We have our greatest influence on our children during the first twelve years of their lives. Once adolescence hits, our ability to guide them is reduced as they become increasingly independent, and as they look to their peers and other outside influences to guide them.
Here are my 10 ways that we can keep our relationships strong, and have a positive influence on our children even when our influence begins to wane.
1. Be available
Nothing says, “You matter” more than a busy parent stopping what they are doing and giving a child some undivided attention. Children whose parents are emotionally “there’ for their kids have better social, academic, and wellbeing outcomes than those whose parents aren’t available.
When our kids want our attention, we’ll have a more positive influence if we give it to them.
2. Be warm
Sometimes we can forget that our children are people too – particularly when they become those intensely private, hormonal adolescents. We become snappy and snarky, dismissive or disapproving.
By responding to our kids warmly (even when we don’t feel like it), we show that we value them aspeople, rather than inconvenient nuisances – even when they sometimes feel like that’s exactly what they are! A gentle touch, a smile, or soft words bring warmth to a relationship, and make it far more likely that we’ll be listened to, and have a positive influence in our children’s lives.
3. Listen, but don’t fix
Parents are great at fixing things. We can fix sore knees, broken hearts, messy friendships, and even some difficult homework projects. But our kids generally don’t need us to fix them. They just want us to ‘get’ what they’re going through. When we see the world through their eyes, we are more understanding – and more likely to be listened to when our children need us.
4. Set limits
Sometimes nothing says “I love you” more than a firm and clear “No!” from mum or dad. Our children – including our teenagers – do best when there are limits placed on their behaviour.
“No it’s not ok for you to stay out until midnight. You’re 14.”
“No, it’s not ok to drink alcohol – here or anywhere else. You’re under 18.”
“No, you can’t take the car on a road trip with your mates.”
“No, I don’t feel right about you having your smartphone/tablet/laptop in your bedroom. Ever!”
The kids will often argue with you. That’s fine, they’re supposed to! But setting limits means that you ARE having a positive influence on your children. The trick is to not become too authoritarian or you’ll simply drive unwanted behaviour underground.
Playing games and laughing together binds us close to our kids. Whether we’re playing ping pong, cooking a new recipe, dancing in the lounge room on the Wii, or having a wrestle or tickle, play builds relationships. We can touch each other, connect with each other, enjoy fun rivalries, and learn together. Through play we build a relationship of trust with our children that facilitates ongoing positive influence in their lives.
6. Be grateful
Grateful people are happier, healthier, have better relationships, less alcohol or drug consumption, better sleep, more income, are less materialistic, get better grades and work outcomes, and are more energetic. By being grateful you’ll be a positive influence in the lives of your children.
Say thanks often – and mean it.
7. Be fair
Children have an acute sense of what’s fair and what’s not. Positive psychology researcher, Chris Peterson, identified fairness as a key strength that helps us maintain positive relationships within our families. As far as you possibly can, find ways to help your children perceive your efforts at making life fair for everyone in the family. You might consider issues around chores and responsibilities, pocket money, and time with you.
8. Set high expectations
Parents who expect a lot of their children generally have children who live up to those expectations – so long as those expectations are communicated warmly, and we have our children’s (and not our own) best interests at heart. So set high expectations around academic achievement, morality, alcohol and drug behaviours, and friendships. If you do it with warmth and kindness, you’ll have a lasting positive influence on your children and their decisions.
9. Talk to them about your struggles
Don’t pretend to be invulnerable to life’s challenges. Instead, let your kids understand some of your struggles. Give them insight into the way you solve your problems. Show them that good things don’t arrive on silver platters – they take work, sacrifice, and great effort and discipline. Your resilience to life’s setbacks can have an enormous positive influence in your children’s lives.
10. Love them and show it every day
We’re always correcting our kids, or telling them what to do. Pick this up, put that away, get off the computer, pack your bag, tidy up your room, and so on… and that’s before 7.30 in the morning! Our ratio of negative to positive statements is all too often the wrong way around. Psychological researchers suggest that for a relationship to thrive, we need to have a 12:1 ratio of positive to negative statements. So find opportunities to tell your kids
“I appreciate you.”
“You really make a positive difference around here.”
“You are so important to me.”
“I am amazed at the exceptional effort you make at…”
“I love you – no matter what.”
Our time with our kids is short. By setting a positive example, we can be a positive and lasting influence in our children’s lives.
Read more about building trust and earning influence in Chapter 3 of my book 21 Days to a Happier Family