A strong parent-child relationship requires a lot of effort and understanding. The relationship you develop with your children right from their infancy forms the basis of their social and emotional development. But it may not always be easy. With their growing age, changing moods, and different challenges, you may find it difficult to bond with them. In such situations, there are several factors that need to be considered. For example, you need to understand them and help them cope with their problems effectively without being domineering. This post will provide you the principles of the relationship between parents and children, including all the different ways and activities to help you bond with them.
Understanding Parent-child Relationship
A parent-child relationship (PCR) is one that nurtures the physical, emotional, and social development of the child. It’s a unique bond that every child and parent experience, enjoy and nurture.
The relationship lays the foundation for the child’s personality, choices, and overall behavior. Studies suggest that a healthy parent-child relationship leads to positive outcomes for the children and the family (1).
Keep reading to know about the importance of parent-child bonding.
Why Is A Positive Parent-child Relationship Important?
Loving parents create loving children. Your relationship with your children and how attached you are to them indicates how the child is going to be in the future.
Here are a few positive outcomes of a healthy PCR.
- Young children who grow with a secure and healthy attachment to their parents stand a better chance of developing happy and content relationships with others in their life.
- A child who has a secure relationship with parent learns to regulate emotions under stress and in difficult situations.
- Promotes the child’s mental, linguistic and emotional development.
- Helps the child exhibit optimistic and confident social behaviors.
- Healthy parent involvement and intervention in the child’s day-to-day life lay the foundation for better social and academic skills (2).
- A secure attachment leads to a healthy social, emotional, cognitive, and motivational development (3). Children also gain strong problem-solving skills when they have a positive relationship with their parents.
The relationship between parents and children not only needs to be strong but also flexible because you can’t behave with a ten-year-old in the same way you behave with a three-year-old.
Parent-child Relationship At Various Stages
Parenting is a full-time job with perks and challenges that grow as the child grows. Here, we take a look at the PCR at various stages:
Infancy — building warmth and security
In the first six months, infants mostly cry, eat, sleep, pee, and poop. And in response, the parents hold, feed, burp, change and wash the baby. This way parents stay near to the baby while tending to them.
When the baby is hungry, he gets cranky. When the parent feeds him, the baby’s needs are met and he is happy. The parent also feels happy for being able to satisfy the baby’s needs.
When parents perform their primary function of nurturing, loving, and caring for the child, it creates a well-defined and unique parent-child relationship.
By their first birthday, infants are likely to develop a secure attachment with the parents or the primary caregiver.
Toddlerhood — stepping into the society
When the child becomes a toddler, the focus is on shaping the child’s behavior by teaching, guiding, and nurturing him. Parents facilitate the socialization process subtly during the first two years and prepare the child to fit into a social group or the society at large.
Preschool — developing a parenting style
Different parenting styles emerge, with one style becoming prominent as the child attains the preschool age (4). However, you cannot use one particular style consistently across all situations; you need to use a combination of strategies to raise children. And the parent-child relationship can be best described by the current parenting style adopted by the parents.
Research shows that children of (5) :
- authoritative parents are confident, happy, and focused.
- authoritarian parents are unhappy, less confident, and fearful (6).
- permissive parents lack social skills, are irresponsible, and have poor emotional regulation.
- neglectful parents have more behavioral and psychological problems than other youngsters (6).
School age — knowing about a world beyond home
When the child starts elementary school, there is a shift in his focus from parents to peers, but this does not change the dynamics of the PCR. With the child’s increasing cognitive and social skills, he goes beyond the home setting.
This is the time when the communication becomes two-way. The child is in a position to tell the parent what he wants, and express his likes and dislikes. Your parenting style will decide if the communication will be two-way or a one-way.
Parenting styles remain the same as the child grows and the style used in the preschool age continues to affect even in the middle-childhood age. Research studies indicate that in the case of (7):
- Authoritative parenting, children grow up to be socially competent and have high self-esteem.
- Authoritarian parenting, children have low self-esteem, low social skills, and are highly aggressive.
