Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?
Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child grows up to make emotionally healthy decisions?
Would you like to increase the likelihood that your child will perform well academically in school?
Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child will have healthy relationships?
I’m guessing your answer to each of those questions is yes. News flash. This doesn’t happen by getting little Johnny to walk by age 1, read by age 2, and play the piano by age 3.
★ A secure relationship between you and your child is one of the most significant factors contributing to your child’s development.★
Your child, even as a baby and a toddler, experiences and learns a thousand new things about their world every day. They are learning what to do when they get hurt, don’t get their way or get mistreated by someone. They’re also finding out how to handle it when they make mistakes and encounter something that’s too hard for them.
Secure relationships help children develop emotionally.
The environment that parents provide for them is significant. It helps to determine whether they will have positive growth experiences or develop unhealthy emotional coping skills. Harvard researchers tell us, “The single most common factor for children and teens who develop the capacity to overcome serious hardship is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”
The trust they have for you as a parent and for the relationship is vital for their development.
Being available to listen, encourage and comfort them when they experience frustration and disappointment can help them learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and stress. When the positive and secure relationship of a parent is present in your child’s life, they are less likely to develop poor relationship skills and unhealthy emotional responses. Feeling secure gives them the ability to develop a true sense of self, develop emotionally, and cultivate strong relationships.
Secure relationships allow kids the freedom to be kids.
Establishing yourself as the parent who values relationships and sets and follows through on discipline, is the loving leader, and is in charge, is actually comforting for children. Children have the brain development of… you guessed it, children. When children don’t feel like their parents are in control, they struggle.
You tell your child to pick up their blocks and you leave the room. You come back in the room and they haven’t picked up their blocks. Then, you tell them, “Unfortunately, we will have to put the blocks away” because they didn’t do what you asked them to do. They then throw themselves on the floor and throw a temper tantrum. You respond by saying, “Okay, you can play with the blocks,” because you don’t want them to be upset with you. This creates confusion in the mind of the child as to who is actually leading or in charge. When parents do the parent “stuff” like set boundaries to keep kids safe and establish routines to help them grow and develop, then the security of the relationship allows kids the freedom to be kids.
Secure relationships give kids a sense of belonging.
In addition to having a true sense of self, every child wants to know they belong. A secure relationship with their parent(s) reinforces that they belong to the family and that they can’t fail bad enough to change that fact. As researcher John Bowlby has shown, a secure relationship with the parent sets children up for healthier interactions with other children, better grades, and great self-confidence as they grow and explore the world.
Secure relationships give kids the confidence to try new things, explore, and make mistakes.
Children make all kinds of mistakes. It’s how they learn. They try to pour their own cereal and milk and spill a full carton of milk on the floor. While you may be freaking out because money is tight and you really can’t afford to lose a gallon of milk on the floor, your child is doing exactly what they are supposed to do—try new things. However, what you do as a parent sends a message as to whether this relationship is safe and secure. If you scream and yell, and act like they committed an unforgivable act, then you may be sending the message that trying new things and making a mistake when you’re doing something new isn’t acceptable.
You could also be sending the message that you’re only happy with your child when they “do right,” but “I don’t really like you when you make mistakes.” That doesn’t make a child feel like their relationship with you is secure. It can make your child feel like they must earn your love and approval.
A Different Approach
However, what if you came alongside your child after they’ve spilled the milk and recognized that they were simply testing their own capabilities? They are trying to learn and do new things, and since you know that, the approach is different. Simply teaching them how to carry out the task, setting boundaries so they understand authority and permission, and helping them clean up their mess in a calm manner sets the stage for your child to feel secure in their relationship with you. They learn that their mom or dad’s love and care for them is not dependent on being the perfect child.
That relational security gives them the confidence to try something else that they couldn’t do before without fear that if they make a mistake, they may lose their parent’s love. It provides them with an assurance that the next time they experience frustration, there is someone (the parent) who can help them overcome their emotions. They also begin to recognize the need for boundaries and permission to help them not end up in situations they aren’t prepared for.
We want our children to be willing to discover new things and solve problems. We also want them to recognize and build positive relationships, and learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Providing a secure relationship in the home is a great way to give your child the best opportunity to develop.
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