When my son was little we were attached at the hip. Rooted in snuggles and story time, our bond deepened with every blanket fort and beach trip. As he’s grown he’s remained loving and sweet — one for lullabies and bedtime back rubs for far longer than I would’ve dared ask to enjoy. But since turning 13 he’s been — well — a teen. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great kid — smart, funny, caring, dedicated, determined, and strong, he’s just a little quieter and bit harder to crack than he used to be.
And I mean I get it. When I was 13 I had this whole other world filled with hormones and intrigue going on that my parents knew nothing of. I answered ‘fine’ to every question and wrote in my locked diary each night before sleep. So yeah I get it. And I know it’s normal, healthy, and how’s he’s going to start figuring out where his place is in the world and that makes me happy. But even though I know he’ll likely come back to himself — and me — in a few years just like I did with my own family — I can’t help be a little nervous about the in between.
So, to calm those nerves and curb the accompanying anxiety, I sat down and made a list of my favourite ways to build — and maintain — a strong relationship with my kid. Doing so was a nice reminder of all the things we do now that help nurture our bond while pointing out where I can do better. And since now you’re likely wondering how to strengthen your family bond I thought I’d share my five basics for building lasting ties at any age. Take a look, below:
1. Take Time
Quality time is everything. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra time if you spend the time you do have intentionally it goes a long way. Make time to play, to cuddle (if they’ll let you), and to laugh uproariously. Read to them, and when they’re old enough have them read to you. Share your stories and family tales, go for long hikes or urban adventures. Schedule extra special dates and do tackle they’ve always wanted to try. The time you spend together the bigger foundation you have to build on as they grow.
2. Practice Open Communication
When it comes to having kids, listening might be the most important thing you can do. We can teach by example, but listening and paying attention to their actions and reactions is the best way see what they’re learning. And when you really listen you show their words — and by extension — they themselves, are important to you. Validate their feelings and be open with yours — having a positive an example of how to express emotion is invaluable. And when you hit a bump in the road — and we’re all sure to — face it head-on. It’s easier to deal with conflicts early before they’ve had time to bloom.
3. Presence Over Presents
There’s little sense in doing things if you’re not going to at least try to do them well, and spending time with your kid when your head is elsewhere is definitely one of those things. Time without attention often works against your interest — instead of giving your child a sense of importance they may feel you don’t care — so make an effort to be present during your time together. Put down your phones and appreciate one another and the time you have.
4. Go, Team!
Whether your family could fill a starting lineup or you’re a lone duo, it feels good to be a part of a team working toward a common goal. Hold family meetings and give your kids a voice in family affairs. Even if the decisions still fall to you they’ll feel more a part of things if they feel like their opinion has been heard. While you’re at it get them helping around the house. Although they may be less enthusiastic about chores, they’ll get a sense of satisfaction from contributing to the family. And make sure you eat as a family as often as you can. Having that time around the table to check in with each other and talk about your day goes a long way!
5. Don’t Take it Personal
When things go sideways — and inevitably they will — take a deep breath and just let it go. Your teenager will argue “you don’t understand,” and storm off to slam her door. Your toddler will scream you’re “mean” and stomp away. But like many kids, before they’ll find their way home too. Little bumps are to be expected, just keep loving them the best you can and you’ll find yourself on the other side, parent to some really cool humans who’ve grown up to think the world of you.
Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based freelance writer, bartender, and assistant editor of the Whole Family Happiness Project. She lives in Halifax, with her son and a penchant for really strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer.
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