Strong parent-child relationships start with boundaries

Strong parent-child relationships start with boundaries

Many parents worry about creating a strong relationship with their children. In our busy world--with technology surrounding us and competing for our attention--we must make time for our children. This article offers suggestions for building the foundation of a strong relationship with your children, which will last throughout childhood and into adulthood.


Do talk and listen to your children

Children are very expressive. They love to discuss their day and what they have learned. Encourage your children to express their ideas to you. Building this foundation of communication will allow you to continue to expand on this connection as your child ages. Verbal communication at young ages is essential to building vocabulary and emotional expressibility. Taking the time to talk to your children shows them that you value their thoughts and opinions, which will contribute to building a healthy level of self-esteem and a positive sense of self-worth.

Do play with your children

Though it may sound silly, one of the most important things you can do with your child, at any age, is to play. Through play, children express themselves, and you can gauge your child’s mood through their play interactions. Whether you are building block towers and knocking them down, playing with dolls, or playing catch in the back yard, these interactions are essential to the well-being of your child. Over time, you will learn the norms for your child, and will be able to read their emotions. And reading their emotions will allow you to have a stronger and closer relationship.

Do make one-on-one time for your children

As adults, we often forget the wonder of being a child, when everything is new and fresh, and we are constantly learning. Parents are typically overworked, overstressed and overscheduled. Consider scheduling one day per month for each of your children, and let them lead the day. Set the budget and ground rules, and let them pick the activities. Many families have found their most rewarding bonding experiences with their children have occurred doing simple activities, such as taking a picnic lunch to a local park or kicking a soccer ball in the back yard. By giving your child the opportunity to schedule activities, you will learn more about their interests, and they will see that you value their interests and ideas. Your time together also will lend itself to conversations that strengthen your relationship.

Do create rituals and routines

The advancement of technology within family homes makes the building of family rituals and routines quite difficult. To develop strong relationships with children, create events such as family game night, movie night or “kid’s choice” dinner night. By developing these rituals when children are young, it is easier to carry on these traditions as your children age into the teen years. During these rituals, the whole family should be involved, and they should be scheduled. Family members will be more engaged when you ban all personal technology (smart phones, tablets, laptops) during the family activity.

Do smile and laugh

It is important to take time to laugh and find the humor in all situations, even parenting. Our children learn from us every single day, and we must show them that is is okay to relax and make mistakes. Children learn how to react in situations based on their observations of those around them. Young children interact mostly with their parents, and therefore, take most of their behavioral cues from their parents. By taking the time to smile and laugh, we are teaching our children the importance of these activities.


Do not forget your child is always watching

Children absorb everything they see and hear. To build strong relationships with your children, you must be conscious of both your words and your actions. While you may tell your children how important they are, if they see you texting or surfing the web on your smartphones while chaperoning their field trip, it is likely to make them feel unimportant, which can damage your relationship. Parents are role models to children in ALL of their actions.

Do not lie to your children

As parents, you must never lie to your children. While your children should not be privy to information beyond their developmental stage, there are age appropriate ways to answer questions. When you give incorrect or false information to your children, you damage your relationship with them, as you would with anyone. It is a natural instinct to protect your children, and you often want to protect them by keeping difficult information from them, such as an illness, accident, death or community tragedy. Unfortunately, children will often create their own stories when they sense something is wrong, and often the stories they create are worse than the actual event.

Do not be a friend, be a parent

Parenting is a very important and demanding job. As parents, you have tremendous responsibilities to your children. Creating a strong relationship with your children does not include becoming their best friend. A parent-child relationship must be strong and supportive. When parents cross the boundary into friendship, they are doing a great disservice to their children. By becoming your child’s best friend, you are no longer interacting with them on a parental level. This becomes very confusing to a child when you must tell them “no” or institute a consequence for a choice they have made. Once this parental boundary is blurred, children become confused when making friends, and they do not have clear expectations on healthy friendships. By maintaining clear boundaries with your children, you can build strong and healthy relationships.

Do not fall into the technology trap

Technology is quickly becoming a barrier to family communication. To maintain a strong and healthy relationship with your child, you must insist on face-to-face communication. Feel confident in restricting your child’s access to technology (smartphones, tablets, laptops, video games) when you sense they are becoming stressed or overstimulated. If your children become too dependent on technology, they may struggle with traditional social norms, manners and conversations, all of which are essential in creating healthy relationships.

Do not lose sight of family first

To build strong relationships with your children, you must place the needs of your family over careers and friendships. The family relationship must be paramount, and you must make a life-long commitment to your children. Children are very intuitive, and can “read” those around them very well; therefore, genuineness is essential in all interactions.

Jumping cartoon

As parents, you are the role models for your children. To create healthy relationships, you must be present and attentive to their needs, take interest in their hobbies and activities, and carve out time with them. Our society places a high value on technology, but you must set the tone of what is acceptable, both with your own technology use and your children’s use. Through clear and consistent boundaries, established when children are young, parents begin the development of a strong parenting relationship, which will last throughout the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence.

More expert advice about Improving Family Communication

Photo Credits: Father & Son by BenedictFrancis via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Amy D. Habeger, MSW, LCSW-CSocial Work, Clinical Faculty, and Therapist

Clinical Social Work specializing in therapy with families and children Social Work Faculty at Salisbury University Adoptive Parent...

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