Six ways to strengthen your relationship with your children during the holidays

Parent and child receiving donation clothes and toys

Parents play a vital role in the lives of their children — one that impacts their physical, mental, and emotional well-being into adulthood.

“Our relationships with our children serve as a blueprint that guides their relationships with others throughout their lives,” says Jo Hariton, PhD, of the Social Skills Training Program for Children and Adolescents at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Westchester Behavioral Health Center. “Having a positive connection with parents helps children feel good about themselves, and serves as a building block to help them form healthy relationships with others.”

Sometimes, however, relationships go awry for a host of reasons. The good news is that it’s never too late to make inroads to repair them. “Teaching a child that mistakes can be made and then corrected shows them that parents are not perfect; everyone can make mistakes. But the most important lesson it shows is that you are committed to your relationship to your children — and they will sense this from your actions,” notes Dr. Hariton.

Our brains are wired to connect with those around us, and parents can serve as positive role models in strengthening those connections, particularly within the family. Despite the demands associated with the holidays, it is a good time to jump-start everyone’s yearning for a warm and inviting family environment.

Some tips:

  1. Create holiday rituals: This can be anything from making holiday cookies, wrapping presents, picking out the tree, having game night, or relaxing after a holiday meal when the whole family is present. Put aside your cell phones and spend real time creating positive family dynamics.
  2. Uphold family traditions: Kids love to hear stories about how the holidays were celebrated when their parents were growing up. Don’t worry if these stories are repeated, as they become part of family lore that kids love to know about. Let them ask questions, show them photos, and talk about the extended family that is a part of their heritage.
  3. Give back to the community: Helping children learn the value of community service can be a regular tradition at holiday time. Helping in a soup kitchen or packing warm items for the homeless, selecting a charity that they would like the family to give to, or contributing to an environmental cause are all ways to instill the idea that they are part of a broader community. Depending upon their age, the kids can do some research to select the charity for their gift list. Their choices should be celebrated and talked about as a family.
  4. Practice the art of conversation: Given these turbulent times, the family is even more important as a safe haven in an insecure world. Let the kids express their worries and help them develop perspective. Make room for this type of discussion even in a season when everyone thinks they should be merry. Children feel more secure when they feel listened to and guided.
  5. Take time to de-stress: If you, as a caregiver, become stressed by all there is to do, take time to relax, so that your stress does not become misdirected toward your children.
  6. Make space for family time on a regular basis: In the big picture, it is the most important gift that you can give your children. Learn to recognize your child’s expression of emotions as a way to help them connect with others. A weekly family meeting can be a good way to keep communication open and to problem solve when needed.

Finally, Dr. Hariton notes, “There is always room to grow with regard to good parent/child relationships. Following these simple tips can prove very effective in creating a family dynamic that is positive and productive for all involved.”