poor behavior.
But he couldn’t have been more wrong.
When parents show curiosity in one of their child’s interests – even if it seems inconsequential – it communicates the following positive messages:
- It shows that they hear their child (and young people CRAVE to be heard and validated for who they are)
- It shows that they believe their child has legitimate and valid interests
- It shows that the parent can put aside any uncomfortable feelings about the interest and participate anyway
- Most of all, it shows they value their relationship with their child.
So back to my story about my previous patient. Even though dad thought my advice would never work, he decided to try it anyway. His daughter loved music – but not the kind that dad liked. While dad was into classic rock (i.e., Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, etc.), his daughter preferred music that he termed “loud, hateful, screamo music.”
Still, dad was willing to try connecting with his daughter through HER music, so he made an effort to show interest:
- He encouraged her to listen to her music while in the car
- He asked questions about the music (and follow-up questions)
- He started forwarding her texts when her bands were in the news
- He asked HER OPINION on why she liked the music
- Believe it or not, he even bought tickets to see one of his daughter’s favorite local bands, and they went to this concert together.
It only took a few months, but this mutual interest in the daughter’s music created a bridge for father and daughter to talk and broke the old habit of immediately getting into negative, contentious conversations when they were around each other.
As the weeks went on, I noticed a new closeness in the family sessions between father and daughter. I noticed that both dad and daughter listened to each other more and considered each other’s point of view. This was a great development that only took a couple of months to achieve but do you want to know one of the BEST things that came out of this situation? While dad started this relationship-building exercise by concentrating only on his daughter’s interest, after a while daughter started asking dad about his music – and now some of dad’s favorite bands are on his daughter’s favorite band list as well!
This dad expressed to me that it meant the world to him that he was connecting with his daughter again. He especially felt such joy when his daughter seemed interested in him and wanted to spend time with him again.
I love this story, as I think it provides such a great example of how focusing attention on your child can have such a BIG impact on your relationship.
Strategy #5: Adopt The Right Mindset
When building or repairing your relationship with your child or teen, the right attitude and mindset are key – and I’m talking about YOURS!
If you go into this summer with the mindset that your child has to connect with YOU, then you’ve already set yourself up for failure. Remember that we have no control over other people – even our kids – and our only control in the parent-child relationship is OUR behavior. Suppose you concentrate on what you can do to show your child that you love them unconditionally, accept them for who they are right now (with the belief that they can develop into the wonderful people you know they can be), and communicate that you WANT to spend time with them because you like them. In that case, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Building or repairing the parent-child relationship takes time – and there can be many ups and downs. Keep the long-term goal of a close and positive relationship in mind when weathering the ups and downs of the process. Don’t give up!
Strategy #6: Commit to Moments of Non-Screen Time
You can’t connect or bond with your child if you’re being distracted by screens; therefore, commit to setting up times where screens are not allowed – and this means for both you and your child.
The best times to suggest and enforce putting phones, tablets, game controllers, and laptops away is during family downtimes. So remember back to strategy #2 about family downtime and how you need these consistent and relaxed times together in order to invite good conversations. This is the perfect time to set aside electronics and focus on each other.
So, for example, maybe you make it a new family rule to put all electronics away during family dinners or family game nights. Even if your child gives you a hard time, gently enforce the no-screen rule. Remind them that it’s good to take breaks from tech, as too much tech is unhealthy for everyone.
And just as a reminder…YOU need to model taking breaks from tech too. Show your child how to participate in life without electronics for a while. This is a great life lesson for them.
Take Home Message
I know you can really make a positive impact on your relationship with your child this summer by implementing one or all of the strategies above. Summertime provides an excuse to be more present with your child or teen – so take advantage of it!
So what should you do now?
Make your time with your child or teen more effective by downloading the free parenting resources mentioned in the article. All you have to do is enter your email address in the boxes below to get those resources today.
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