In case you missed it, last week I was thrilled to have my first op-ed published in The Christian Post. I discussed having “the talk” with your kids about sexual abuse and harassment. The key to these conversations is the condition of your relationship with your child. If your child doesn’t feel connected with you or that she is a priority to you, this conversation will be difficult and maybe meaningless. It’s time to prioritize your relationship with your child.
Below are a few ways to build a trusting, healthy parent/child relationship.
- Be Available—Technology makes it possible to stay in touch with our families 24/7. That’s great, but it cannot be the foundation of our relationship with our kids. We need to be with them—in the same house, often the same room. It takes time and presence to build a relationship with anyone. If you are not intentional as a parent, the culture will scatter your family in different directions. The kids have their activities and the parents have theirs—work, working out, their own friends, etc. And when families are together, electronic devices are often the acceptable intruder that steals family time, even at the dinner table. One way to make the ground fertile for relationship is to be with your kids. This will require sacrifice on your part. Be home. Stay off your devices when your kids are home to show them you are available. You may need to be the bad guy and set limits with everyone’s devices—especially at meals.
- Be interested in them. Get to know your kids like you would a new friend. Ask about them and then listen. Do not talk until they are finished talking. If they give you a short answer, ask another question. Don’t make it sound like an interview, more like chatting. Initiate doing something that is fun for your child. Be all in—at least as much as you physically can. I’m imagining a parent of a snowboarding teen—if you can’t join them on the steep slopes, maybe a bunny hill. Or maybe take them to the slopes, but cheer them from the sidelines. Be creative. Whatever will speak love and build relationship with your child.
- Be a safe place to land—Be the parent you would want. No one wants a lecture or life lesson in every conversation. We all want a safe place to process life, especially when we are messy. Being this safe place may keep your child safe. Let him know he can call or come to you when he is in a difficult situation (drinking, with bad company, drugs, pregnancy, or trouble of any kind). Tell him you will be there for him without the lecture. Yes, there may be consequences but your first reaction will be love and listening. Who wouldn’t run to the arms of someone who will listen and love and then help sort through the situation?
- Listening—Yes, I have talked about the importance of listening already. But it is important enough to have its own bullet point. We cannot grow a healthy relationship with our child until we listen to her. It’s impossible to know anyone without listening to them. Put this at the top of your to-do list—Listen to my kids.
- Thoughtful questions—After you listen you may ask questions that help you and your child understand each other better.
~What makes you think that?
~How do you think the other person feels?
~What are you fearful of in this situation?
~How can I help you?
- Appropriate response—When your child shares something with you about himself or a friend, don’t overreact. Again, listen and ask thoughtful questions. Ask how can you help. If you need to give consequences or the consequences will be coming from another source, do not respond in anger or shame your child. Do not underreact either. If your child is in a situation where they need your help, be there for them. I’m not talking about rescuing them. As I shared in The Christian Post piece—when our daughter was sexually harassed by another student, I went with her to talk to the teacher and superintendent. Kids won’t share if they know you will respond in an extreme—either going nuts or not doing anything.
The important conversations of life flow from an intentional relationship with our kids. If we want our kids to talk to us and listen to us about life-altering situations, we need to nurture our relationships with them. Make this the year of building relationship with your child. Work through this list one-by-one. I believe by next Christmas you will be amazed with the progress of your relationship with your child.
For more ideas on building relationship with your kids and how to respond in the difficult situations, check out Love No Matter What.
Brenda Garrison is an author and speaker who empowers women with the confidence to live their calling. Brenda is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ministry Leadership with a Concentration in Women’s Ministry at Moody Bible Institute. She and her husband, Gene, are the parents of three young adult daughters and live near Metamora, IL.