Building a Strong Relationship With Your Child

Learn how to build a strong relationship with your child. It's about appreciating who they are and what they have to offer- fart jokes and all! via

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Image credit: J Schackai

That Moment You Realize Your Children Are Their Own People

When I was a new mom, I was full of ideas of what my children might grow to be like. I spent hours staring at my babies, thinking about the intelligent, independent thinkers they would become.

As they grew older, I saw that they were smart and so curious! But they were also strong willed and often frustrating… and far more demanding than I had imagined in my immature fantasies of motherhood!

They wanted me to “play” all the time! And not interesting games, but to get down on the floor and pretend that I was a “mama cat” or a “pet store owner” to indulge their fantasies of being furry animals. They wanted to me to read to them; not just Beatrix Potter stories, but “Doctor Dan the Bandage Man” for the ten-thousandth time!

How to Respect Who They Are While Guiding Them to who they Might Become

I have learned that being a parent is less about exposing my precious little protégés to science and culture (though I still strive to do that)… but more about letting them discover the world on their own terms while encouraging them in their discoveries (however tedious those interests may be at the time).

A wonderful psychiatric nurse I used to work with had a saying, “You’ve got to meet them where they’re at.” It’s so true, whether you’re talking to your patient or your own child. If you want to connect with someone, you need to recognize where they are developmentally and emotionally and be ready to meet them there.

Sometimes this means getting down on the floor to be a mama cat, and sometimes this means appreciating the humor of poop jokes when you’re learning about the workings of the human body. It’s about being receptive to the interests of your child and joining them in their enthusiasm so you can strengthen your relationship.

Disclosure: Excuse the messy house. I was a single mom and full-time nursing student at the time, whatdoyawant?

Man Cub the Scientist (learning about the working of the circulatory and digestive systems).  As a full-time nursing student when this video was made in 2011 or so, I was all about teaching my kids about the workings of the human body, and they ate it up! Man Cub’s favorite part was always the pooping.

How do you build a strong relationship with your child?

50 free printsFor children to grow up confident and healthy, they need to feel validated and respected. They need to believe that you value what they have to offer the world, even if it’s very different than what you might be offering.

As the parents of young children, it’s not always easy to appreciate what they are interested in or what they find funny, but it is very important if you want to build a strong relationship with your child.

Your Kids Are Trying to Connect With You Already. How Are You Responding?

John Gottman and Julie Gottman, both doctors (and, yes, they are married), coined the term “emotional bids” to describe certain transactions in relationships. While their research focuses on relationships and marriage (and what makes them or ‘breaks them’), the concept of bids translates well to parenting.

What are “bids?”

When your child turns to you with excitement to tell you about something they saw or heard, when your child asks you to look at what they are coloring, or when they tell you yet another fart joke… that is a ‘bid’ for connection.

When you turn toward your child and respond with interest, you are making a deposit in your ”emotional bank account.” These small interactions add up to build a strong relationship of mutual affection and security between you and your child.

What message do you send when you accept a bid by responding positively? Here is Dr. Gottman’s answer:

When you “turn towards” bids, the bidder hears:

“I’m interested in you.”

“I hear you.”

“I understand you (or would like to).”

“I’m on your side.”

“I’d like to help you (whether I can or not).”

“I’d like to be with you (whether I can or not).”

“I accept you (even if I don’t accept all your behavior).”

What message do you send when you respond negatively?

Conversely, if a child’s bids are often rejected – if a parent or caretaker responds with “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?” or “That’s not funny! That was inappropriate!” they weaken the relationship, making the child feel rejected and creating a sense of insecurity.


I was never the type of girl who burped aloud or laughed at fart jokes. I am now, thanks to my son. Those burps bring such delight to my son when he “catches” me and shares a laugh about it!  You shouldn’t discount even these small interactions for what they are: your child’s “bids.”

Bids are invitations to share a moment together – they don’t have to be a big production, but they still “bond” the two of you!

One of my son’s favorite “bids” is to approach me and say, “I have something for you, Mama.”

Then I always say, “You do, Man Cub? Oh, what is it? I love surprises!” Very often, this is a hug or a kiss on the cheek. He is a very affectionate little boy.

