Closer Parent-Bond Benefits Child Mental Health

Fun vacations and special occasions make great family memories, but they’re not what create a sense of closeness between parents and kids. Tight bonds come from being involved and interested in your kid’s daily life – from schoolwork, to hobbies, to friends and more.

Why is it important to get closer to your kids? A 2010 Binghamton University study found that it greatly boosts child mental health. And if you start early, the bonds will be long-lasting too: According to an MTV/Associated Press survey, teens and young adults said that the greatest source of happiness is spending time with family.

Here are seven easy ways to get closer to your kids.

1. Share a hobby

Whether it’s drawing cartoons or doing jigsaw puzzles, a quiet activity you can do together will bring you closer. Playing sports or video games is fun, but it doesn’t give you the same opportunity to talk or just work side by side. It doesn’t matter if you do it every night, once a week or once a month – as long as you make time (and a commitment) to enjoy it together regularly.

2. Set aside time to talk

When your child comes to tell you something, give him your full attention. That means putting down the phone, turning off the laptop, or even turning off the stove so you can face him and really listen to what he’s saying. Set aside a few minutes every day to ask what he learned at school, how his playdate went, etc. And try not to interrupt. This is his time to talk, not yours!

3. Review homework

Sitting down five nights a week to go over schoolwork shows how much you value your child’s education – and the effort she puts into it. Offer help if she needs it and give praise when she earns it. Most important, ask her to explain what she knows. She’ll feel great teaching you a thing or two.

4. Be open

Communication is a two-way street, and your child benefits from hearing your thoughts as much as you do from hearing his. Keep an open dialogue on everything from politics to personal beliefs, being honest but age-appropriate in what you say.

5. Create rituals

They can be serious or silly, but having reliable routines gives your child a sense of security and family identity. Whether it’s eating pancakes for dinner every Sunday or having pizza-and-movie night every other Friday, creating rituals shows how much you value spending time together. Later, you may hear your child saying to others, “Here’s what we do in my family.”

6. Play make-believe

Playing is so crucial to a child’s emotional and intellectual development that the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights deemed it a right of every child. Sit down for a teddy-bear tea party or have a make-believe pirate sword fight in the living room. Taking part in your kids’ pretend play gives you a window into their feelings, fantasies and fears – and shows them you want to be part of their special world. Check out this make-believe playing guide for more on how to play pretend with your kids.

7. Read together

Studies show that children who grow up watching their parents read are better readers themselves. But reading to a young child – or reading the same book as your older one and then discussing it – is a way to explore the world and share ideas every day.

About the Author

Gail Belsky is an editorial consultant and writer, and an adjunct professor of journalism. A 12-year veteran of women’s publications, she was a senior editor at Parents magazine and an executive editor at both Working Mother magazine and Time Inc.’s custom publishing division, where she created and edited two women’s service magazines for Target stores. Belsky worked on the launch of Time Inc.’s All You magazine and was an editorial consultant at Meredith Corp., where she created four custom publications for American Baby magazine. Most recently, she wrote a book for women, entitled The List: 100 Ways to Shake Up Your Life (Seal Press 2008).


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