The importance of positive relationships in a young person’s life can never be overstated. Through warm, supportive, and trusting relationships with adults—from parents and caregivers to teachers and coaches—kids gain the inner strength they need to overcome problems and to bounce back from life’s challenges. What’s more, caring, consistent relationships offer the structure and support kids need to make lasting changes in their behavior. When a child perceives that the adults in his life are truly invested in his well-being and interested in his experiences, he is more willing to talk about what is going on in his life and more likely to be open to adult feedback.
Musings: How Much Time Do I Have Left?
The good news when it comes to nurturing positive relationships with young people, is that the most meaningful connections adults make with kids are usually based on the simplest of gestures. A proud smile, a word of reassurance, a bit of your undivided attention, a thoughtful response, an opportunity to practice a new skill, a hug just when it is needed most; all of these supportive behaviors are at once free and priceless. Each of them communicates to a young person that they have worth and value. Every kindness builds the relationship between the adult and child.
Related: The Real Joys of Being a Mom
If building positive relationships between adults and kids is so fundamentally simple, why do so many young people feel alienated, isolated and alone?
As a School Counselor and clinical educator on issues related to child & adolescent mental health, the single most common theme I hear from parents and professionals who are struggling to reach kids who exhibit challenging behaviors is something along the lines of:
Life is so busy. At home, we’re juggling so many activities and appointments that we just don’t have time to really connect.
During the school day, the schedule is so packed with curriculum requirements and testing; getting to really know my students has become a luxury I can’t afford.
The bad news when it comes to nurturing positive relationships with kids is that meaningful, enduring, resiliency-building connections—while free—are built over time. When time is tight or rushed—or absent entirely—we all lose out.
Give Your Time
Time is a great equalizer. We all have just 24 hours in a day. I don’t think I have met a single parent or professional who feels like 24 hours is enough time in which to accomplish all of their tasks. And yet, this is all the time that any of us are given. How will we make the most of time when it comes to connecting with young people?
Be vigilant about safety. Babyproof your home thoroughly, and never leave a child under 5 in the tub alone. Make sure car seats are installed correctly, and insist that your child wear a helmet when riding his bike or scooter.
With apologies, this post does not offer suggestions or solutions for adding hours to any of our days. What I do offer is the idea that as adults responsible for the well-being of young people, we have to be willing to put our To Do lists to the side every once in a while—and especially when a child needs us. For better or for worse, it is certain that the To Do list items will still be there waiting for us when we come back around to them. Kids, on the other hand, don’t always linger after an adult has ignored or dismissed them. We’re stuck with our tasks until they are completed but our kids grow up—and grow away—very quickly.
Is Time Enough?
Can all adult-child problems be resolved simply through the gift of time? No, of course not. For some young people, the support and intervention needed from adults goes beyond just the minutes on a clock. On the other hand, something as simple and uncomplicated as a supportive 10-minute conversation from a parent, teacher, coach or mentor can go a surprisingly long way in helping a young person think more rationally, make better decisions, and feel less of the alienation that prompted previous misbehaviors.
What Happens if I Don't Give Time?
When kids feel alienated from adults, we all have a lot to worry about. This statement applies to acts of youth aggression and poor behavior across the board. Without strong adult connections, young people feel isolated from sources of support and act without the hindrance of disapproval by an adult that matters to them (Whitson, 2014).
For those who still are thinking “there is not enough time in the day” to connect with young people in need, know that your child will get your time one way or the other. It may be in positive ways or it may be through their acting out behaviors and creation of crisis situations. The question is: How do you want to spend your time with your child? A pro-active and undivided investment of your time is a whole lot simpler (and easier!) than picking up the pieces after an angry, violent, destructive outburst.
"If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent. " - Bette Davis
*This post is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Parenting through Challenging Behaviors , written by Signe Whitson and published by the LSCI Institute.
Signe Whitson is a clinical social worker, school counselor, and Chief Operating Officer of the LSCI Institute. For more information on parenting through challenging behaviors, please visit www.lsci.org or email [email protected]