February 17, 2016 —

You want your kids to be safe. As they grow older, they’re exposed to a growing multitude of dangers, some related to the internet, or to peer pressure, or as a result of feeling anxious, depressed or inadequate. You want them to be confident and self-assured and to be able to make right choices. What can you do to make sure you have a relationship of trust with your child so you can be there for her at crucial times?

First, remember to value your child as an equal to you, not in size or in experience, but as a human being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. He needs to feel appreciated and recognized as an important part of your family group. If he begins to feel as if a brother or sister is preferred, or if he feels unappreciated, he might begin to misbehave. He starts to get attention for acting out, or for talking back. A small child might hit a younger sibling, and get a strong reaction from his parents. If punishing and criticism become the way he gets attention, he feels it’s better than being ignored, and the cycle of behaving badly has begun. If it escalates as he gets older, he can turn away from his family altogether, and look to his friends for the attention and acceptance he needs. He may be likely to be tempted into irresponsible behavior that gets approval from his peers.

To improve your relationship with your children, begin to use encouragement, focusing on positives rather than on negatives. It may not come naturally to you, especially if you’ve been raised in a family where your mistakes were constantly noticed and criticism was a way of “motivating” good behavior, but as you begin to use it, it will get easier. You’ll like the results as you’ll find your family atmosphere improving.

Here are some guidelines for encouraging your family members:

  1. Stop criticizing. Bite your tongue when your daughter makes a mistake, but be there for her if she asks for your help.
  2. Do not humiliate your child or put her down. Don’t say “I told you so.”
  3. Notice any positive behavior and comment on it, even if it’s just the way your son parts his hair.
  4. Avoid judging. Instead, ask him, in a friendly way, what makes him think the way he does.
  5. Kids have great ideas. Ask for help or an opinion on something you’re working on. Your child will feel valued and worthy.
  6. Don’t be afraid to apologize when you’ve been wrong.
  7. Listen when your kids talk to you. Give your full attention.
  8. Give affection, both verbally and physically. Teens may seem not to want a hug, but give one anyway. Say “I love you”, often.
  9. Eat dinner as a family several times a week, if possible. Remember to focus on positives. This is not the time to correct table manners. Teaching manners should be done on a separate occasion.
  10. Spend time with your kids. Read to them at bedtime when they’re small, have bedtime talks as they grow older, asking them what was best about their day. They’ll also tell you what was worst, and you can listen and offer help. Watch TV, play video games, anything that will help you be with them in a conscious way. Ask for their opinions and respond calmly and reasonably.

When you begin to make changes in your approach to your children, focusing on the positive things they do and letting them know how much you love and value them, their respect for you increases, as does their trust in you. As they mature and encounter difficult situations, they’ll be more open to bringing their concerns to you. You’ll have a closer, more fulfilling relationship with your children that will help them through the teen years and beyond.

Carolyn is a graduate of the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. She is a former social worker with an extensive parenting background. She raised four kids of her own as a single mom and with a partner, and has worked “in the trenches” with parents for over twenty years, helping them with parenting challenges. Her mission in life is to help parents be more effective in raising their children to be responsible, independent, generous and caring adults.

You can order her book, Parent with Confidence: Power Tools for Bringing Up Great Kids, and check out her website, blog and coaching programs at How to Bring Up Great Kids. You can also connect with Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.