Q: My son is 8 years old and, lately, everything seems like a struggle. All of my requests to pick up his toys or get ready for bed are met with protests and resistance. I am frustrated and drained, and want our relationship to improve so we can start having fun again. What can I do?A: Thank you for your question. Parenting is certainly filled with its shares of ups and downs. As our children grow, they change and enter new phases that keep us, as parents, on our toes. What I heard most clearly in your question is your hope to improve the relationship you have with your son.
Eight-year-olds are getting close to middle childhood. They are no longer the young children who rely on us for every need. A boy or girl of this age is becoming more independent, and may begin to want more input and say into his/her life. This can become an issue when it conflicts with the expectations of a parent. Today, I am going to focus on small ways to improve the quality of your relationship with your child so you can start to enjoy parenthood again.
Relationships take work, and the parent-child relationship is no exception. We, as parents, need to deliberately work at having daily positive interactions with our children. Relationship expert John Gottman has shown that adults in healthy couple relationships have five times more positive feelings or interactions than negative ones. While this finding does not intentionally apply to the parent-child relationship, it helps parents to understand that the types of interactions that we have with our children, whether positive or negative, help to shape our relationships.
We can think about these parent-child interactions as a “relationship bank account” where each time we do or say something positive, we are making a deposit; and every time we do or say something negative, we are making a withdrawal. Using this logic, one negative interaction can wipe out five positive interactions. This can help us to think about the types of daily interactions we have with our children and try to have more positive interactions each day.
What does a relationship deposit look like? Parents can have positive interactions in many different ways. Here are some ideas to get started:
Find ways to spend time together — Take at least 15 minutes each day to do whatever it is that your child is interested in doing. This could be playing with toys, playing sports, making arts and crafts, playing board games, or other activities that your child likes.
Eat family dinner together — There is an abundance of research that supports the benefits of family dinners for children of all ages. This includes increased vocabulary in young children, healthier eating and less likelihood of childhood obesity, better academic performance, higher self-esteem, and lower risks of substance abuse, depression, and teen pregnancy.
Read aloud together — Reading aloud to children is not just for young children. Parents and children can bond over books even when the child is old enough to read. Reading can be a portal into your child’s interests and gives you something to experience together and discuss. Whether it is a classic, a graphic novel, or a book on Minecraft.
Building and continuing to build positive relationships with our children is well worth our time and effort as parents. Making daily relationship deposits will help build a secure and trusting relationship foundation for the future.
Sources: Ideas on the relationship bank account are from UW-Extension’s Raising A Thinking Child workshop series. Family dinner research and ideas can be found at https://thefamilydinnerproject.org.