Just the other day a dad came into my office feeling defeated.
He said he feels like his teenage daughter wants nothing to do with him. She just wants to be in her room.
He’s not alone. He’s actually expressing one of the biggest challenges that all parents experience. That is, watching kids go through different stages of development.
When they’re young, your kids are jumping for joy as you walk through the door. Then they move into the tween years and start spending more time locked away behind their own doors. They need less of you.
As parents we say that we know that this transition is normal, but inside it can feel confusing or even painful.
Here’s what’s helpful to know: the healthier your parent-child foundation is, the more your child is going to experiment with independence. Why? Because they know it’s safe and they can always come back to you for support.
I’m going to share with you the 6 essential building blocks for cultivating a healthier relationship with your child.
#1. Transition From Dependence To Independence With Your Child
I’ve been a leader for my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop since she was in kindergarten. When we first started Girl Scouts, I used to leave every Troop meeting absolutely exhausted.
I was sometimes looking at the clock: How much longer?! The girls couldn’t cut paper. They couldn’t glue. It felt like they needed help with everything. There were ten of them and two of us and it was a lot of work.
Now my daughter is in 4th grade. In our last Troop meeting, I (along with the other Troop leader) tried helping the girls with their activities. The response we received from the girls amazed us.
None of them wanted our help. We arrived at that parallel moment as parents. We had been watching our daughters grow their independence through the years. And now they were asking for it. So we gave it to them.
Presence means different things at different stages, but ultimately it means understanding the unique needs of your child at every stage of development.
For a 3-year-old it means you’re all hands on deck. You’re fully engaged. You’re playing. You’re getting dirty. You’re rolling Play Doh.
For a school-age kid it means knowing when to stop offering your help and letting them try things on their own.
Parents get uncomfortable with their children wanting new levels of independence and try to reign their child back in.
A healthy parent-child relationship requires freedom to reach for independence. By being present with your child and allowing them to be free, you’re leaving the door open for them to come back. And they will come back, they just need to go off and take some risks first.
#2. Know What’s Typical For Each Age… And Allow It
You can go out and educate yourself on what’s typical for children at every age, or you can just follow their lead.
Pay attention to your child’s play habits, social skills, friends, and classmates. Pick up your middle schooler from school and you’ll notice something happens as soon as the final bell rings. All the kids pull out their phones from their backpacks.
They stand in a circle — without talking to or looking at each other — and stare at their screens.
When you pay attention, you’ll be able to notice if every other kid at school is doing the same thing as your child. It will help you from becoming so irritated when your kid doesn’t want to look up from their screen. IT will help give context to their behaviors and allow you more creativity to intervene.
Of course you can (and should) set boundaries on that screen time, but knowing what’s typical is very helpful for strengthening the relationship you have with your child.
When you visit the pediatrician for the yearly check-up, go beyond the typical “How many inches did they grow?” or “Do we need the flu shot?” questions. You should ask what is typical for a child your age to be doing socially and feeling emotionally.
If you’re looking for a good online educational resource for this, I really like Kids Health.
#3. Accept Your Child
Your daughter is going to want to wear clothes you don’t like. Then she’ll start wearing makeup. You won’t like that either.
Part of cultivating a healthy parent-child relationship is reaching a level of comfort where you can accept your child even if you don’t love their interests.
It shows that you have developed trust with your child when you can accept them for everything they are.
And the more you accept the easier it will be when you will set a limit as to what you won’t accept. Your child will not feel like they always hear no coming out of your mouth so when they do they will understand their boundary.
#4. Keep Lines Of Communication Open
It sounds like common sense. Of course you’re going to communicate with your kid!
The problem with this is that adults struggle with HOW to communicate with kids, and as a result they feel shut down and they shut up.
That’s the opposite of communication. Don’t fall into this trap!
We know to ask the classics: “How was your day?” “What’d you do at school?”
Most kids reply with the standard, “Good.” “Nothing.”
And bang! Right from a young age it makes parents feel like they’ve lost a sense of communication with their kids.
When kids get older things become more complicated. Now their child’s social and emotional lives are changing.
My biggest tip for parents here is to hang in there. You certainly won’t be prepared for everything that comes your way, but you’ve got to be there for your child.
Try playing communication games around the dinner table. Go around and share the highs and lows (or roses and thorns) of your day. Give recognitions. Be creative when trying to get a sense of what’s going on in your child’s life. And remember to ask what the “low lights” of the day were. You want to understand what is not going well in your child’s day.
#5. Know When To Be Authoritative
You are your child’s parent, not their friend. You need to be authoritative.
We already have plenty of research that shows how the best-friend parenting style is unhealthy and unproductive.
The brain is still developing during childhood. Your kid needs time and guidance as they figure out the world. They need you to be strong and sure of yourself. They need you to be grounded in your decisions.
I see parents who tell me they’re scared of their kids. They know their teenager shouldn’t be on the phone late at night, but they’re too scared to tell them NO.
Parents fear the meltdown or the blowout that will happen if they try to be authoritative.
If that’s the case, your parenting is being compromised.
Once in awhile, as a parent, it’s healthy to go back to your kid and say,
“You know, I thought about the punishment, and I think I might have been too hard on you. I’ll let you go to the dance.”
Whatever it is, we want the freedom of flexibility. But that’s an exception, not the rule.
Otherwise we get parents who are worn down by their kids relentlessly asking for things. If you said not ice-cream, then no ice-cream! Be authoritative.
#6. Take Care of Your Own Baggage
Co-dependence is bad parenting and does not lead to a healthy parent-child relationship.
If you’re codependent with your child, you’ve got some unfinished business to take care of. That’s the adult stuff you have to work through.
Not taking care of that baggage just means the pile of issues will get bigger and bigger. You’ll struggle to help your child develop their own sense of identity.
We all have issues that need to be addressed, but as a parent you need to own up to that and not push your baggage onto your 13-year-old.
Parents: do your work.
Achieving A Healthy Parent-Child Relationship Looks Like…..
The hallmark of knowing when you have a healthy relationship with your child is when they love, respect, and accept you. They understand your role as a guide in their lives. And you understand and accept your role as the guide in their lives.
>> Want more tips on raising a healthy kid? Check out the complete Guide To Raising A Healthy Child.