Have you ever tried to be friends with your child?
Parenting is hard enough, and trying to be a friend to your child at the same time can be like walking a tightrope. Many parents don’t want to befriend their children as they are afraid it will be hard to enforce rules and standards. But befriending children is detrimental to their development, as research suggests that kids do better when their parents show affection and enforce age-appropriate limits on their children’s behavior.
As Asian parents, we sometimes find it hard to express our love to our children, we are not comfortable saying “I love you”, and have the challenging job of laying the foundation that will support family friendships in later years.
So, how can you be a parent who is approachable, accessible, and grow a close bond with your child? How can you balance the parent-mode and friend-mode when necessary? How can you set boundaries and have effective discipline, while still maintaining that parent-child relationship? In this article, we suggest six “foundation builders” to help you cultivate strong friendships with your children.
First, what does “friendship” between parents and children mean?
“Friendship” may also cause problems if it means “treating a child as an adult therapist.” In fact, it’s not even clear that intimate confessions from parents make kids feel like friends – at least not when the confessions are distressing.
For example, when researchers interviewed the adolescent daughters of divorce, they found that girls were more likely to experience psychological distress if their moms made detailed disclosures to them about their financial worries, employment hassles, personal problems, and negative feelings about their ex-husbands.
But not all intimate confessions are of a distressing nature, and it’s likely that some forms of sharing strengthen the parent-child relationship. In a recent study of 790 Dutch adolescents, researchers found that kids who reported sharing secrets with their parents had higher-quality relationships and lower rates of delinquency (Frijns et al 2013). Another study of Swedish teens found that the key to good behavior and family harmony wasn’t heavy-handed parental surveillance. It was the child’s perception that his parents trusted him (Stattin 2001).
Therefore, what we want to stress here is that you don’t need to share with your child everything here to be her friend, not every friendship is based on sharing equal status. Parents can build close, personal relationships with their kids and still remain responsible adults. It’s more like the sort of friendship that some adults manage to have with authority figures – like senior colleagues, mentors, community leaders, or religious advisors. Both parties respect each other. They care about and trust each other. They can have meaningful conversations and enjoy each other’s company in informal settings. But there are constraints. The dominant party has to keep some information to himself. And there are times when the dominant party must exercise his authority.
Remember, a true parent-child relationship is the combination of warmth, trust, companionship, and limits.
6 Ways to Build a Friendship with Your Child
1. Be parents first
The first step to establish a strong relationship with your child is letting them know the golden rule: you are the parent first. Many parents try to be friends with their children and completely lose the sense of the fact that they are the parent. While being friends with your child is wonderful, you need to remember that they have plenty of friends at school and they also need you to be their parent. Freedom is good, but if America has taught the world anything, it’s that too much freedom can be a bad thing, too. Just as it goes for a country, the same holds true for a child.
Sometimes true friendship means not doing the token smile-and-nod and pretending everything is alright. If you allow your child to do as they please to maintain the friendship level, it could lead to them constantly pushing the limits. Without setting parental boundaries, children are at risk of making decisions for themselves that aren’t age-appropriate. Rather than glossing over things to make your child happy in hopes that she will then think of you as a friend; be a true friend. A true friend looks out for a friend’s well-being, even if that means making hard decisions.
2. See discipline as an asset
A young child will try to manipulate and be in charge. She will attempt to get her own way. While she may not be consciously trying to control, this is what she is doing. A wise parent must not permit this to happen. Respect levels should be established as well. When a child respects his parents, he will also respect others. Set rules, these rules need to include how late they can stay out, know who they are with and dating, where they are going and what parties they will be going to, and things of that nature. They know you are their provider and the one who protects them and they should respect that. If you want to build a friendship with your child, firm discipline is essential, especially in the early years.
> Some simple, but effective ideas for a reward system to discipline your child: https://blog.e2.com.vn/ideas-for-effective-reward-systems-to-discipline-your-child/
3. Become A Student Of Your Children
You need to understand your child if you want to make friends with her. It is possible to do so simply by being around and observing her. When you see your child playing, asking for a certain thing, reacting in a certain manner to situations, her interaction with others, etc., you get to know a great deal about her overall personality. We encourage you to carefully study your child’s natural personality. Keep in mind that each child is unique. Your child will be different from you and their siblings.
