Building Relationships with Your Kids: Bring Them Alongside

My mother was an avid cross-stitcher. She especially loved to stitch designs for Christmas ornaments that we would hang on our tree. My siblings and I still have many of these ornaments on our own trees today. I remember watching her many times sit on her bed with a hoop in her lap and a design book beside her. Eventually, I ended up sitting with her with my own hoop learning how to stitch myself. She would give me my own design to do while she did hers. We spent many hours together like this, just talking and stitching.

My father was a tinkerer and loved to learn new things. One night he brought home a Tandy 1000 – a real novelty in the home in the mid-1980s. He was a car salesman at a local dealership and somehow convinced his management that he could write a program to handle their finance office needs. Many nights were spent in our “breakfast nook” – which became the “computer room” – reading manuals and experimenting with MS-DOS and BASIC. There I was again, right on his hip watching, learning and reading right along with him.

Teaching Kids - The Mama Zone
Mom bringing me alongside, circa 1978.

These moments with my parents were priceless. I cannot look at those ornaments and not think of those times spent with my mother. I owe my current livelihood to my father allowing me to learn along with him. They invited me alongside what they were doing.

For the parent, there can be a real tension in these moments – the tension between investing in the relationship and accomplishing the task. Let’s be real – anyone who has baked a cake with a 7-year old knows it will take MUCH longer with their “help”. We’ve all been guilty of shoo-ing them away in the interest of efficiency. How do we navigate this tension?

Don’t get angry at mistakes, show them how to learn from them.

How we react to our children’s small mistakes is a good indicator to them of how we will react to their big mistakes. If your child feels you are a safe place to mess up when they’re hammering a nail, they will feel more confident to approach you when they’re failing a class or run the family car off the road. Talk to them about what you did when you made the same mistake – and how you learned to fix it.

Settle down inside and accept the extra time it’s going to take.

Impatience can be averted when we learn to make this small mental adjustment. Once you’ve invited a kid into the picture, the goal has largely changed from accomplishing a task to investing in a relationship – it’s going to take more time. They easily sense our frustration with their fumbling and spilling, but if the goal is now relationship those moments slide by much easier.

Know when to say when.

Sometimes the frustration or time constraint is just too much to overcome and we must develop the skill of answering an eager child with grace. Statements like “Hey, you do these next two measurements and then I’m going to finish it up.” or “I would love to do this with you, but we can’t today. Can we work on XYZ together tomorrow?” Empathy goes a long way here. Sharing a child’s disappointment still connects with them emotionally and shows you value them and want to spend time with them.

Something satisfying happens when you focus on relationship rather than task and bring your kids alongside. You, as the parent, get to impart something of yourself. You get to demonstrate wisdom, knowledge, and confidence. The kid gets some great things too – they get to learn a new skill and forever associate that skill with the one who taught it to them.

Jason Williams

Jason Williams is a father of four and husband of one.  He’s an elder in his local church, enjoys board gaming and has been developing software for over 30 years.

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