Digging deep into parent-child relationships

Published 8:33 am Saturday, April 21, 2018

By Jennifer Lawhead

Austin Aspires

“Every child needs to be loved in gigantic quantities and with unbelievable quality.” – Daniel Mackler

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Students from Austin Public and Pacelli Catholic schools took the REACH survey this school year on many aspects related to academic and social well-being. Several of the survey questions centered around the parent child relationship. In the next few months Austin Aspires Parents and Mentors Action Team will dig deeper into each of the topic areas covered in this survey and how parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and mentors can embrace each of the areas of supporting young people.

In this survey, 85 percent of students indicated that their parents showed them that they care. What does this mean in practical terms to young people? According to SEARCH Institute it means that we listen, are warm, invest in our children (time, talents, and treasure), show genuine interest and are dependable.

Did you know that even though many of our teenagers seem to be inextricably linked to their cell phones, they want their parents to listen to them without distraction? That means that we need to model putting down the phone, shutting off the TV, and listen to our children when they want to talk. We need to ask open-ended questions and listen. Not listen to respond, but listen to hear and understand. We need to ask questions to probe for understanding, make sure our body language is open, and that our faces match the message we are trying to deliver.

According to the “Five Love Languages” there are different ways we all express and experience love. They are receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. These love languages apply to people of all ages.

Cuddling your little ones while reading a favorite book, a pat on the back, or a warm embrace is an important vehicle for expressing care.

Spending quality time can look different for children of different ages. Playing games, reading books, long walks and talks, day trips, or serving as a coach or a volunteer on a field trip are all great expressions of love for the child who values quality time.

Often times when we think about receiving gifts, we worry a little bit about cost or the focus on “things.” The important component of this love language is often the thoughtfulness of the gift or the personal touch. For example, giving a handmade bookmark, a single rose, or equipment needed for a sporting activity might all be good ways to honor this love language.

A podcaster recently talked about some confusion around the topic of “acts of service” as a love language. In his family, independence and self-care were highly valued. When his wife offered or requested acts of service it felt like a commentary on competence. But for some, getting a glass of water at bedtime, driving them to a friend’s house, or even making them a special snack after school all feel like incredible acts of love.

Finally, words of affirmation is a love language for many of our children. Many parents in our Parent to Parent network talked about the importance of specific words of appreciation. While “I love you” is always a winner, sharing that you noticed something kind they did, appreciation for their work ethic or responding well under stress are all ways to voice affection to your children.

According to SEARCH Institute, “caring relationships are the basis for forming strong attachments in early childhood. As they grow up, children and youth who have warm, caring relationships with their parents do better in school. They have better social skills and relationships.” Isn’t this what we want for all of our children?