What do you desire most for your child? For most parents, the most likely answer will be that they want to raise happy kids. A recent survey found that 73% of Americans rated happiness as the most important goal in raising children. Canada came second in the survey with 78%, while France headed it with 86%. But the question is, what makes a child happy? Is it the abundance of toys, letting them play with friends, spending time with them, enrolling them in good schools, buying designer clothing and expensive video games, getting them a friendly sitter, providing good food and shelter?
Research has shown that it’s a combination of factors, some of which take precedence over others. The most significant of these factors are secure attachment, meaningful relationships with parents, caregivers, and other children. Professor John Bowlby, a pioneer in the study of parent-child attachment, believed that this relationship has enormous influence in shaping a child’s self-esteem, long-lasting happiness, expectations of other people, and the world’s view in general. It gives your child the base from which to explore the world.
This is not to say that parents’ socioeconomic status does not contribute to the child’s happiness. It does to an extent. But it doesn’t substitute the value of meaningful relationships and secure attachments for your child. You can love your child unconditionally with few material goods.
What Are the Signs That You Have a Great Relationship With Your Child?
Having a great relationship with your child is not only marked by visible signs of joy in the present like laughter. It’s also about their overall ability to interact with you freely, feel content and safe in their relationship with you, and process their feelings without fear of judgment. Here are a few things that can let you know your relationship with your child is on the right track:
- The child doesn’t hide their feelings from you. A child that displays the full range of their emotions in front of their parents is a child who’s been taught the values of expressing how they feel. It could be joy, anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, or love. Children typically express these emotions when they feel safe with their parents. The child has developed an understanding that they will not be shunned, judged, or chastised for expressing themselves. They trust that the parents will listen. We discuss ways to build trust with your child here.
- They ask for your help freely. If your child comes to you with their problems freely, it is a sign that they trust you. Many kids have run into even bigger problems because they wanted to deal with their own issues. This usually happens because they fear your reaction or judgment. Should you be disappointed with their actions? Of course, you should. Should you hold them accountable? Sure. But should you go overboard by saying and doing hurtful things out of annoyance? Not a good idea. You should be the first person your child calls when they get into trouble, even if they know you’d be disappointed.
- They pursue their own interests. Mastery is a vital part of a child’s happiness. Mastery is when children find some activity they love (like sports or arts) and try to excel at it at their own pace and time. Your encouragement, presence, and words of affirmation will do wonders to their confidence and happiness. That you notice and appreciate these skills is a source of pride and encouragement to pursue any other interests they may have.
- They toot their own horn. Confident and happy children hardly go a day without tooting their own horn, which is a sign of confidence. It helps them stay motivated to continue to do better. Also, telling you about their achievements shows that they value your opinion of them. Your praise helps them feel significant and respected.
- They understand contentment. One of the greatest secrets of happiness is contentment, simply being happy with what you have even as you strive to get more. Children are naturally persistent. But a child who knows that they can’t always get what they want understands that happiness is not always about more. That’s a good sign that you’re raising a child who is content and bound to be happy irrespective of external factors. Here we discuss the importance of delayed gratification.
What Is a Meaningful Relationship From a Child’s Perspective?
As a parent who wants to know how to raise a happy child by building a meaningful relationship with them, there are qualities you need to cultivate that will make your child get closer to you. The truth is that a huge part of what your relationship with your child will be like is based on how you treat them. For instance, if your kid comes to you with a personal issue and you share it with others, the child may start to feel that you can’t be trusted. If you are wondering what a meaningful relationship looks like to your child, here are some qualities that can endear you to them:
- You listen to them. One of the critical traits of a good parent is listening attentively. There’s so much information you can glean from your child just by listening. And not only from what the child says but from their body language and how they say it. Listening enables parents to uncover something more serious the child might not be exactly putting into words. More importantly, children feel valued when parents really listen to them. They’re also more likely to ask advice from parents who listen than those who don’t. We talk more about this here.
- You handle conflict with love. As your child grows, there will be many times when you will have differences. Knowing how to manage it will ensure that the rift doesn’t widen and communication doesn’t break down. Managing differences involve sitting down and talking things over with your child. Try and communicate your position in a firm but calm manner and let the child communicate theirs too. This way, your child understands that differences are a chance to learn and even change perspective. Punishing your child’s openness might discourage them from talking to you in the future. More about techniques in telling off.
- You show them affection. Showing your child love constantly is a key part of being a good parent. It’s just as important not to withdraw that affection as a way to punish the child when you’re angry. That sends the message that your love is conditional, and they must be a model of what you want to continue receiving that love. Much of how children learn to love and navigate relationships depends on the kind of love they received from their parents.
How to Build a Meaningful Relationship With Your Child
Below are a few tips to build a meaningful relationship with your kids:
- Create a safe and happy home for them. There seems to be a common misconception that once a child arrives, the entirety of the couple’s life must revolve around making the child happy and comfortable. Miserable parents will find it very difficult to inspire any happiness in their child. In his book To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, David Code writes that families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. I am not sure that this is the case, and it is too extreme always to put yourself or your marriage first. However, there should be a balance of not always putting your children first as well.
- Make opportunities to do things with them. Whether it be sports, music, playing games, volunteering, or simply ‘hanging out.’ Be sure to create time when you are just together. Spending time doing things, not sitting in the same room looking at phones, is what builds relationships. Not just being there, but being present.
- Make celebrations a part of family tradition. Celebrations are something kids can look forward to with happiness. Celebrate the big and small things if you can. It could be improved grades, a new job, or a new skill. Celebrating these seemingly little things build family rituals, and it’s also a form of encouragement.
- Don’t pack their schedule. You don’t have to schedule every aspect of your child’s life. Make room for them to do things they enjoy, whether it’s running around outside, playing with friends, or trying out video games. Also, try to participate in these activities with them as often as you can. It shows them that you care about them.
- Promote a more positive outlook on life. A positive outlook can help your child see a bit of light where others see only darkness. Teach them to favor solutions over complaints, see challenges as stepping stones instead of a pass into self-pity, and see the good in others instead of just the bad. From this, they will develop a more meaningful relationship with everyone, not only you. What to do if your child is very negative.
Final Thoughts on a Healthy Relationship With Your Child
Parenting is a complex task, and there are so many factors that need to align for it to be effective. As a result, it’s not a good idea for a parent to try to make up for their minimal involvement with buying things. If you worry about making your kids happy, you can begin cultivating the qualities that endear you to them. Your child may be over the moon that you bought them toys, video games, and designer clothes (and those play a part), but building a meaningful relationship with them will serve them better in the long run. It maybe that the relationship you had with your parents was not what you wish for your own child. We look at the role of childhood emotional neglect and what it can mean here.