How you interact with your toddler today has a direct impact on your relationship with your teenager tomorrow. There are some key tips to building a strong relationship with your child so that when those difficult teenage years are upon you, you will have built a strong foundation to help keep communication lines open and allow your teen to feel comfortable coming to you during times of stress and conflict.
Tip #1: Listen to your toddler now-chattier teen later.
A common problem parents have with toddlers and preschoolers is listening to them talk about topics the parent finds boring (Mine craft anyone?). I know it’s hard to show interest in Susie’s brother’s cousin’s dog Buster and how he brought them a bone. Young children repeat stories and experiences to help them understand the world around them. Adults find it tedious. The importance to the teenage years is that if you don’t listen to what is VITALLY important to them as a young child, they will not feel heard by you and may not come to you when those scary teenage decisions are being made (first alcoholic drink, birth control, best friend fight). I know everyone hopes their teen will come to them first.
Tip #2: Distraction-free listening.
It is so important to engage your small child in conversations about what is important to them. If you find you are having a hard time listening to your young child, set aside a specific time each day, make it a routine. I find bedtime is a perfect time to hear about their day. If they know that you will be setting aside time just for them, they will know you care about what is important to them. If they feel like they won’t remember what they wanted to tell you, they can write it down (if they are old enough) or record it onto an electronic device.
Note: Follow through is key here as it is with most things in parenting. Make sure to do this daily at the same time. Relationship building with anyone takes effort but I promise it will be worth it. Reminder: leave the cell phone in another room so you won’t be tempted.
Tip #3: Date night with Mommy (or Daddy).
Another way to build strong communication with your child (ren) is to have dates with each of your children individually. This doesn’t have to be expensive dinner and a movie. It can be as easy as a park play date or picnic. Make sure you are fully focused on your child and not your phone or an errand. This is about fully focused one-on-one time. If childcare of other children is an issue, enlist the help of another Mom/Dad and swap out childcare.
Note: This one-on-one date with your child will pay off later. Your teen will ask to spend time alone with you. The activity may change but the special feel of the time together will remain with them forever.
Tip #4: Don’t correct them, just listen.
Finally, when listening to a small child or a teen, make sure not to interrupt, correct or push them to move more quickly through the story. I know I have to work on this behavior with my 11 year old. I find myself wishing she would get to the point of her story quicker. I’m working on taking a deep breath, smiling and listening with my full attention to her story. They only live at home for 18 years, one hopes, but it goes by so fast and then they may too busy to tell you about their world.
Enjoy the parenting ride.
Kim Martinez, M.S.