A research study by the University of Cambridge has found that kids who enjoy loving, close relationships with their parents are more likely to exhibit empathy and positive social behaviours.
Good relationships change lives
The researchers followed 10,000 children for a decade as they grew up, and found that those who had close, happy relationships at home as children became kind and friendly by 17.
However, the children who struggled with abusive or difficult relationships with their parents did not display such positive social behaviours. They also were more likely to develop mental health issues including anxiety and depression during childhood.
‘Our analysis showed that after a certain age, we tend to be mentally well, or mentally unwell, and have a reasonably fixed level of resilience,’ said Ioannis Katsantonis, a doctoral researcher at the University. A big influence appears to be our early relationship with our parents. This affects our future disposition to be kind and helpful towards others.’
The study also showed that children who have close relationships with their parents at age 3 were less likely to suffer from mental health concerns as they grow up.
Parenting is key
‘So much of this comes back to parents,’ Katsantonis said. ‘How much they can spend time with their children and respond to their needs and emotions early in life matters enormously. We should not underestimate the importance of simply giving them time. Closeness only develops with time, and for parents who are living or working in stressful and constrained circumstances, there often isn’t enough.’
How can you develop a closer relationship with your child?
With the evidence showing that close, loving relationships between parents and children are key, how can you nurture your own? Here are some simple ideas:
Spend a little time with your child every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. You could engage in an activity of their choosing, play a game, or even just sit together and catch up. This shows that you are interested in them and are keen to connect. If you are a separated parent, keeping in close contact will achieve the same outcome.
Get involved in their interests
Is your child a keen baker, or mad about Lego? Spend some time at the weekend getting to know what they enjoy about their hobby, and do it together.
Plan fun things do together, just the two of you
Even if finances are tight, you can still spend special time out and about. A teenage daughter might love to go and get a coffee and cake with dad, or you could take your son to the park to play basketball for an hour. Taking time to indulge their interests makes them feel special.
Do kind things for others
A great way to nurture kindness in kids and empathy for others is to give time or items to charitable organisations. You might wish to make a charity Christmas shoebox together, for example, or clear out some old toys and give them to a charity shop.
Family dinners are important
When you can, ensure that you enjoy having dinner together with no tv or phones. Family dinners are proven to be instrumental in forging strong bonds between parents and children.
Time spent together as a family
Life can be incredibly busy for all the family, so set aside time for you to be together. The little things are important- a dog walk, or a board game. Those seemingly everyday occurrences are the moments that strengthen relationships and bonds.