Growing Together: Cultivating Parent-Child Bonds 

Connecting with our children…. Why is this so important and where do we start? 

One of the biggest questions I constantly get asked from parents is around how they can communicate more effectively with their children. A parent will tell me ‘I just don’t know how to communicate with my child. Their focus is solely on their friends, social media or video games’.  

In Gabor Mate’s book ‘Hold onto your kids’, Mate discusses the phenomenon of peer orientation, where children prioritize their relationships with peers over those with their parents. This shift in attachment can lead to various challenges in parenting and child development. Mate describes peer orientation as neither healthy or natural and outlines the importance of parents ‘reclaiming their children’ to fully nurture them. 

So, as parents what can we do? 

In a recent workshop led by Lighthouse Arabia, we discussed the following 9 tips from Clinical Psychologists about how to communicate effectively with the young people in our lives:  

  1. Practice Active listening: Truly listening to your child’s thoughts, feelings and concerns without interrupting or judging. This fosters trust and strengthens connection.  
  1. Being Present: Making an effort to be fully present when communicating with your child, putting aside distractions and giving them your undivided attention.  
  1. Allow for silence: Often a child requires sufficient time to complete thought processes to enable effective communication.  
  1. Engage in an activity: Some parents like to be engaged in an activity while having a conversation with their child. This might be while walking somewhere, driving in the car, or kicking or throwing a ball together. One parent recently told me how they have a routine of cooking together. They will cut the vegetables together each evening. Sometimes the parent will ask open ended questions during this time and has found that it leads to much more open conversation when there is another activity for them to engage in.  
  1. Try different settings:  Some parents like to change the setting and take their child out for some snack or a meal to talk about anything they have on their mind.  
  1. Not comparing your child’s life to your own experiences at that age: It can be easy to sometimes feel that children have a much easier life and parents can find themselves saying ‘If I had the opportunities you have, I would…’ but this can often be quite detrimental to the child.  
  1. Be mindful of the body language we use: Arms crossed, hands on hips, standing above the child can come across as very authoritarian and can often hinder the child’s ability to open up. Ensuring open body language, sitting alongside them, being relaxed, and having a calm tone of voice is very important for the child to open up.  
  1. Providing positive feedback: This is crucial to increase children’s willingness to communicate again in the future. “It is great that you can talk to me about this”. “I am very proud of how you were able to speak to me about __”.  
  1. Ask open ended questions: Instead of asking ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ questions, asking open ended questions will encourage your child to share more about their thoughts and feelings. Seek clarification on what your child is saying to further show that you genuinely care. 

In addition to communication, there are also other areas that parents can focus on to build a strong foundation of connection with their children.  

  1. Allocating specific one on one moments regularly to establish meaningful connection. This might be driving to school, preparing the dinner, setting the table or even a quick chat each evening before going to bed.  
  1. Respect Personal Boundaries and Privacy: Acknowledge and honour your child’s need for space while ensuring your availability whenever they seek support.  
  1. Create routines and traditions for the family: Participating in shared activities to foster a sense of unity and belonging within the family. This might be sitting down together each evening for dinner, family walk along the beach each Saturday morning, or even watching a family movie once a week. 
  1. Engage with the interests of the young person: Show genuine interest in their hobbies and interests. This could come in the form of: 
  • Watching your child’s favourite football team on TV with them.  
  • Going to a performance of your child’s favourite singer with them. 
  • Asking about the latest video game that they are playing. Asking about how it works and maybe even seeing if they will show you how to play.  

In a world where guidance is as vital as ever, fostering meaningful connections with our children isn’t just important—it’s essential for shaping a brighter, more empathetic future for generations to come.  

About the Author 

Mark Swaine, who holds a Masters in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, has acquired extensive experience working with parents and teens all over the world. Mark is our Wellbeing Coach and Counsellor in Secondary School at SISD. 

References: 

Gabor Mate & Gordon Neufeld (2019). Hold On to Your Kids  

Doug Lemov, Hilary Lewis, Darryle Williams, Denarius Frazier (2022). Reconnect.  

Adolescent Mental Health First Aid. A manual for adults assisting Young People – Lighthouse Arabia 

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