Connecting with Your Children: Strategies That Build Relationships

We are not born knowing how to build relationships with others – whether that’s friends or family. If you were lucky, you were blessed with parents who helped along the way by modeling behavior that engaged others and developed friendships.

Feb29FriendsCIIf you weren’t so lucky then you made your way through high school and the years afterward, feeling your way along, trying to understand the intricacies of human behavior without the benefit of good role models or a strong functional education on the topic.

And then . . . along came children.

They used to be small, helpless and thoroughly dependent on you. Your relationship with them was easy . . . food, shelter, warmth and comfort was all they needed or wanted for many months.

But, at some point along the way those little balls of joy and wonder turned into middle school and high school people with different needs, wants, desires and obvious emotional torment.

If you’re fortunate you remember your own teen years and have some understanding.

If you aren’t so blessed, then you are quite sure your home is inhabited by spirits who have since taken over your sweet child and created this angst-ridden, volatile, emotional time-bomb who blows up at least 3 times weekly, and more likely, on a daily basis.

Yes, their behavior is driven by emotional immaturity, brain development and hormonal floods. But, you still have a chance to cultivate a relationship with them that will outlast the hormonal onslaught and be a determining factor in the relationship you enjoy as they leave the nest and create their own family.

Sometimes, in the middle of what feels like Armageddon, you might not really care about future relationships or how your child might feel tomorrow. You’re just interested in getting them out of your face and under control.

Two years ago I was right there. Right in the middle of the battlefield with my son.

There were days when his anger was so explosive it appeared to control his body. He would jump in the air, waving his fists, red-faced and seemingly out-of-control.

But, like most other anger outbursts, he really was in control – he just chose to “express” his anger in the way that made him feel good – for the moment. It was when his phone rang and he could answer in a calm and controlled voice that I knew he didn’t have a mental health issue, he had an adolescent issue.

There were times I wanted to walk away, and other times I wanted to yell back. We visited one counselor who Feb29FistCIinsisted he and my son meet privately and proceeded to tell my son that it was mom’s problem, that my son was an incredibly wonderful and talented young man who didn’t have any problems.

Who doesn’t have any problems!!???

So if my son didn’t have the problems, why was I paying for hour long sessions? Why wasn’t he just discharged . . . . or better, why didn’t the counselor meet with both of us?

Sigh . . .

I believe in the power of talking to people; learning and discovering what is significant in my life and how that has impacted my behavior.

But there are also good and bad therapists. Just like there are talented and poor doctors, lawyers, accountants, housekeepers, cooks, business owners and any other occupation you care to name.

You may be familiar with some or all of these strategies . . . the idea isn’t to be familiar but to put them into action and reap the rewards of that action.

  1. Respect

This is where I fell short – and in a really, really BIG way. At one of the last hours we spent with a very talented counselor, he pointed out to me that I had pretty much turned the tables on the relationship between my son and myself. It was five years after the divorce and 3 years after having gone through another traumatic emotional experience. Instead of being the parent when my son blew his top . . . I just felt the pain and hurt of rejection.

I felt as if his behavior was a reflection of my parenting and I had failed. In effect, I was abdicating my role as mother and pretty much allowing him to continue to act as if he ruled the roost.  And he was ruling the roost!

It wasn’t that I wasn’t respecting him – I wasn’t respecting myself.

Time to buck up and be the single mom.

The rules changed and my son soon discovered that if he acted like that at home, I couldn’t trust that he wouldn’t act like that in public and he was no longer allowed to go anywhere with friends until he could show me that he could control his actions.

It’s been two years, many more battles later but he has matured into a wonderful young man of whom I am very proud.

Learn how to respect yourself and your child in your relationship with them. They don’t usually listen to what you say, but they sure do watch what you do! If you respect yourself, they’ll follow suit as time progresses.


  1. Listen

God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk. This is especially true with your children. Your children bond and learn more from you when they can share their hurts, pain and disappointment and you listen.

Listen without judgement, without criticism, without offering advice or explanation.

Listen to what they say and what’s behind what they say. The more your children talk, the more you’ll learn about what’s going on in their lives and the more they’ll believe that you really care about THEM.

God has gifted some of us with the ability to discern what’s behind the conversation, others with the gift of advice and the ability to pinpoint a path that will lead to success and still others with the ability to just listen.

You might not have the natural talent to listen  – I certainly don’t! – but it’s a strategy to help you develop strong bonds with your children that last a lifetime.


  1. Communicate

My children love to start talking at 10 or 11pm. I love to go to bed at 10 or 11pm. I want to be up at 7am, but I haven’t seen that time on my clock in several years.

It’s important that you are there when THEY want to talk. Don’t expect to sit around the dinner table and ask, “So, how was your day?” and get an answer that is much beyond, “Fine.”

You have to be available to talk when they want to talk. They won’t open up on cue, so you’d probably better make the time when you can. These years pass quickly and are truly a unique opportunity to forge a relationship you won’t ever get a chance to do again.


  1. Reliability

You want your children to be reliable, trustworthy and honest. Remember they are watching what you DO and not what you say. You’d better have the same traits you expect from them.

Enough said!


  1. Appreciation

Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated. We all speak different love languages but it’s our responsibility as parents to learn what language our children speak, and to be sure that they feel loved, appreciated and respected.

You wouldn’t love someone who didn’t love you back. You wouldn’t pursue a relationship with someone who didn’t respond to your initiative. They won’t either.


  1. Feedback

Accepting feedback is the most difficult thing I’ve learned in the past years. Learning to accept what my children say about my behavior has sometimes put me over the edge. I grew up in a time when children were “seen and not heard.”

I didn’t think my children should be seen and not heard – but I also thought that as the mother and parent, I should be RIGHT.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered I wasn’t right!

Accept the fact that you won’t be right all the time and that your children will be right sometimes. Discover what they say about your behavior and learn to listen, accept their feedback, respect their opinion, communicate with them about change and appreciate that your children are invested enough in your relationship that they WANT to talk to you about how they feel.


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