Parental Bonding: The Foundation for a Happy Life

Oftentimes, I find myself wanting to overcorrect with my step-son. Of course, this is because he is a very intelligent child, and I want him to use his powers for good and not evil. However, I’ve found that overcorrection can have negative impacts on our relationship, and if he’s done something wrong he usually knows and may be testing boundaries. 

In our relationship, I’ve found redirection to be more effective than correction. Often, when he misbehaves, it’s due to that pesky little monster we call boredom. But, by taking a few minutes to stop what I’m doing, or even just include him in it, we can do something together that creates a few moments of fun and positivity. When we have those positive experiences, it helps prevent bad behavior, strengthen our bond, and build on our mutual respect.

A strong bond is imperative for any relationship, but this is especially true for children. “How you bond with caregivers during early childhood affects how you behave in relationships and friendships, how in touch you are with your emotions and how much you will allow yourself to love others on a conscious level” according to Psychology Today

Since my step-son and I didn’t have the natural bond that biological parents and children have, we had to create one on our own. So how did we do that?

Creating A Bond

When I first met my husband, I had the luxury of spending a lot of time playing with Hotwheels, building forts, and piling snow into great sledding ramps with my step-son. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says “play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive”.

This was a really great start to our relationship, and being able to spend time devoted to the things he likes has always been immeasurably important for us. But what about when real life sets in? Once I began to have more responsibilities around the household, it started to get tougher to block out that time.

Something I’ve always underestimated is the enjoyment that my step-son gets from doing things together that make him feel helpful, like making dinner or cleaning the house. Even though he may miss some spots when I let him vacuum or spill a few ingredients that I let him measure, the accomplished look on his face is worth it.

This being said, it is important to find activities that can be enjoyed by both parties. While it can be a good bonding experience to do necessary things together, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house, it is also important to do things that are truly enjoyed and less structured- such as games. 

Whether it is by sliding down a snowy hill, making sandcastles on the beach, or building with Legos at home, taking an interest in what your child likes to do and showing them that it is fun for you too is one of the best ways to strengthen your bond. It will also create lasting memories that your child will cherish. 

Doing things like these together can have such a huge impact on a child’s self-worth, confidence, and ability to trust. It is so beneficial for children when their caregivers can be happy and have fun with them.

The Importance of Structure

At the same time, having rules and structure in regard to safety and everyday routine is imperative, as this is what makes children feel safe and protected. While some children are independent and may create some structure for themselves, many children will use that lack of structure to cause trouble in an attempt to gain the attention they seek from caregivers. 

According to the American Psychological Association, having relationships with caregivers that “are warm, open, and communicative; include appropriate limits, and provide reasoning for rules for behavior are associated with higher self-esteem, better performance in school, and fewer negative outcomes such as depression and drug use in children and teenagers.”

This is why it’s important not to value having a friendship with your child over your duties as a parent or caregiver. Set boundaries, be stern but forgiving, and be sure you are fair with your child. 

Your words can be just as impactful as your actions so we must be sure to avoid put-downs and negativity when speaking to our children even when they have done something wrong. Children need to know they can count on you to retain structure, keep them safe, and provide comfort in order to be comfortable exploring the world on their own. 

The Lasting Impacts of Healthy Bonds

With strong parental bonds, kids are able to learn about the world through their own experiences because they are confident they will always have a safe space to come back to you. 

Without that, children can be afraid of rejection and unable to put themselves out there to have new experiences and form new relationships. “When play and safe, stable, nurturing relationships are missing in a child’s life, toxic stress can disrupt the development of executive function and the learning of prosocial behavior” as stated by the AAP.

This may lead them to self-sabotage, exhibit reckless behavior, develop depression, or turn to unhealthy habits like drugs and alcohol. They may also enter toxic relationships to try and fit in or avoid rejection.

As parents and caregivers, we are responsible for helping these children build the foundation for the rest of their lives. By building strong bonds and good relationships with our children, we are giving them the best chance to succeed in life. Without those, children will face a lifelong struggle in many aspects of their lives. 

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mysteries-love/201611/parental-attachment-problems

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3/e20182058

https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/parents-caregivers

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