But about one in ten times, he farts as loudly as he can and giggles hysterically! At this point, I could put on a mom voice and frown or lecture him on manners, but I don’t.

“Oh, Baby, I love it!! Thank you!” I say. Then we both laugh hysterically!

The thing is, he knows that farts are inappropriate. That what makes them funny! Reminding him of that won’t teach him much except that I don’t appreciate his sense of humor – and that I don’t care about the fact that he just sought me out during the day to find me and pull me in for a good laugh. That is what a ‘bid’ is.

“The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children.” – Dr. Gottman

A Strong Relationship Builds Respect

Man Cub knows that I’m reasonable and that while fart jokes are allowed at home,  when we are out in public, I would not find such jokes amusing. And because of this close relationship, he is more motivated to respect those rules. (That being said, he does sometimes blurt out things due to his ADHD impulsivity, but he is usually receptive to a reminder and it goes over well because of our basis of goodwill.)

Creating this solid relationship also creates a foundation of trust for when I ask him to respect certain rules. I usually get good results when I say to the kids, “While we’re out for dinner tonight, we all need to be on our best behavior. We need to keep our hands in our laps, use inside voices, and use ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ This is a grown-up place with grown-up rules. If you have a question about anything, ask me privately. We can talk about everything on the drive home, okay?”

Being present with your kids is a gift.

Being responsive does not come naturally to all parents, and Adult ADHD can contribute to this problem if a parent gets hyperfocused and is unapproachable. Awareness about this can help, but it may be necessary to create specific “work hours” or set up interventions to reduce distractions so the parent can be more available.

Distracted parents and rejected bids leads to insecurity.

The problem is that when a child’s bids are rejected, the child him or herself feels rejected. Over time, this causes decreased self-esteem, insecurity, and contributes to problem behaviors that are meant to “test” a parent’s affection or caring (but can make things worse).

When a child feels distant or insecure in the relationship with a parent, it causes anxiety and resentment, and most psychologists agree that it contributes to lifelong difficulties in forming secure relationships with others.

How to Meet Your Kids “Where They’re At”

We all want to build strong relationships with our kids and we all want them to grow up confident and secure in their relationships with their parents. Luckily, this doesn’t require paying for private school or being a stay at home mother. You don’t have to be available all day every day, just make the most of the time you do have with them.

What you need to do to build a strong relationship with your kid is to “turn toward your child” by responding to their bids (and making your own bids). Give them the gift of your attention and affection.

Here are some ideas:

  • Laugh with them. Pay attention to what they think is funny and why.
  • When they show you something they made or found, find out why they like it.
  • Ask their opinions! You’ll learn so much about how their minds work, and it will start so many interesting conversations.
  • Sing songs with them. Make up  some songs! Show them what you were like as a kid!
  • Learn something together. Make mistakes and look silly together! (I recommend the ukulele!)
  • Give your kids physical affection. Hugs and nose kisses are precious to children.
  • Ask them to show you their projects. Show them how impressed you are.
  • Talk to your kids what they want to be when they grown up.
  • Pay attention to their hopes and fears, and be someone they can trust with their secrets.
  • Listen to their favorite radio station with them and learn who the singers are, even it’s not your taste.
  • Read books aloud together. Take turns choosing your favorites.
  • Do a puzzle together. Talk and see where the conversation leads.
  • Enlist your child’s help to cook or bake. Kids love to feel helpful.
  • Do a craft projects together.  Follow my Pinterest Board below for ideas!

Follow The Distracted Mom’s board Crafts on Pinterest

A final tip:  When you are busy, explain that you want to talk to them, but you need to finish your task first. Then set a time, and follow up with them! (Timers are useful for this.)

It comes down to this: To build a strong relationship with your child, get on their level and get to know your children for who they are, rather than who you want them to be.

Give them your attention and show them you care.  The rest will follow naturally.

If you liked this post, please help a new blogger out and share this on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.    Thank You!

Suggested listening: I recorded a podcast on this topic with Trey Gibson, Founder of The Family Podcast Network On Real Family Guy’s Podcast. Listen here!!

