Positive relationships for parents and children: how to build them

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Key points

  • Positive relationships between parents and children are important for all areas of children’s development.
  • Positive relationships with children are based on being in the moment, spending quality time and building trust.
  • Your relationship with your child will change and develop as your child grows and develops.

Positive relationships between parents and children: why they’re important

Children learn and develop best when they have strong, loving, positive relationships with parents and other carers.

That’s because positive relationships with parents and carers help children learn about the world – whether the world is safe and secure, whether they’re loved, who loves them, what happens when they cry, laugh or make a face, and much more.

You can build a positive relationship with your child by:

  • being in the moment with your child
  • spending quality time with your child
  • creating a caring environment of trust and respect.

Being in the moment: how it supports positive parent-child relationships

Being in the moment is about tuning in and thinking about what’s going on with your child. It shows your child that you care about the things that matter to them, which is the basis for a strong relationship.

Here are some ideas for being in the moment with your child:

  • Show acceptance, let your child be, and try not to give directions all the time. If your child wants to pretend the building blocks are people, that’s OK. You don’t have to get your child to use them the ‘right’ way.
  • Notice what your child is doing and comment on or encourage it without judgment. For example, ‘Are the big blue blocks the shopkeepers? And is the little red block going shopping?’
  • Listen to your child and try to tune in to your child’s real feelings. For example, if your child is telling you a long story about lots of things that happened during the day, they might really be saying that they like the new teacher or that they’re in a good mood.
  • Stop and think about what your child’s behaviour is telling you. For example, if your teenage child is hanging around in the kitchen but not talking much, they might just want to be close to you. You could offer a hug or let them help with the cooking, without needing to talk.

Part of being in the moment with your child is giving your child opportunities to take the lead. For example:

  • Let your child lead play by watching your child and responding to what your child says or does. This is great for younger children.
  • Support your child’s ideas. For example, if your older child decides to plan a family meal, why not say yes?
  • When your child expresses an opinion, you could use the conversation as a way to learn more about your child’s thoughts and feelings, even if they’re different from yours.

‘Quality time’: why it’s important in positive relationships

Positive relationships between you and your child are built on quality time. Time together is how you get to know about each other’s experiences, thoughts, feelings and changing interests. This shows that you value and appreciate your child, which is great for your relationship.

Quality time can happen anytime and anywhere, in the middle of ordinary days and situations. It can be a shared laugh when you’re bathing your toddler or a good conversation in the car with your teenage child. These moments give you the chance to communicate positive messages with smiles, laughter, eye contact, hugs and gentle touches.

You can make the most of time together by minimising disruptions and distractions. This can be as easy as putting away your phone. It helps your child know that you’re really keen to spend uninterrupted time with them.

There might be times in your family life when it’s not possible to have a lot of time with your child every day. But planning some regular one-on-one time with your child can help you make the time count.

Trust and respect: how to nurture it in positive relationships

Trust and respect are essential to a positive parent-child relationship.

In the early years with your baby, developing trust is important. Your baby will feel secure when they learn they can trust you and other main carers to meet their needs. This sense of safety and security gives your child confidence to explore the world.

Trust and respect become more of a two-way street as your child gets older.

You can nurture trust and respect in your relationship. For example:

  • Be available when your child needs support, care or help. This might be picking up your toddler when they fall, or picking up your teenage child when they call you after a party. This helps your child learn to trust that you’ll be there when they need you.
  • Stick to your promises, so your child learns to trust what you say. For example, if you promise that you’ll go to a school activity, do everything you can to get there.
  • Get to know your child and value them for who they are. If your child loves football, cheer your child on or ask about the best players. Showing respect for your child’s feelings and opinions encourages your child to keep sharing them with you.
  • When your child expresses different opinion from yours, listen without judging or getting upset. This sends the message that you’ll listen and help your child with difficult issues or situations in the future.
  • Allow the relationship to evolve as your child develops, and your child’s needs and interests change. For example, your pre-teen child might no longer want you around at the park with their friends, even though your child used to love playing there with you.
  • Set up some firm but fair family rules. Rules are clear statements about how your family wants to look after and treat its members. They can help your child trust that you’ll be consistent in the way you treat them.

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