- Permissive parenting, children become impulsive, aggressive, and irresponsible.
Adolescence — giving personal space to the kid
Teenage is a turbulent and vulnerable phase, which brings about physical and psychological changes in the child. Parents should acknowledge and understand their teen’s needs, support them, and give them the freedom they need without being overly controlling.
Parenting with love and acceptance by adopting a positive approach even during challenging times can be an effective way to guide teenagers.
Adulthood — talking on equal terms
Adulthood is the time when stability starts setting in. The parent and the grown-up child are now able to relate to each other. Adult children are sometimes torn between their personal and aged parents. It can be quite stressful to balance between the two. However, most adults do maintain a healthy relationship with their parents.
The requirements and priorities of one family are different from those of another. For instance, the bond you share with your child may not be the same as the one your friend shares with their child. This means that your type of parent-child bond is different from that of your friend.
So, what is your type of bond?
Types Of Parent-child Relationships
The types of relationship might depend on your parenting style. A PCR can be broadly categorized into the following (7):
1. Secure relationship:
Children feel safe with their parents/caregivers and believe that they will be taken care of. A secure relationship is formed when the parents are consistently responsive to their children’s needs.
Children who enjoy a secured relationship with their parents are more likely to be independent and self-confident later. They interact well socially and are better able to regulate their emotions.
2. Avoidant relationship:
Children feel insecure because parents are not responsive to their needs. They are forced to become independent and take care of themselves as children.
An insecure parent-child attachment leads to developmental and adjustment problems, as well as behavioral issues such as biting, pushing and hitting.
Kids who experience this relationship are more likely to have poor social skills (e.g., withdrawal or aggression), and tend to be disobedient and impulsive.
However, this does not imply that they are destined to fail in life. Change can certainly occur as the child grows.
3. Ambivalent relationship:
The needs of the child are sometimes met and sometimes not. Parents respond but not consistently.
For instance, the parent might not respond immediately to a child that is hungry or crying as they are busy with work. But they might respond after some time. These children grow up to be clingy and tend to be over-emotional.
4. Unorganized relationship:
In this relationship, parents neglect the children’s needs and the kids learn not to expect anything from their parents. In such cases, it is likely that one or both the parents suffer from psychological conditions.
These children engage in meaningless activities and behave unusual. Some of them tend to speak fast and make it difficult for the other person to comprehend their speech or behavior.
So, have you related to one of these types? And you might have realized which type is better than the others?
In order to develop a better bond, you need to follow certain basic principles of parenting, which we discuss next.
Principles Of Parent-Child Relationship
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to parenting. However, the following principles lay the foundation for positive parenting:
- Set some parenting goals: Whether you want to raise a healthy and disciplined child or have a healthy parent-child relationship, identify your goals and understand what you need to do to achieve them.
- Bring in warmth and structure in your interactions: Treat every interaction as an opportunity to connect with your child. Be a warm and receptive parent, who encourages interaction. Structure your interaction by having rules, boundaries, and consequences in place and ensure that your children understand them.
- Ground rules are a must: Ground rules tell your children how to and how not to behave. Rules have to be set by discussing with the child, coming to a mid point between the parents’ and the child’s needs. You can firmly implement such rules which are comfortable and meaningful to both. But having too many rules is not a good idea.
- Acknowledge and empathize with your child: Whether it’s a happy or difficult situation, acknowledge your child’s feelings, understand them, and reassure them that they can depend on you to solve all their problems.
- Take a problem-solving approach to conflicts: When your child has a problem, try to look for a solution instead of punishing your child. Punishments demoralize your child and they lose trust in you. But when you work with them to find a solution, they also learn.
These principles can guide parents at a macro level. What about everyday interactions? How can you strengthen your bond with your child through everyday routines?
