6 Strategies to Strengthen Your Bond With Your Child
We believe that parenting is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Having a confident, loving, trusting and respectful bond with your child is what every parent desires, however taking on the role of the dictator is not going to help you achieve that goal. Navigating for our children, piloting the plane and allowing them to feel our strength, confidence and ability to keep them safe, is the best approach for parenting with kindness and respect. In order for them to recognize that we are leading and not controlling them with our authority, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
Gentle or respectful parenting is often confused with permissive parenting; this could not be further from the truth. Permissive parenting is characterized by low demands with high responsiveness aka lacking boundaries, guidelines or rules but providing love, respect and compassion. The lack of boundaries is what differentiates this method with a respectful parenting approach. Holding the space, allowing your child to feel what they need to feel and maintaining the boundaries is key.
Our belief is that children need limits in order to feel safe; when they act out through attention seeking or challenging behaviour this is a result of them craving the boundaries and leadership needed to feel secure. A child’s job is to consistently test or push the boundaries to check to see which ones are rock solid (generally safety based – holding hands in a parking lot, keeping hands off the stove) and which ones are in the sand (ex. we wear shoes outside but they can choose which ones they put on). Without boundaries children will take on too much of the parenting role and this causes them to become overwhelmed; this triggers an anxious response and causes them to question whether they are safe.
Without boundaries, children feel insecure and act out even more. These children continue to test the leadership over and over again, looking for security and trying to identify the limits. This can cause more stress than either of you want in the parent-child relationship. Setting limits builds structure for them to freely express themselves. Setting solid boundaries and then holding the space for them to test those boundaries while loving and supporting their big emotions, allows the child to feel listened too, respected, understood and loved.
Start with daytime strategies and talk to your child about any changes you are planning on implementing, regardless of the child’s age. They understand far more than they are given credit for!
Leading your child means avoiding control and dominance, but not avoiding conflict! Leaders are often tested for strength before they are respected. Weak leaders are tested over and over again and are not trusted because they are inconsistent and do not provide a feeling or sense of safety and protection. Leaders are respected because they give respect to receive it, listen, seek first to understand and show empathy to others.
If your little one is choosing to test you, this is your opportunity to really connect with your child and prove to them that you are capable of being their anchor and remaining calm, consistent and respectful. If you are struggling with your leadership at bedtime, you must first look at your daytime interactions. Children sense your weakness at different times of the day and will learn, through cause and effect, that you will respond inconsistently depending on your mood. If children do not find limits, they will feel insecure and act out. You must first prove your ability to lead consistently throughout the day before you can take on bedtime. Usually your energy levels are running low at bedtime and you can see the impending downtime for yourself. Once your little one is in bed, you will have time to yourself. Learning how to do this with compassion, understanding and empathy is tough. You must set limits while supporting fears and insecurities, you must empower without abandoning, you must meet the needs without over coddling, you must allow the child time to accept the change and choose self-fulfillment as their personal reward for this achievement.
You and your child are a team. You need to be open to learning from them in order to create the space, respect and energy for them to learn from you. This is a partnership, not a dictatorship. You can make statements such as, “I will always listen to you and hear your perspective but there will be times where there will be limits that regardless of what you say, won’t change. I promise to always listen, respect and have empathy for you but it’s my job to guide you and keep you safe and to do that there are going to be boundaries.”
Provide choices to empower your child as often as possible, and offer a choice without a choice when there is no option. Giving your child as many opportunities to take ownership in their life will help them to respect and understand when you need to set a non-negotiable limit.
What should we do today?
Would you like to go to the park?
What would you like to wear today?
What should we have for lunch?
CHOICE WITHOUT A CHOICE:
We need to get ready to go. Which shoes would you like to wear? Your sneakers or your boots?
It’s time to brush your teeth. Should I have my turn first? Or would you like go first?
You must be safe while we walk. Would you like to hold my hand or hold on to the stroller?
We need to change your diaper. Would you like to change it now or in 2 minutes?
5. Children need far more time than you could imagine to process requests and information. If you have asked them to go and get their shoes and they don’t immediately comply, don’t assume this is an act of defiance. They need time to process what you have asked of them, whether they want to follow through, and then the time to actually go and carry out the action. Give at least 2-3 minutes for them to process; if you don’t see any response after this time, you can reissue the request in a different way.
6. Find balance. Being proactive and setting your child up for success is important to avoid triggering strong emotions. On the flip side, giving your child time to practice tantrums, encounter frustration and challenges allows them to release emotion, develop self-regulation skills, connect with their parent on a deeper level, manage emotion and establish problem-solving skills. Find a balance between setting your child up for success (ex. providing warnings to impending transitions) and triggering tears for emotional release.