“How close are you with your dad?” I asked 15-year-old Brian as we talked in my office one afternoon.
“Not too close,” was his matter-of-fact response.
“Why do you think that is?” I inquired.
“I don’t know,” Brian pondered. “I guess I don’t see him much and when I do, he usually just seems mad at me.”
“Hmmmm,” I said in my best psychologist voice. “Is that how you want it to be?”
“No, not really,” Brian replied.
“Would you like to be closer with your dad?” I asked.
“Yeah, I would,” Brian said, looking me straight in the eye.
Over the years, I have talked with many kids who did not feel close to their parents. And with few exceptions, they have all wanted to be closer. Similarly, when I have spoken with the parents, they also were usually aware that their relationship with their kids was not as close as they would like.
That is both bad and good news. The bad news is that these kids and parents have somehow drifted apart. The good news is that they both want the same thing: To restore a close relationship.
What caused the drift? I have heard many answers to that question, including:
-Parents being busy with work
-Not enough time together as a family
-Negative family communication
-Other stressors occupying the parents’ minds (such as finances, marital issues, work stress)
-Challenging childhood behavior
No relationship stays 100% on course all the time. So, if your relationship with one or more of your kids has strayed either a little off course or has grown tense and conflicted, here are a few ideas for getting things back on the right track.
1) Warm physical touch. Regular moments of light, affectionate touch, such as a gentle squeeze on the shoulder, go a long way. They communicate that you want to be close to your child and make them feel loved and important to you.
2) Communicate your intentions. I have found it helpful to simply tell my boys on occasion that I want to make sure we are staying close and to enlist their help in doing so. Together, we can think of ways to stay close, whether it means checking in or planning some fun activities.
3) Clear the air. If there is tension between you and your child, have a private conversation to address it. If you have handled something with too much anger, for instance, a genuine apology can go a long way as well as set a great example for your kids to see. Communicate your confidence that no matter what the problem, you both can handle it in a way that keeps your relationship strong and close.
The challenges of life will pull your relationship with your kids off course now and then. When you notice this, take the time to reconnect, even if your child does not fully reciprocate. Your consistent efforts to strengthen your relationship and connect with your kids will not go unnoticed.
To finish Brian’s story, his father followed the steps above and before long he and Brian reported feeling more connected than ever.
Now, it’s your turn.
How do you stay connected with your kids?