Activities That Help In Parent-Child Bonding
Forming a connection with your child is the crux of a healthy PCR. And when the connection is in place, your children tend to follow the rules voluntarily. One way to strengthen your bond with your children is to teach positive interactions into your daily routine. Here’s how you can do that:
- Positively reinforce your children every day: It can be by words “very good” or a physical gesture such as a pat on the back or hug. See what works for the child. The experience of early interpersonal touch is linked with self-esteem, life satisfaction, and social competence in the later years of the child. It also positively affects the child’s physical and psychological development (8).
Hug your children when they wake up in the morning and before they sleep at night, and as many times you can during the day. Rub their shoulders, maintain eye contact, and pat their backs to show them you care.
Older children might not like the physical touch or may feel embarrassed when you hug them in front of their peers. Don’t force it on them. Be subtle and make them understand that hugging to show affection and love is not a bad thing.
- Play with them: Become a child when you are playing with your kids. This allows them to cooperate with you. Indulge in activities such as building Lego sets or pretend-play with the little ones, or pair up for video games or a game of basketball/cricket.
- Laugh together: Parenting doesn’t always have to be serious. Sharing a few lighter moments helps in building some great memories.
- Have one-on-one interaction: Take time out from your daily schedule to interact with them about their needs and how they plan to meet them. Have some parent-child time every day to express your love for them, play with them, and do something together.
- Live the moment: From the moment your children wake up till you put them to bed, how often do you live your moments? Don’t rush your daily schedule as if it’s a ‘to-do’ thing. Be present, enjoy, and live the moment. There can’t be anything more fulfilling than that.
- Nurture the bond: Yes, small gestures such as brushing your kid’s hair, help in nurturing the bond. Usually, teens or preteens don’t like it when you try to do so, but if you can do this with younger children. They might not get annoyed and may even be okay with it.
- Put away your gadgets: When you are interacting with your children, ensure that your mobile phone is switched off or on silent mode, the television is turned off, and other gadgets away from sight. This little gesture shows that you value them more than others and can help strengthen the bond.
- Talk and cuddle at bedtime: Bedtime should be relaxed and not forced. It should be a safe time when your children are likely to open up about their fears and worries. Listen to them and acknowledge their feelings to reassure that you are there for them to solve their problems.
When you introduce these activities in your daily routine, you will most certainly lay the foundation for a healthy relationship. Once a strong foundation is laid, you can work on strengthening the bond.
How To Strengthen Parent-child Relationship?
According to the American Psychological Association, a high-quality parent-child relationship is important for healthy development (9). To have a healthy PCR, parents must be responsive, trustworthy, and loving. Here are some tips for strengthening the relationship:
- Start from the beginning: Mothers form a bond with the child right from the womb while the father-child bond begins the moment the baby is born. Studies (10) suggest that fathers who were involved with the child in the early days had greater bonding later in life.
- Invest time and effort: The more time and effort you put into your relationship, the stronger your bond will turn out to be. Parents are naturally programmed to love their offspring, but qualitative time and effort are essential to show that love. Teens need privacy, while younger kids need parental intervention and interaction.
- Prioritize your relationship with the child: Your kids are your priority. So show it to them in action: spend as much time as you can with your child instead of just ‘fitting’ them in your schedule.
- Be available: Be responsive to your child’s physical and emotional needs. It is important to be attentive, loving and seeing things from the child’s perspective.
- Empathize: Help your children express their emotions. Be empathetic and compassionate and let them vent out their emotions. This may not be easy when you are a first-time parent, but a little practice helps. Seeing things from your child’s perspective will help you understand the reasons for their cranky behavior.
- Communication: Communication with your child has to be fair, firm, and friendly. Be clear about your expectations, what they can expect from you and any ground rules and consequences for not following them. That said, don’t let the child push your buttons. As a parent, you need to handle it maturely and calmly.
- Take active interest in their studies, friends, and activities: Parents who are involved in their child’s life have strong parent-child relationships. Learn what’s happening with them, understand their academics, and know their friends. Stay in regular touch with your child’s teachers or volunteer at school if you have leisure time.
