How connection parenting makes child raising easier

Jan 4, 2008 at 8:37 p.m. ET

Children grow up fast. It may not seem that way while your 3 year old is screaming on the floor next to the candy display. But age 9, with its delightful reasonableness and just an inkling of preteen sophistication, arrives in what seems like the blink of an eye. As your child blows out those 9 candles, you're halfway to 18, when you're officially fired as a parent, and, if you've done a good enough job, re-hired as a consultant.

Mom and tween talking

Connection parenting

I dread dropping my children off at college. I know too many women who sobbed the whole way home, wondering how they missed so much of the last eighteen years. Their kids dash off happily, ready for their new lives. It's the mom who suddenly realizes she isn't. I know I'll be sobbing. But I also know I won't have missed much. And I trust that the relationship I have with them, which has made child-raising easier at each stage, will keep us close throughout their lives.

Parenting with a good relationship is like guiding a boulder downhill -- you still have to pay attention and offer direction, and challenges certainly arise, but the momentum is with you. A good parent-child relationship gets you through the hard times, and creates more frequent good times. It helps you meet the unique needs of your growing child. It makes it easier for you to influence your kid, so he's more cooperative and discipline isn't a challenge.

A strong relationship helps your child to love herself and to love others. Kids whose emotional needs are met express the traits we all want in our kids: consideration and respect for others, self-confidence, integrity, self -discipline. And study after study shows that a close relationship with parents protects children from the excesses of the culture and the peer group.

Connection Parenting is about the bond with your child, rather than "skills" to make you a better parent. You're a fine parent already, if you're in touch with your natural parenting instincts.

Here's what you need to know

1. Start close

No "parenting skills" can make up for the lack of a close relationship. Kids only accept our guidance because of who we are to them. A close bond gives access to our natural parenting know-how, AND makes our kids want to please us.

2. Stay close

If you start close, you're likely to stay close as she grows up. That's because the bond with awakens your natural parenting instincts, which insist that you stay connected to your child. That early bond gets created when you respond attentively to her needs, giving her a profound sense of secure attachment.

3. It takes time

A good relationship takes time. It's especially challenging to create a close relationship with our kids these days. Human beings weren't designed to handle the stress our modern life loads on, which makes it difficult to hear our instincts. Most of us parent in our spare time, working around other responsibilities and too much time away from our kids. And our culture devalues and erodes our relationship with our kids, wooing them away from us at too early an age.

4. Daily interactions

A relationship is the slow accretion of daily interactions. Of course, every parent has a relationship with his or her child; the question is what kind. You don't have to do anything special; the good -- and bad -- news is that every interaction creates the relationship. Carpooling and bath time matter as much as that big talk you have when there's a problem. He doesn't want to share his toy, go to bed, or do his homework? How you handle it is one brick in the foundation of your connection, as well as his ideas about all relationships.

5. Shared experiences

Close relationships are built from shared experience that lets us touch each other deeply. Nothing extraordinary may seem to be happening on the outside, but on the inside we're connecting with the fullness of our deepest selves. It's a form of falling in love: most of it happens in our hearts. Experiences like kissing scraped knees, laughing hysterically over nothing, discussing human nature at the dinner table, or wrestling with a challenging decision during a quiet stroll at twilight -- that's what builds intimacy.

6. Be attentive

It isn't enough that we tell our children we love them. We need to put our love into action every day for them to feel it, in the form of attentiveness. Like your garden or your work, what you attend to flourishes. Think of attention as being wholly present in the moment, bringing your full acceptance and appreciation to someone. Needless to say, you can't multi-task at that kind of attentiveness.

7. Teens need intimate relationships at home

It's not a sign of healthy emotional development for a teen to push parents away, meaning that a 14 year old who focuses mostly outwards is probably looking for something he wasn't getting at home. We need to invite our children to rely on us emotionally until they're ready to depend on themselves. Too often in our culture, we let teenagers transfer their dependency outside the family, with disastrous results. Teens often give up a great deal of themselves in pursuit of the closeness they crave, only to crash against the hard reality that other teens aren't developmentally able to offer them what they need. It's appropriate for kids to become increasingly independent throughout their teen years. To experiment successfully with intimate relationships outside the family, though, kids need solid intimate relationships at home.

Connection Parenting keeps your family connected as the pressures of daily life erode your time together and your children grow into their own lives, with their own friends and interests. And it insures that they'll want to email you from college, or wherever their paths may lead.

More ways to communicate with your kids