Key Principles for a Healthy Relationship with Your Child

Published on 19 June 2024 at 16:30

Building a constructive and loving relationship with your child requires a strong foundation of mutual understanding. While we often overlook some crucial elements of empathetic communication, it’s important to continually remind ourselves of these essentials to foster a healthy connection with our children.

Understand That Your Child’s Rational Brain is Still Developing

To understand a child’s behavior, it’s crucial to remember that their rational brain is still developing. The rational brain, responsible for imagination, creativity, reasoning, and emotional regulation, is the most developed structure but also the youngest evolutionarily. At birth, it’s not prepared to function fully, which is why children cannot communicate their feelings or handle them without adult help.

The reptilian and mammalian brains, responsible for basic survival functions and strong emotions, are more developed at birth. As parents, our task is to help children connect with their rational brain by recognizing and validating their emotions. Instead of saying, “Stop crying!” or “Calm down!”, try acknowledging their feelings: “I see you’re upset,” “Are you feeling sad?”, or “I’m here with you.” This approach helps children understand and express their emotions healthily.

Recognize That Your Child is Not Manipulative

Many adults find it hard to bear a child’s crying and may perceive it as manipulation. There’s a common belief that children cry to get their way and manipulate their parents. However, extensive observations and research show that a child’s crying is not manipulation but a call for help, closeness, and support.

Neuroscientific research indicates that young children’s brains are not capable of the complex thought processes involved in manipulation. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for cognitive processes related to thinking, is still developing in young children. Therefore, children cannot rationally analyze situations, predict consequences, or manage emotions and thoughts effectively.

When someone suggests that your child is manipulating you, remind them that it’s biologically impossible. A child’s brain simply isn’t developed enough for such behavior.

Assume Your Child Has Good Intentions

When children express difficult emotions, it’s a sign they are trying to address an unmet need. Their outward behavior—whether it’s crying, screaming, or throwing things—represents the best-known way for them to communicate that need. As parents, it’s vital to understand that these actions are not intended to hurt or defy us but are rather attempts by the child to take care of themselves.

Our perception of a child’s behavior is influenced by deeply ingrained beliefs about child-rearing and development. Instead of thinking, “What is he doing?” or “He’s doing it to spite me!”, try reframing your thoughts to “He’s having a hard time,” “He needs my support,” or “He’s trying to take care of his needs.” This shift in mindset helps break the cycle of emotional reactions and judgments, allowing us to better support our children.

For instance, when you see your child throwing toys off the shelf, describe the situation calmly without judgment: “I see you’re throwing the toys on the floor. It’s making it hard for us to walk through.” This approach helps to distance ourselves from the situation and opens up opportunities to genuinely support our child’s feelings and emotions.

Express Your Emotions Skillfully

Children learn by observing, listening, and imitating. When they are around adults who openly discuss their feelings and accept themselves and others, they adopt similar attitudes and communication methods. Recognizing that all emotions are integral parts of every person helps children learn to name and understand their feelings, which is essential for well-being and positive relationships.

Supporting a child’s emotional development involves building a close bond with them and being an authentic adult who also experiences and navigates various emotions. How we, as parents, handle strong emotions provides children with important information about how they can react in similar situations now and in the future.

Forgive Yourself

As parents, we often make mistakes in parenting and communicating with our children. Even though we know how to talk to them and respond to their needs, we still stumble. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, making it hard to forgive ourselves.

Instead of focusing on unconstructive criticism of our impulsive behaviors, it’s better to ask ourselves what needs we were trying to meet. Understanding our motivations can help us choose better tools in similar situations in the future. When we react impulsively, it’s important to have an internal dialogue, understand our stance, and forgive ourselves.

Afterwards, talk to your child about what happened. Apologize for raising your voice or lacking patience, and gradually return to a relationship full of understanding, mindfulness, love, and unconditional acceptance. This acceptance is the foundation of a good relationship and a healthy, successful life for both us and our children.

Parenting is a journey full of challenges and learning experiences. By assuming good intentions, recognizing the developmental stage of your child’s brain, skillfully expressing emotions, and forgiving ourselves, we can build a strong, supportive, and loving relationship with our children. This foundation is essential for their healthy development and for fostering a deep, lasting bond.


1. Magdalena Bocko-Mysiorska

2. Dr. Margot Sunderland -What Every Parent Needs to Know

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