Hi, I’m Lisa Shankman, a therapist here at Thriveworks. As a parent and therapist that’s worked with many families, I’ve found one of the most important things for families is building a really positive emotional connection.

I’ve identified a few different things that really help facilitate that connection, especially between parents and children, and one of those is play.

I think especially for young children, specifically child-directed play, is so important — to get down and dirty with your kids, literally: maybe outside in the mud, building blocks and tents and castles, and all sorts of things. It’s so important, for young children in particular. It’s the way they learn and the way the express themselves, the way they interact with the rest of their world, and I think as a parent you can learn so much from your kids and who they are by being invested in play with them.

Another thing that I’ve found to be really important, as a parent, is “follow through”. That you’re following through with what you say you’re going to do. Whether it’s giving a consequence or giving a reward to your child, making sure you follow through, I think, sets a foundation for building trust in the relationship with your children, that they can trust what mom and dad are going to say and what they’re going to do.

The other piece would be apologizing. As a parent, it’s so easy to make so many mistakes. We yell at our kids when maybe we shouldn’t. We curse when maybe we shouldn’t. Things just happen, and it’s so human to make mistakes.

For kids, I think it’s important for them to see that their parents can take accountability for their own actions, and in the long run it can really pay off, that kids (in turn) will also take accountability for their actions and know that we’re not perfect, not perfect as humans. And so, I think children really appreciate that when parents can do that and acknowledge their faults and that we’re not perfect.

The fourth thing would be making space for communication. As parents, especially if you’re working parents, it’s so easy to get caught up in the routine of parenthood: there’s dinnertime and bath time and bedtime, and before you know it the day is over.

Really making time where you set aside the opportunity for you and your kids to communicate when there’s no cellphones and no TV, no computer involved, and it’s just open time for them to talk to you.

Now, I know that that doesn’t mean that your kids are going to take advantage of that time, especially if you have teenagers (I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers), but to know that there’s a space when they are so inclined to talk to you is so important.

So, build that into your routine. If you’re taking your daughter to ballet class or if you’re on your way to a soccer game, making sure to set aside time just to get to know them and what’s going on in their day, what they feel is really important.

The last thing I’ll talk about is probably one of the simplest (and what you might expect), but it’s saying, “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” to your children. You probably say that all the time (or most of you [do]).

And I will say: You’re children may not recognize all the times that you do say those things to them, but I’ve met with so many adults, and adults that have never heard that as children and it’s devastating to you. It has long-lasting impact, so when you do say “I love you” and “I’m proud of you,” say it genuinely and with sincerity and your kids will hold that for the rest of their lives.

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