By Zeynep Biringen
The parent-child relationship undergoes many changes throughout our lives. From infants to adults, each stage is different and requires time to figure out. When interacting with the children in your life, try to remember the following.
—Give your child plenty of space and freedom: For a baby, that might be floor freedom and allowing explorations, while you are mindful of safety. For a preschooler or older child or youth, that would be giving them room to make choices, and when they do make a choice, be respectful of it. Many parents think they need to “do something” in order to be a good parent–when in fact, our children appreciate when we have confidence in them enough to “get out of the way”, sometimes.
—Give your child plenty of opportunities to see and experience you emotionally animated: For a baby, that would be plenty of smiling and eye contact with them, face-to-face. For a preschooler or older child or youth, “let your hair down” and be goofy, funny, or whatever way you like to be emotionally expressive.
—When your child makes a mistake: Continue hugging them and showing how much you care, and then discuss how they might plan to improve that behavior. With a baby, hold back so they can try to go it alone, but support when they suggest they want the help. These strategies are often better than the traditional “time outs” and make a lasting impression that you trust them and that they don’t need to be perfect for you to love.
—if you lose your cool: Make sure to apologize right away, and make every effort to not repeat. This will show your child that regulating your emotions is important in the family. Over time, make sure you do enough self-care that you can be peaceful, as frequent loss of cool and then apologizing may be empty words following a frightening event for a child. Such frightening events (even if very rare) can be traumatizing to your child, and even if you do many wonderful things as a parent. Make sure the whole family exercises this, so that you are not a peaceful mother-child or father-child, with others in the family creating an unsafe climate.
–“Play” with your child for at least 30 minutes per day is the main prescription: If you are able to engage in one-on-one play every day, this will be emotional food for your relationship, and so small mishaps will fall by the wayside. For older children and youth, this might be in the form of driving them to activities and checking in with them and being able to talk about a range of topics. To the extent that it is possible, doing this in a one-on-one way with each of your children makes them feel special.
Zeynep Biringen is a professor in the CSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies and director of the Emotional Attachment and Emotional Availability Lab.