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Building good parent-child relationships

0-18 years

Positive parent-child relationships are important for all areas of children’s development. By being in the moment, spending quality time and showing warmth, care and respect, you can strengthen your relationship with your child.

Good parent-child relationships: why they’re important

Children’s most important early relationships are with parents.

Positive parent-child relationships 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.

These relationships affect all areas of children’s development.

You can build a positive parent-child relationship by:

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

There’s no formula for getting your parent-child relationship right, and there’ll be times when it’s hard to relate to your child the way you want to. But if you keep working on improving your relationship over time, your child will feel loved and secure.

How being in the moment helps 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 him, 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 her to use them the ‘right’ way.
  • Notice what your child is doing and comment or encourage it. For example, ‘Are the big blue blocks the shopkeepers? And is the little red block doing the shopping? What’s she buying?’.
  • Listen to your child and try to tune in to what he’s really saying. For example, if he’s telling you a long story about lots of things that happened during the day, he might really be saying that he likes his new teacher or that he’s in a good mood.
  • Think about what your child’s behaviour is telling you, which will give you clues to what she really needs. For example, if your teenage child is hanging around in the kitchen and not talking much, she might just want to be close to you. You could give her a hug or let her help with the cooking, without needing to talk.

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

  • When you’re playing with your younger child, play what she wants to play, imitate her and really have fun together.
  • Let an older child take the lead by supporting his ideas – for example, say yes if he decides to plan a family meal.
  • When your child expresses an opinion, use the conversation as a way to learn more about what she thinks and feels.
Repeating or rephrasing your child’s words, smiling and making eye contact will let him know you’re paying attention when you’re talking or spending time together. These expressions of warmth and interest help your child feel secure and build his confidence.

Spending ‘quality time’ to build your parent-child relationship

Positive parent-child relationships are built on quality time. Time together is how you get to know about each other’s experiences, thoughts, feelings and changing interests. This is great for your relationship with your child.

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.

When you spend quality time with your child, you’re showing that you value and appreciate her. You can take advantage of quality time to communicate powerful positive messages with your smiles, laughter, eye contact, hugs and gentle touches.

Try to plan some regular one-on-one time with each of your children. Children have different personalities, and some children might seem to need less time than others – but they’ll all benefit from special time with you. On busy work days, you might not have a lot of one-on-one time with your children, but it’s good to have longer interactions when you can.

The time you spend with your child also makes a difference to how he learns. For example, the time you spend talking with your child in the first three years of life helps him learn language.

Trust, caring and respect in positive parent-child relationships

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

Even in the early years with your baby, developing trust and respect is important. Your baby will feel secure when she learns she can trust her primary carers to meet her needs. 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, whether it’s picking up your toddler when he falls, or picking up your teenage child when he calls you after a party. This helps him learn to trust that you’ll be there when he needs you.
  • Get to know your child and value her for who she is. If she loves football, cheer her on or ask about her favourite players. This shows respect for her feelings and opinions, and also lets her know she can trust you with them.
  • Allow the relationship to evolve as your child develops, and his needs and interests change. For example, your preteen child might no longer want you around when he goes to the park with his friends, even though he 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 her.
Video

Special moments with children

2:52

‘They’re all different ... but they all want to feel safe. They all want to feel loved. They all want you to feel proud of them’, says the one of the mums in this short video.

Other mums and dads talk about special moments with their children – how they happen and how you can make them happen. They describe how praise and encouragement build positive family relationships and make their children feel safe and secure.

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Last updated or reviewed
05-06-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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