A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

Mar 31, 2014, 6:26 PM | Updated: 6:26 pm
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When you’re a new parent, seasoned veterans often comment on how fast kids grow up. It seems impossible that a tiny baby will become an adult. Now that my oldest child is a teenager, I'm realizing those experienced parents were right. I have less than five years left with my daughter in my home full-time. Suddenly I want to turn the clock back and spend more moments teaching and loving her. Since I can’t do that, I have to continue to focus on building a lasting relationship with her and my other children. I want to be close to my children throughout their lives. The foundation of a lasting relationship starts early in life and is built on time-tested principles like the six mentioned here. Here are more ways to build a trusting relationship with your child.

1. Time together. There is no substitute for time spent together. Quality time with kids makes them feel important and loved. Fortunately, most children are happy with simple ways to spend time together, like wrestling, cuddling, playing games, taking a walk or just hanging out. That being said, occasionally making an effort to take your child on a special outing will show him how important he is to you. A lunch date, bike ride, movie date or overnight trip will make lasting memories for both of you.

2. Listen. Parents like to dispense advice. The advice I offer is to spend more time listening than talking. Kids have interesting and funny things to say. My 3-year-old tells me make-believe stories about seeing the tooth fairy and catching leprechauns. My 10-year-old will tell me endless details about the plot and characters of his current favorite book. I hope that my children know I will listen to the silly and serious things they have to tell me. We talk as a family at dinnertime, prayer time and in the car. Bedtime is also a great time for talking and listening.

3. Show interest. Your children's interests are important to them. Even if video games aren't your thing, you need to be interested in them if your child is. As children grow, their interests change. Be supportive of their talents and abilities, even if they diverge from the path you wish they were on. You can also try to find a common interest. As your children become adults, your relationship can still be close. Visit your college kids for a weekend, be an involved grandparent and have family reunions.

4. Express and show love. I will be sad if my son ever stops giving me hugs before bed. Although I wasn’t raised in a particularly affectionate family, I love to shower my children with kisses and cuddles. I also express my love by praising them for the good things they do and saying, “I love you so much” often. Discover how your child likes to receive love. One of my daughters doesn’t like to snuggle much, but she soaks up words of praise. As you show love to your children throughout their lives, your relationship will be strengthened.

5. Don't be too critical. Parents are responsible for teaching their children so many things. However, parents have to remember that children are learning to navigate the world. They will make mistakes, often over and over again. Children need to be able to know that they are able to learn and make mistakes without feeling criticized or judged by their parents. I find it helpful to remember how young my kids are and that it is my responsibility to patiently teach and set a good example. If I remember my own mistakes and weaknesses, I am gentler with my children’s.

6. Forgive and forget. As children grow, they’d rather not be reminded of the dumb things they did in the past. Children will hurt our feelings and do things that make us angry. If they mature and make amends, leave the past in the past. It’s common for the “remember when” stories to come out as families get together. Make sure you bring up the light-hearted and fun stories, and leave the more difficult ones behind. Forgiveness and charity are basic values helpful to maintaining any relationship.

I know my children won’t always live in my home, but I think we’ll always be close. Building lasting relationships is work, but the sweet reward of love and togetherness is worth any effort.

Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children