Jim sharing insights during the Effective Parenting Seminar on 26 September 2015.
The CEO of a large company once approached Jim with a request to find and mentor his son. “I told him that I would do it, if he answered two questions to my satisfaction,” shared Jim. “ I asked him, ‘what was your son’s favorite colour and food?’” The CEO had to ring his maid and wife for the answers. Jim replied, ”If you can pay me a million dollars I can bring your son back. But then, I will be your son’s father. You don’t even have a relationship if you didn’t know intimate details like this.”
Building and maintaining a parent-child relationship has always seemed like a daunting task to some parents, especially with a new generation of children who are surrounded with technology. Today, with the Internet, mobile technology, and the ongoing pop culture, just to name a few, there are many things that can occupy us for hours. This is something that parents have to learn to navigate. “Used correctly, it can be a way to connect with your child,” Jim said. “I’ve seen some parents bonding with their kids over Korean serial drama or online games.”
It helps to use the metaphor of kite-flying to understand your child and help them grow. In this metaphor, the child is the kite and the parent in the kite-flyer. The string symbolises the relationship between the child and the parent. Here is how Jim categorizes a child’s growing years:
Launching the kite (from birth to six years old). The child will seek protection and emotional support. Parents must be more involved during that period to build trust between them and their child. This is also the best time to build a secure attachment style in your child.
The kite’s mid-flight (seven to 12 years old). This period is filled with many pitfalls and “dangers”- think buildings and trees where a kite string can get entangled. Parents tend to be protective of their children and are likely to set many boundaries to help children understand right and wrong. Parents will want to keep their “kites” close to them.
The kite’s full-flight (12 years and older). As children learn to be independent, parents should give them more freedom. “Some parents might be used to controlling their child. They find it hard to let go,” said Jim. “It’s something that they’ll need to pick up at this stage. Let your child fly free, but be around to help when they get into trouble. Your relationship keeps you connected.”
So how can we build a stronger relationship with our children? For starters, invest heavily in a “Relationship Bank”. “A lot of parents, using their authority, demand things from their children. You’ll be drawing from negative because you haven’t built up a relationship as yet,” said Jim.
Here are three things that you can put into the Relationship Bank: Satisfaction, Trust, and Time.
Satisfaction: When you are doing things with your child, both of you must be satisfied. Your child might be enjoying himself, but then you might be sitting there looking grumpy. “For a relationship to be built, both parent and child should be happy to have spent time with one another. Talk to your child first. Find something that both of you will enjoy,” advised Jim. Mutual satisfaction must be derived from the activity to build a relationship.
Trust: During an experiment in the 1970s conducted at Stanford University, children were led into a room, where a treat of their choice such as a cookie was placed in front of them. The children were allowed to eat the cookie, but were told that if they waited for 15 minutes, they will be given a second cookie. In follow up studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of the children who chose to delay eating the cookies were found to be significantly more competent by their parents and obtained higher SAT scores.
This is described as “delayed gratification” – where those who could wait long enough for the preferred rewards were found to have better life outcomes. “It’s a matter of trust,” Jim said. “Children need to believe that they will definitely get a reward if they delayed being satisfied immediately. Never break a promise to your child. They’ll remember it!”
Time: Parents often associate building a stronger bond with their children with “quality time” with the family. It’s easy to see why. Many parenting experts and gurus on self-help websites, books, videos and even famous quotes say so. However, other studies now support the concept of “quantity time” which preaches that parents should spend more time with their children. Other experts, however, feel that children need both “quality” and “quantity time”.
“Children are often not as focused as adults when it comes getting things done,” said Jim. “It’s better to spend more time with your children so that they have more time to get close to you. More importantly, parents need to drop the idea that “I don’t have time”. Parenting is a commitment, and parents have to make sacrifices for their children.”