Bonding Between Parents and Children at Every Social Age
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Bonding Between Parents and Children at Every Social Age

Learn the importance of developing a strong bond with your child and how to adapt your parenting to their growth to maintain that bond.

Updated April 9, 2024

by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist
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Before we have our kids, we might imagine having an instant, all-encompassing bond with them. We imagine the soft snuggles and a huge rush of love for this tiny little person we have welcomed into our lives. In reality, bonding between parents and children can take work. This is because our children’s needs shift as they develop, and we must adapt our parenting strategies as they grow.

Parents need to adapt when bonding with children, or conflict may arise. Without adapting, we may rupture that once-airtight relationship. As children mature, they need independence, but they also need to rely on us for support. Through their growth, this balance tips because of the inevitable childhood changes. Your skills and responses might need to transition alongside your child’s.

Many parents are conscious of how bonding and attachment are vital for a child’s well-being. Secure attachment is about attuning to your child’s needs and responding appropriately.1,2 Securely attached children are more confident, have stronger and more positive relationships overall, are better at problem-solving, believe they can achieve, have a higher sense of self-worth, and are more resilient.1,2,3

Tips for Bonding With Children at Every Age

Bonding With Infants

Be Attuned

Spend time watching and listening to your child, and be patient with yourself and them. You’re learning a new language, and your infant is grappling with being in this big, wide world where their needs aren’t always instantly catered to. Although babies’ cries are meant to trigger us to action, try not to panic. Take your time to pick out what sort of cry it is or what that facial expression means. Just try to rotate through and meet their basic needs: hunger, thirst, warmth, connection, sleep, toileting/hygiene. It builds a stronger bond every time you successfully meet your child’s needs (even if it initially takes a little while to crack the code).

Tap into Their Sense of Wonder

They can watch how the sun’s rays move across the floor forever. A hanging toy above their crib might be absolutely enchanting. Try and catch where their attention is focused and enjoy the wonder with them. We have seen it all, but remember that everything in your child’s environment is brand-new for them. They will want to spend time learning about it all. Just slow down and be present with them.

Narrate While You Go About Your Day

Your child has been able to hear your voice since they were in utero, so it will be comforting to them. They’re more capable of understanding language before speaking, so tell them what you’re doing as you care for them. It helps with early conversations about consent and privacy. It also allows them to understand what’s happening and feel more secure and trusting.

Bonding With Toddlers

Give Them Choices (Safe and Appropriate Ones, of Course)

This age is all about testing boundaries and wanting to be more independent. This could be letting them choose their clothes, snacks, books, etc. It can reduce the power struggles and help them to feel more acknowledged by you, as you’re showing respect for their growing personality and preferences.

They Thrive on Repetition; It Helps Them Feel Safe and Secure

So, strap yourself in, mama. This might mean reading the same story 47 times in a row or watching the same episode every day of a particular TV show or movie. Try to find something new each time, or read aloud with a different voice to help keep yourself entertained. Our little people are struggling with so many new things that accessing something they know is comforting to them.

Validate Their Big Feelings

Toddlers don’t always have the most common sense. I know when my daughter was a toddler, she would have a meltdown over the color of her cup. Or the fact that I had dared peel a banana for her (despite her not yet being able to do it herself). So don’t always stress about fixing it or making it better. Focus on naming their feelings and offering comfort when they’re ready. This acknowledgment shows you understand where they’re coming from and increases your child’s bond with you.

Heartbeat Hugs

Well, that’s what we call them in my house. If your child is escalated or heightened, it’s essential to co-regulate as they are still learning to regulate themselves. Skin-to-skin is something we think only matters in infancy, but pulling them in close and laying their ear against your breastbone works wonders like when they were babies.4 Their bodies will start to sync to yours when they can hear the rhythm of your heart and breathing, so pull them into an embrace and ask them to listen to your heart. Make sure you’re taking deep, calm breaths. Very soon, their body will sync with yours, and they will calm down.

Bonding With Children

“Watch Me, Watch Me!”

This seems to be the call of childhood. They’re growing increasingly confident in their physical skills and want you to wonder at them and share in their joy. Yes, my daughter has asked me to watch her attempts at doing a cartwheel 64 times in the last 30 minutes . . . and yes, it’s hard to stay enthusiastic and patient. However, try and see this as their attempt to connect with you. They want you to share in their mastery and achievements. This goes a long way to increasing and cementing that bond between parents and children.

Reading

Your child may be getting ready to learn to read, or perhaps they’re already skilled at independent reading. But don’t stop storytime. Try incorporating reading into your bedtime routine, whether you read to your child or they read to you. The first and last five minutes of the day are some of the most important. So, snuggle down and enjoy a story together.

Get Them to Teach You Something

They’ll feel so proud of themselves for sharing a skill with you. You can demonstrate your interest in what they are doing (which helps with your bond), and it will increase their self-esteem and sense of well-being.

Bonding With Teens

Keep the Communication Open and Try to Suspend Judgment

Teens can become increasingly secretive, but this is when we need them to be the most open. It’s the time in their lives when they start navigating challenging social situations and peer pressure. Try to use car journeys to check in or mandate family dinners to ensure there are always opportunities to communicate. Also, try to be curious rather than judgmental. Remember to enforce the idea that while you might not always understand or accept certain behaviors, nothing they do will make you stop loving them.

Get Them to Help Set Rules and Consequences

As teens, they want more independence and to be considered mature. So, instead of setting rules, get them involved. Get your teen thinking about what your family should and should not accept in terms of behavior. Also, ask them to consider the consequences if they don’t align with these expectations. It means you get to sidestep being the bad guy because they have had input and are more likely to buy into the rules. It also shows your respect and acceptance of their increased need for independence.

You Can Still Mandate Family Time, but Give Your Teen More Say in How You Spend That Time Together

Not only will they feel a sense of maturity, but if you get them to plan a catch-up, it gets them thinking about others in the family. This keeps them feeling connected and aware of others’ needs. It also allows you to demonstrate your awareness that their needs are changing, which helps cement your bond.

Although our children’s needs evolve as they grow, we can easily get stuck in parenting habits or ruts. Re-adjusting your skills or strategies doesn’t make you a bad parent; it just means your child’s needs have changed. It’s okay not to be perfect, but it’s important to be open and aware of these changes so you can meet your child where they are. Showing them that you see and hear them can go a long way toward bonding between parents and children.

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Rachel Tomlinson Registered Psychologist
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Rachel Tomlinson is a registered psychologist and internationally published author of Teaching Kids to Be Kind who has worked with adults, families, and children (birth through eighteen years old) in… Read more

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