You can ask yourself a few questions that can help you understand your child’s psychology.
- Is your child strong-willed, fun-loving, sensitive or very detailed?
- What are her likes and dislikes?
- How does she react when she has to do something she doesn’t like, such as eating certain foods, going to bed, or doing homework?
- What is the best way to motivate your child?
- What are her specific goals and dreams?
- How social is she? Is she willing to share or try new things?
- How long is your child taking to become familiar with her surroundings? Is she able to adjust to the changes in the environment?
As you begin to answer these kinds of questions you will be able to “tailor-make” your friendship with each child according to his natural personality.
4. Build one-on-one time in your daily routine
Remember that friendships don’t develop by chance or accident. Instead, meaningful friendships are a result of spending time together on a regular – preferably daily- basis. Spending time together doesn’t always “just happen;” it takes effort to make it a daily activity. We need to get into the habit of setting special times for our children each day. During this time, you can give your child your full attention, allowing them to open up to you. Here are some times you can spend together:
- Driving to and from school/ extra classes
- 10-minute chat after school
- Bedtime routine
You can create a bucket list with your child. This will give the two of you the opportunity to catch up with each other and make memories together. Find things you both love and are passionate about, try movies, nature trails, playgrounds, beaches, skating rinks, sports games, and whatever you and your child enjoy. You can put forward some options, but always let them make a choice. It tells them that you value their opinion and preferences.
5. Communicate in an understanding way
Another important aspect of developing a friendship with your children is by talking and listening in an understanding way. In other words, we encourage you to become an active listener when communicating with your child. Active listening involves eye contact with the speaker. A good listener never assumes he knows what his child is saying. Instead, ask questions to clarify what the child has said. Then repeat, using different words, what you think she meant.
Effective communication goes beyond words. It takes real work to communicate with your child. It’s not enough to simply ask, “how was your day?” or “what are you feeling about…?” You have to be engaged and practice active listening. The good news is that when you show your children that you are invested in their responses and you care about what they have to say, you encourage them to act similarly. Communicating is hard work; but the connection it creates is absolutely worth it.
And don’t just ask, share: Right from “how did the school go” to “who’s that friend of yours”, it’s time to give it a break and start sharing with them. Tell them how your day was when you get a chance. Talk about what you like, how you were at different things when you were young, and anything that you think they will listen to.
6. Meaningful Touch
The final way that we’ve found to help build meaningful friendships with children is by touching. When you touch your child in a gentle way – soft, tender, full of warmth – millions of nerve endings send messages to the brain where chemicals are released to bring health to your child. Researchers say that parents who hold their children at least six times daily can add months or maybe even years onto their life span. Conversely, a child’s growth is stunted when not touched on a regular basis. Children have actually died just from lack of touch, love, and affection. Your child benefits not only physiologically, but emotionally as well.
Physical affection and verbal affirmation are necessary for laying a strong foundation for friendship. Even if you were not raised in a hugging family, hug your kids anyway. They need the warmth of physical contact and so do you. From gently rocking the tiny infant to hugging a preadolescent, physical touch communicates love and provides security. Encourage your kids to hug each other as well. Let them begin by holding a newborn brother or sister. Praise them for little things. “That was so nice when you complimented your brother for the pretty picture he drew.”
> Check out this 1 simple technique to raise confident kids from Tony Ngo – our Chairman and Co-founder of Everest Education:
Besides having scheduled time with your children, if you are to develop a meaningful friendship you need to be available to them during unscheduled times as well:
- Treat your children as individuals with minds of their own.
- Talk with them about their thoughts, hopes, ideas, and feelings.
- Share bits of your own “mental life” with them – not the bits likely to distress kids, but bits that help kids see their parents as human beings so that you two can share a sense of mutual loyalty, trust, and respect.
To be a good friend with your child, let’s just be genuine, be open, be a true friend, love yourself; and just BE. Then your role as both friend and parent will naturally balance itself out. We hope you will enjoy plenty of fun-filled times with your child.