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Strengthen your bond with your child

Published 13.07.2022 - Produced by Produced by the parenting experts of Väestöliitto - The Family Federation of Finland , the Central Union for Child Welfare and the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters , Family Federation of Finland
Every child needs at least one safe adult around. A child’s relationship with their parent is vital for them. A child mirrors their own worth through the love of a parent. The purpose of this section is to consider ways to strengthen the bond between a parent and a child.

A safe bond

The worst possible situation for a child is to be habitually ignored. That is why a child will try to get their parent’s attention and ensure contact with their parent, even if it’s in a negative way. Contact here refers to the interaction between a parent and a child and their ability to communicate with each other. Sometimes a parent and a child can get stuck in a nasty cycle of interaction, in which the child seeks attention by behaving badly and the parent reacts to the child’s behaviour by scolding them and telling them to stop. If a parent gives a child attention by scolding them, this may exacerbate the child’s misbehaviour. This is a vicious circle that may harm a good, secure relationship between the parent and child.

A secure bond means that the child feels that their parent is available when he or she needs them. The child perceives their parent as responsive and understanding and feels that the parent is emotionally present. The child recognises that the parent is aware of his or her distress.

When a child wants to show a parent something that’s important to them, tell them about something that has happened or needs help, it’s important that the parent is present and available. This increases the child’s sense of security, which in turn increases their independence. When a parent is preoccupied with work or relationship issues, they may dismiss or ignore their child when they approach them. This can increase behaviour the child uses to get the parent’s attention, such as whining, shouting, screaming or misbehaving.

EXERCISE:

Think about the last time your child told you something. How and in what ways did you show you were interested in what they were saying? Was it possible for the child to detect your interest, for example through your body language, tone of voice or facial expressions?

Ways to strengthen your bond with your child:

  • Spending time with your child one-to-one. Doing interesting and fun things together.
  • Talking to your child and being curious and interested in what they’re saying and thinking. For example, you can ask: How was your day? What was something nice that happened? Who did you play with?
  • Showing your affection by hugging them and taking an interest in what they have done and are doing. The moments of reconnection and separation are particularly important.
  • Noticing your child’s good efforts and behaviour. Always remember to praise your child when you’re happy about what they’re doing or saying, or how they’re behaving.

One good way to strengthen your relationship with your child is through play. Playing together strengthens the emotional bond between child and parent.

Physical and psychological punishment is harmful to children

Child abuse and disciplining children with violence are defined as punishable acts under Finnish law. The law states that children must be protected from all forms of physical and psychological violence, abuse and exploitation. Children should be brought up in a way that provides them with understanding, security and affection. Children must not be oppressed, physically disciplined or otherwise treated in an abusive manner.

There is a lot of evidence today that physical discipline does not have a positive effect on a child’s behaviour; on the contrary, it can cause emotional and behavioural problems. Disciplining a child physically does not teach them responsibility or develop their conscience or self-control. Belittling, rejecting, fear-based parenting and other forms of psychological abuse also have a negative impact on the emotional balance of a child. The use of psychological violence is at least as damaging as the use of physical discipline as a parenting tool.

These types of discipline may change the child’s behaviour temporarily when the parent is present, but at other times the child may behave in undesirable ways. With this kind of discipline, the parent gets the child to pay attention, but it does not give the child a sense of right and wrong or a model of how they should behave. A child learns from their parent’s example. If a parent uses this kind of discipline, the child may learn that conflicts are resolved through violence.

Children don’t need pain or fear to learn. They need to understand why something is right or wrong. Physical discipline is most commonly used with children aged between 3 and 5 years old. These are the years when a child develops his or her own will. A child defies boundaries because, at this stage of development, they have a need to practice expressing what they want and don’t want. This stage is important for the development of a child’s sense of self, but it can put the parent’s ability to regulate their own emotions to the test. Anger can be contagious and can make a parent behave in the same way as the child. It’s important for the child to see that their parent can withstand his or her tantrums and remain safe and consistent, even when the child defies them. Children of this age need a parent’s example and help to learn the skills you want them to have.

The Steps to Overcome Aggression model (Aggression portaat, available in Finnish) provides parents with ways to identify the stages of their own and their child’s emotional development

A way to calm your emotions in a heated situation

Sometimes you may come across a situation where you find it difficult to control your emotional reaction. In such a situation, a traffic light system is an excellent way to calm your emotions. At the red light you should stop and calm down, while at the yellow light you can prepare to face the situation. When the light is green, you are ready to handle the issue.

When you find yourself in a heightened emotion state, imagine a set of traffic lights in front of you:

  1. RED: Stop and take a few deep breaths. Hold your breath for a moment before inhaling again. If you wish, you can close your eyes while doing this breathing exercise.
  2. YELLOW: Consider your options for dealing with the situation, as well as what in particular caused your emotions to flare up and how you can deal constructively with the person who caused the emotional reaction. How can you deal compassionately and constructively with the person who caused your surge of emotion?
  3. GREEN: Open your eyes and notice how your body has calmed down. You are ready to face the situation calmly.

Recognise violence and neglect

 

Sources:
Webster-Stratton, C. (2006). The Incredible Years: A Trouble-Shooting Guide for Parents of Children Aged 2–8 Years. Publisher: The Incredible Years.

Triple P – Positive Parenting Program.

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