Does your child sometimes feel distant from you? Maybe it’s the generational gap, or maybe your child is at a certain life stage that makes them less interested in getting along with you. Either way, you may be wondering how you can return to being a best friend to your child. A child’s friendship isn’t that much different from an adult’s friendship.
However, it is more innocent and, often, more fickle than what you’d expect from a grown-up. Still, there are science-backed ways to strengthen those bonds and encourage your child to be a close pal to you. Here’s how child psychologists explain 11 ways to earn your child’s friendship.
Here’s How to Earn Your Child’s Friendship
1 – Start With Commitment
Every parent should be committed to their child; that’s just a given. But not every parent actively puts that into practice or keeps it in mind to the point that they don’t forget it.
And yet, an unconditional form of commitment to a child is extremely central to making sure you and your child are friends, says Marriage and Family Formation Vice President, author, and family counselor Dr. Greg Smalley. So get your commitment right! Say to your child:
- “I will always love you no matter what.”
- “No matter what happens, I will support you.”
- “Even when I’m angry at you, I will always love you.”
2 – Allow Them To Make Decisions
Yes, we know kids aren’t fully rational and don’t have all the necessary decision-making faculties in place. But there’s no better time to teach the concept of making choices and facing their results than now!
You shouldn’t let kids make huge decisions all on their own, but you can involve them in those big choices. For things that are minor and won’t severely affect anyone, you can ask them to make their own decision. For example, you can:
- Ask them what they would like for breakfast
- Let them choose between extracurricular activities
- Ask for their opinion on two different holiday options
3 – Add Them To Your Schedule
In our busy everyday lives, it can be tough to make sure that you have a good work-life balance. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family called “Time With Children, Children’s Well?Being, and Work?Family Balance Among Employed Parents” has found that children are actually a very good indication of whether you’re managing that balance in a positive way or not.
To build a meaningful friendship with someone, you need to have a good amount of time spent with them. The same goes for your children. You don’t need to bend your back or jeopardize your work to do well by your children. You can:
- Set aside an hour every day to spend with them, doing anything fun
- Make it a point to eat at least one meal a day with them
- Watch the movies or TV shows they love with them
- Make time to play with them
- Bring them to places that they love or enjoy
- Be available for them to talk to; make a show of putting aside your work when they have something they want to talk to you about
You should also try to involve your kids in your daily life as much as you can. For example:
- Let them help with chores, cooking, and simple tasks
- Bring them along with you when you run errands
- Give them a toy or miniature versions of the things you use every day; even paper cut-outs can do the trick!
4 – Listen To Understand
Friendship is a two-way street. You want your child to listen to you, and they want to be listened to as well. Another concept Dr. Greg Smalley stands by is listening to your child if you want them to be friends with you.
More specifically, you need to practice active listening. Make eye contact with your child – unless they have a disorder that makes that uncomfortable! – and listen carefully. Think about your goal, which is to understand your child’s point of view, even if that point of view is “childish” or silly!
You should also ask them questions to clarify what they mean, and repeat what they say in your own words to show your understanding.
5 – Lead By Example
Kids may need some time to master their intelligence, but they can still tell when you don’t practice what you preach. Most children learn through observation, so you can earn their friendship by doing the same things you expect of them.
This is such a natural instinct for children that a study called “Toddlers’ imitative learning in interactive and observational contexts: the role of age and familiarity of the model” found that children easily learn by example from everyone, not just close family! So lead by example, and your kids will enjoy picking up on your actions – just make sure they’re positive examples!
6 – Have Some Respect For Their Choices
It’s easy to want to be a little controlling of your child’s decisions. After all, you have so many more years of experience. Your child’s dream job might sound impractical. Their relationship may not look like it’ll last. Their chosen degree might not be the best for them, but a child will appreciate it if you respect their decisions.
We’re not saying that you should never step in when your child is going to do something bad for them. But there are some things you don’t need to try and control so much! You can advise them and tell them what you think and how strongly you feel about their choices, but you want them to know that when the decisions affect them and not you, you will support them even if you disagree.
7 – Let Touch Do The Talking
Physical touch can have quite a significant effect on a child. In fact, hugs release the hormone oxytocin, which promotes positive thinking and bonding. Here are all the ways hugs can benefit a child:
Did you know that there is a growth deficiency called “failure-to-thrive”? What it does is cause children to be unable to grow normally, and it happens when children do not receive sufficient physical touch or affection.
Health and Recovery
Oxytocin has been proven to help with wound recovery and immune system strength. A study published in Germany entitled “Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing” showed that oxytocin reduces thyroid hormone plasma levels, stress, and other negative issues!
Yes, hugging can make a child smarter! Physical touch stimulates the brain, and hugging is the right kind of gentle physical affection to help a child’s brain grow nice and strong.
When you hug a child, you are feeding into positive attachment bonding mechanisms. Multiple studies have linked oxytocin production and attachment bonding, including “Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security”, which was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2009.
Some parents believe that they should not hug their child when they are throwing a tantrum as it “rewards” the child. But the fact is that tantrums are an inability to perform emotional processing. Your child needs aid in calming down, and a hug can provide that aid.
8 – Offer Encouragement
A little encouragement goes a long way. When you teach, correct, and even scold your child, it’s a good idea to fall back onto some positive points instead of focusing only on the negative. Constant negativity can make your child fall into bad patterns of negative self-esteem.
So, the next time you’re seriously speaking to or correcting your child, don’t forget to encourage them. Examples of encouragement include:
- Acknowledging their efforts to improve
- Expressing pride in their efforts to improve
- Reminding them that there are other things they are talented in
- Inspiring them with stories of hard work and improvement
- Telling them some of your own struggles with self-improvement
- Giving them ideas for goals to keep in mind
9 – Learn About Them
Many parents fall into the trap of labeling their children. This action can have multiple adverse effects, including:
- Becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy
- Putting undue pressure on children with positive labels
- Causing self-esteem issues in children with negative labels
- One-track thinking and self-limiting
When you pigeon-hole your children this way, you’re not doing them or yourself any favors. Take the time to really get to know your kids. You might think you know them better than they know themselves, but they’re still human beings and will grow and change over time. Learn:
- Their likes and dislikes
- Their natural temperament and personality
- Their friends
- Their dreams
- Their life goals
- What motivates them best
10 – Don’t Overdo Protectiveness
All parents can be quite protective of their little ones and with good reason. But there’s a big difference between protection and control. Controlling every single move your child makes will only cause them to feel uncomfortable sharing things with you, leading to lies, deception, and the act of hiding things from you.
Keep your child safe, but don’t control their every move. Learn to find a balance between overbearing protection and letting your child learn from mistakes and have their own privacy in certain areas. Trust us, it will make your friendship with them that much stronger!
11 – Don’t Ask, Share
Many parents complain that they ask their child all sorts of questions but don’t get concrete answers. There’s actually a reason for this. Bombarding a child with constant questions will only make them tired of being interrogated. It’s even worse when you don’t answer their questions!
So, instead of peppering them with inquiries, share something from yourself. Talk about your own day, your own friends, or even just random thoughts. This will encourage them to join in with the sharing and contribute, too!
Final Thoughts On Some Ways To Earn Your Child’s Friendship
Not every parent wants to be friends with their child. Depending on your views and opinions on parenting, you may not feel like you need to be friends with your kids until they’re much older. But if you do want to earn their friendship, the methods are easier than you may expect!
Just treating your child as you would a friend can already make them feel more comfortable around you, increasing your bonds, their positive thinking, and their willingness to share things with you. If you are to be your child’s friend, it’s a friendship that they will value for a lifetime.