4 Principles for a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship

parent child relationship

At the beginning of the school year our counselors at the CMFS Relationships Center get swamped with questions and concerns about parenting, especially the unique challenges of parenting adolescents. In last weeks column I talked about some of the tragic violence that has taken place in some of our schools. It’s no wonder that many parents feel overwhelmed with the task of raising adolescents. For the two weeks I’d like to share some encouraging words and practical suggestions for all parents, and especially those of you with adolescents.

Do you remember the popular TV show of the late eighties that followed a young boy, Kevin Arnold, during what were called “The Wonder Years?” Kevin had two close friends, Paul and Winnie. The theme music for the show was the Beatles’ tune, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” and Kevin’s triumphs and setbacks with his friends were chronicled weekly. The show’s producers were right about that element of early adolescence: friends play a significant role in a teenager’s life during these years. Early adolescence marks a major shift from parents to peers.

During those “wonder years” of adolescence their world is full of fresh, new possibilities and perspectives. The opposite sex takes on a new meaning, achievement in activities becomes a more significant factor, and friends become emotionally preeminent. Their social world is expanding. From one perspective the teenage years are often seen as a hurricane in the sea of life, marked by rebellion and defiance that cuts a path of damage through the lives of parents who find ways to take shelter and wait for the storm to pass. However, it’s also a time of great opportunity. Here are the first 4 of 10 simple ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child:

1. Focus on being a healthy parent, not just on raising a healthy child.

Many parents can forget the significant impact that God has designed us to have in our kid’s lives. The primary classroom where our children learn about morals, values, ethics, a sense of how to handle difficult emotions, how to deal with conflict in mature ways and how to interact with the opposite sex is still mom and dad. Even when they become teenagers and it seems as if you have little impact the fact is that you still do. Is what our kids see in our lives different than the values modeled by society? Do our children see in us the importance of the spiritual side of life? Do we model for them the value of the Bible and prayer? While there are no guarantees do understand that, as their parents, what you model is greatest influence in what your kids will choose.

2. Lay a relational foundation in childhood

The best predictor of how you and your teenager will relate to each other is found in the relationship you build with them as a child. Those early patterns of interaction set the stage for what your relationship will look like during adolescence. If those patterns have been healthy, you can probably expect that to continue. So if your child is still small, invest the time and energy that will pay off not only now, but also in the future. While it is never too late to begin building a warm, loving relationship, creating a solid foundation is always easier than repairing a damaged one.

3. Spend ample time with your child

It is impossible to build a strong relationship without spending quantity, not just quality, time together. As you spend time together you can learn how to win them over, rather than trying to win over them. That is a subtle but at the same time a very significant distinction. As two of our sons have moved into their teenage years, spending time with them has become more of a challenge. So make the most of your opportunities to do things together with your child while you can.

4. Trust your child

Many parents tell their adolescents that, “We’ll trust you when you prove you can be trusted.” Adolescents express bitterness and frustration that they often are made to feel guilty and have to prove their innocence. Early on Carrie and I decided early on that we would communicate a different message to our boys. We told them, “We’ll trust you until you prove you can’t be trusted, and then we’ll deal with the problem.” The statement may sound similar, but consider how different the message was to our children. Time and time again, with only a few exceptions, they have rewarded our trust with protecting it.

Taken with permission from Gary Oliver, Ph.D.

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