Many years ago, while trout fishing in Northern Arizona, my father and I (Greg) decided to cool off by swimming in the river. The only problem was that we did not have our bathing suits. Since we had hiked several miles without seeing anyone, we decided to swim as nature had intended it. After splashing around for a few minutes—to our surprise—a group of hikers appeared. Totally embarrassed, we sank down into the deep water. As they passed by, suddenly one of the hikers screamed, “Hey, aren’t you Gary Smalley?” To this day, we cannot believe that someone recognized him in the middle of the wilderness.
The best part of our trip, however, was yet to come. After the hikers disappeared, we started fishing near a beaver dam. This is when my dad did something that I’ll never forget. In the midst of some great fishing, he asked me if I wanted to have a Bible study. So we sat down on the beaver dam and read from the Word. As we talked about some deep spiritual issues, I rededicated my life to the Lord. I’ve never felt as close to my dad as I did that day. What happened on our fishing trip is actually the secret to building friendships with your children. We want to encourage you to begin doing 6 important things to build closer friendships with your children.
1. Make A Life-Time Commitment.
Developing closer friendships with your children begins with making an unconditional commitment to them for life. Such a commitment says, “No matter what happens, I will never stop loving or supporting you.” As I was growing up, my dad gave us a daily reminder of his love and commitment. At the entryway of our home hung a wall plaque which read: “To Norma, Kari, Gregory and Michael, in assurance of my lifetime commitment to you.” This plaque gave me the security to be close to my father because I knew that no matter what trouble I got into or what positive things I accomplished, he was committed to me for life.
Developing closer friendships with your children begins with making an unconditional commitment to them for life.
Instead of trying to “pigeon-hole” our children into something we think they ought to become, we need to carefully observe them and assess their strengths and weaknesses. We encourage you to carefully study your child’s natural personality. Is your child strong-willed, fun-loving, sensitive or very detailed? What are her likes and dislikes? What is the best way to motivate your child? What are his specific goals and dreams? As you begin to answer these kinds of questions you will be able to “tailor-make” your friendship with each child according to his natural personality.
3. Schedule Time Together.
When asked about the privileges of growing up in a wealthy home, a young successful attorney said that the greatest gift he ever received was from his father. One Christmas morning, amongst the piles of neatly wrapped presents was a small box. Inside was a note saying, “Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after dinner.” Remember that friendships don’t develop by chance or accident. Instead, meaningful friendships are a result of spending time together on a regular—preferably daily—basis. We need to get into the habit of setting special times for our children each day.
4. Become Available To Your Children.
Besides having scheduled time with your children, if you are to develop a meaningful friendship you need to be available to them during unscheduled times as well. It’s important for us to make time when our children need it—watching for teachable moments. At times we can drop what we’re doing because our children are simply more important.
Another important aspect of developing a friendship with your children is by listening in an understanding way. In other words, we encourage you to become an active listener when communicating with your child. Active listening involves eye contact with the speaker. A good listener never assumes he knows what his child is saying. Instead, ask questions to clarify what the child has said. Then repeat, using different words, what you think he meant.
The final way that we’ve found to help build meaningful friendships with children is by touching. When you touch your child in a gentle way—soft, tender, full of warmth—millions of nerve endings send messages to the brain where chemicals are released to bring health to your child. Researchers say that parents who hold their children at least six times daily can add months or maybe even years onto their life span. Conversely, a child’s growth is stunted when not touched on a regular basis. Children have actually died just from lack of touch, love and affection. Your child benefits not only physiologically, but emotionally as well.
What do you try to do every day that builds on your friendship with your child?
Taken with permission from Greg Smalley, Psy.D.
Editor’s Note: The article “Building Friendships With Your Children” by Gary and Greg Smalley was based in part on ideas from Gary’s book, The Key To Your Child’s Heart. For additional information on building friendships with your children and other parenting issues please refer to his book.