The parent-child relationship begins the first moment you meet, but it changes in subtle ways throughout your lives. The way you parent a newborn isn't the way you parent a teenager and it can be confusing to know how and when to change your behaviour to suit your current situation. Building a strong relationship when they are small also helps to create a foundation for when they grow up. Here we'll look at how to build a strong parent-child relationship during the toddler years.
If there's one thing that people, but especially children, fear most, it's the withdrawal of love. For a child, love is the source of the care that they need to survive, so the need for love is instinctive and built in. Find ways and moments to tell your child you love them every single day. When you're watching TV, playing, cooking dinner, and especially when they are not behaving beautifully. It's important that they know that your love is not conditional upon perfect behaviour.
This might sound like hokey, but hear us out. People are naturally drawn towards certain types of emotional expression. Some prefer hugs, some like gifts, some people love it when you change their tyres. Kids - even toddlers - are just little people, they just sometimes lack the vocabulary to tell you. So you'll have to do some digging. Generally, the way that people show love is how they prefer to receive it. If they freeze up when getting a hug, physical affection may not be their thing. If their face lights up when you put your phone away and sit on the floor to play, they probably value quality time. Once you've worked out how they receive love the best, you can find ways to express it to them in the ways they love it the most, getting the most bang for your emotional buck.
This might sound like a weird one, but saying no is sometimes the best way to show your child love. Toddlers especially need boundaries to help them learn about their world. Some people think that they love the ones who give them free reign the most, but in reality, being in charge and allowed to do whatever they want is sort of scary for toddlers. Pushing boundaries is their way of figuring out the limits of their world and fighting them is how they work out who loves them enough to hold those boundaries."
Following on from holding boundaries is the necessary expression of difficult emotions. Toddlers have lots of very big emotions. The world is a big and often very confusing place for them. Tantrums are often their way of venting the emotions when they get too big to hold onto. Holding boundaries allows toddlers a wall to flail against, giving them an easy out for those enormous emotions. But they also need to know that their emotions are welcome. Be calm in the face of their screaming and crying, acknowledge the feelings and let them slide off you. The tantrum is very rarely because of not getting the toy or having to leave the park. It's usually something else entirely, but saying no to the toy or making the child leave the park is just the outlet they need to let those feelings out.
Bedtime is a great time for rituals, but maybe you have an early morning ritual, or something else. Any time that you do something predictable, stable and provide time for closeness and connection is a good daily ritual. For example, reading books and snuggling before bed is a great daily ritual. Or maybe spending 10 minutes on the floor playing first thing in the morning before starting with the morning routine. It doesn't have to be a huge parade or time commitment, just something special that invites connection.
There are so many ways in which you can build and strengthen your relationship with your toddler. We hope these help you to develop a relationship that strengthens you as much as it does your child. Approaching your relationship with your child with empathy, compassion and love is the first step, and all these habits are building blocks. Parenting is incredibly hard work, but it's the moments of love and connection that make all the admin parenting worth the toil.