- Listen actively: Listening passively while doing your work and responding with an occasional ‘hmm’ or ‘OK’ in between shows that you are not interested. When your child speaks to you, stop whatever it is that you are doing and listen to them. Give them your full attention, ask questions or reiterate what they said. Remember to maintain eye contact while talking to them.
- Make family time important: Have meals together and talk about your day over dinner. Make it a regular practice to go to movies, events, or family outings.
- Trust your child and be trustworthy: Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Your child should be able to rely on you and feel secure. Earn their trust by keeping up your promises, by giving them privacy and keeping their confidence. However, do not trust your child blindly, but have your checks in place.
- Encourage your child: Children need constant encouragement and motivation to build their confidence and self-esteem. If you only criticize or correct them all the time, they will feel that their actions or opinions are not valued.
- Respect your child: Treat your children as individuals and acknowledge their opinions and beliefs. While you are responsible to a certain extent in forming beliefs and opinions, other extraneous factors also contribute to it. Respect their views so that they respect you.
The love and care that you offer to your child build a healthy and positive relationship. But, some behavioral problems can lead to a poor PCR.
Five Problems That Can Ruin Parent-child Relationship
The relation that you form with your children during the early years forms the foundation for their later years. If the early parent-child relationship is strained due to various problems, your child’s personality will be affected. Here are a few common parent-child relationship problems that you should avoid:
- Physical and mental abuse: Some parents (usually alcoholics and addicts) might physically abuse the child while some might verbally abuse by criticizing them, shouting at them, or putting them down repeatedly, which can damage the child.
Abuse during childhood could turn children into abusive adults who ill-treat their parents and children, creating a vicious cycle.
- Disrespect: Respect is mutual and has to be earned. As a parent, you need to provide for the child physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. If any of these needs are not taken care of, then children begin to disrespect the parents. Such children tend to disobey the parents, break the rules, and rely more on others for their needs and desires.
Also, you need to give due respect to the child in the way you talk and behave with them.
- Poor communication: Poor or nonexistent communication between the parent and child can be frustrating. This usually stems from the parents’ belief that their children don’t listen to them, and children thinking that their parents don’t understand them. This perspective freezes the communication between the two, resulting in anger, bitterness, and sorrow.
- Codependency: Some parent-child relationships are codependent; the child is expected to take care of the parents especially when the parent is disabled or terminally ill. So, the child takes on the responsibility of making the parent happy, resolves family problems, or even takes up the daily chores at home. They might also put their parents’ needs before theirs, and grow up to have a codependent personality.
- Mistrust: If children repeatedly make mistakes or display unruly behavior, then parents have difficulty trusting them. If parents want to reestablish the trust, then they need to give their children the opportunity to prove that they are trustworthy.
Parenting can be challenging at times. However, looking after your little bundle of joy and watching them grow can be rewarding and satisfying. A healthy parent-child relationship will make life easy and fulfilling for you and your child. So put in the effort and spend plenty of time with your child to create a healthy and strong bond. However, if you are facing severe problems with your child and don’t know how to deal with them, do not hesitate to reach out to a child psychologist for help.
- Kristin A. Moore et al.; (2011); Parental Relationship Quality And Child Outcomes Across Subgroups.
- Elizabeth Moorman Kim et al.; (2012); Parent Involvement and Family-School Partnerships: Examining the Content Processes and Outcomes of Structural Versus Relationship-Based Approaches1.
- Parent-Child Relationship – Why it’s Important.
- Positive Parent-Child Relationships.
- Parent-Child Relationships.
- Diana Baumrind’s (1966) Prototypical Descriptions of 3 Parenting Styles.
- Behavioral Health Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.
- What the Science Tells Us About Parenting an Adolescent.
- Different Types of Parent-Child Relationships.
- 10 Emotionally Intelligent Ways to Build Trust as a Parent.
- Ana Aznar and Harriet R. Tenenbaum; (2016); Parent–Child Positive Touch: Gender Age and Task Differences.
- Von Jessee and Kari Adamsons; (2018); Father Involvement and Father-Child Relationship Quality: An Intergenerational Perspective.