Parent-Child Relationships

Young children depend upon adults to provide care, comfort, and opportunities to learn and grow. For most young children, their primary caregivers are their parents. For other young children, grandparents, aunts, foster parents, or other adults are their primary caregivers who fill the role of parents. In this FAQ, we include all of these adults when we refer to “parents.” All young children benefit from consistent and stable relationships with their parents. The relationships children build with parents are an important foundation for the connections they will make with other individuals in their schools and communities. These family members form a “secure base.” Through family relationships, children learn to trust that others will be there for them and meet their needs. They learn to depend on routines as a source of stability and predictability. When children know their physical and emotional needs will be met, they are better able to take advantage of opportunities to explore the world around them.

What can family members who care for young children do to build strong relationships with young children?

Strong relationships with young children are built on a foundation of caring, concern, and predictability. Young children learn about their world through their interactions with important adults. When you are present and ready to respond to your child, she learns that other people are dependable and want to connect with her. Begin by setting up a consistent and sustainable routine so your child’s needs are met on a predictable schedule. Get to know your child by watching her play and explore the world. Notice the toys and types of interactions she prefers. Talk to her about the things around her. Find things you enjoy doing together, such as reading stories, playing with toys, or taking walks outdoors. The activity does not matter as much as the time you spend being together.

How will a strong parent-child relationship help my young child succeed in child care and school?

When parents are working, other caregivers such as teachers, child care providers, family members, and friends step in to fill that caregiving role. The effect of a strong parent-child relationship can be seen even when children are not by their parent’s side. Through daily interactions with parents, children learn to trust, take turns, and communicate. Children carry relationship skills and feelings about relationships into their relationships with other adults and children. When your child shares a toy with you and you praise her, she learns that it is good to share. She then wants to experience that positive feeling with her friends and other adults.

How can I make time to be with my young child when I have such a busy schedule?

Sometimes parents may feel like they do not have enough time to spend with their young children. Most parents balance multiple roles. In addition to parenting, they may be working, in school, or volunteering in their community. Even “stay at home” parents have to balance housework with child rearing. Parents may feel there is not enough time in the day and may have trouble making time to be with young children. Remember that everyday routines and activities are wonderful times to be together. Your child is learning by your side. Take time to think about how you can focus on your child while he is by your side during everyday activities. Instead of thinking of ways to distract children while you get things done, involve them in the process. Children are learning and connecting with you as they ride along in the grocery cart and you talk about the things you see in the store, help you sort out a basket of laundry, or help with tasks such as spreading jam on toast. For some parents, it helps to plan routines in which they focus only on their child. For example, parents might put their cell phones away to focus on mealtime or turn off the television, computer, or radio before putting the children to bed so they can focus on reading bedtime stories. Making these small adjustments can help parents find the time for meaningful connections with their young children.

Who can I turn to for help if I feel that I need support for my relationship with my young child?

There are many people and agencies that can help you build a strong relationship with your young child. First, you may contact your local school district, child care resource and referral agency, or community mental health center. They may offer child development information or parenting classes that can be helpful. Some of these agencies have a “warm line” that can connect you to resources in your area. You can also call your local child and family connections office if you have a child under the age of 3 and you are concerned about his or her growth and development. Your family doctor or pediatrician’s office may be another source of information and resources. The librarian in the children’s department of your local public library may also be able to help you find contact information and resources in your local community.