Suggested Reading: 40 Ways to Be Present in Your Child’s Day by @TricaGoyer for

Finding Joy Through a Child’s Eyes by Katie from the girls at – @doublethebatch

In Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman, PhD, psychology professor John Gottman explores the emotional relationship between parents and children. It’s not enough to simply reject an authoritarian model of parenting, Gottman says. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child is a guide to teaching children to understand and regulate their emotional world. And as acclaimed psychologist and researcher John Gottman shows, once they master this important life skill, emotionally intelligent children will enjoy increased self-confidence, greater physical health, better performance in school, and healthier social relationships.


Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission that helps support the site. I only link to products or services that I use or am very familiar with and that I would personally recommend to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

About Carolyn

I'm Carolyn Mallon, RN, and I have ADHD. I'm also parenting at least one ADHD child, so it makes for quite an adventure! I don't have all the answers, but I certainly share the challenges of many ADHD parents! I started this blog as an exercise to help us improve our game at home and at school. Join us!

24 comments on “Building a Strong Relationship With Your Child

  1. Great article. What I’m very interested in is how many “bids” do we truly need to respond to? I’m thinking of “intensive parenting” here – and the idea that parents are supposed to be attending to their kids 24/7. At what point is it appropriate for the child to tell your child that you are busy and they need to play on their own without interaction from you, even if you are “just” busy taking time for yourself? Is it harming children to sit down with a cup of coffee and take time to read an adult book while your kid plays on the playground without you paying rapt attention to them and their “bids”?

    • Great question and an important point. No, I don’t think a parent needs to respond to every bid, nor do I think that would benefit a child. Kids need to learn to respect boundaries and understand that people need time to themselves and to finish their conversations sometimes. It’s really more about being approachable and receptive in your interactions, and being more aware when you might be inclined to dismiss your kid.
      I tell my kids plenty that I’m doing something just now. Or I invite them to help me do the work I’m doing (like folding laundry) when I explain that I can’t go outside just then, so they know I’d be happy to spend that time together, but I have this task to finish first.
      And as an ADHD parent, I get hyperfocused on other things and often need to remind myself that stopping to look at the new Lego construction or to fly kites in the park really IS more important than checking my email for the 100th time that day! It’s funny the things I can call “work” in my head that are just the grown up equivalent of video games: email, LinkedIn, my blog…

      The point is to remember that kids don’t often “pester,” they reach out in a bid for connection. And as often as we can (with respect to the work we need to do and the limits we should set for our own self care), we should show them we care. Unless they ARE pestering! Then we should tell them that whining doesn’t work!

      (Long response. I can be long-winded!)

  2. Thinking about building a relationship in terms of emotional bids is so helpful. And I’ve been surprised at how soon potty humor has made an entrance in our house! My daughter isn’t even 2, and she thinks burps and farts are hilarious. And you know what – so do I! It may be kind of gross, but it’s well worth it to share a laugh with her.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. It is right on target. So often it is easier to push our children away with “I’m busy”. But far too soon, they will be busy too and these days will be gone. Thank you for the reminder! Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you found the post inspiring! I try to keep these reminders in the forefront of my own mind, too, because it’s easy to slip into, “Not now, I’m busy!”
      But you are right: these moments with our kids, right now, THIS is what matters!

  4. Another amazing post, I am such a fan of Gottman and his work and this is inspiring me to grab the book I’ve had on the shelf for a while and dip into it again over the holidays. Sometimes life is so distracting that we can miss the ‘bids’ our kids make – thank you for this reminder!

  5. I first read the Gottmans’ stuff in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, a great read. Their research about the Love Lab and how they could predict divorce just by observing the interactions of couples for a few minutes was really fascinating and drove home the message that you have to take responsibility for your own behavior and attitude in a relationship. Great stuff!

    I’m so glad you liked the post! I hadn’t seen anyone apply the same principle to kids before, but it made sense to me!! The Gottman Institute shared this article on their Facebook page, which really made me proud!!

  6. What a wonderful post thank you for sharing with us at #AnythingGoes. I love your comment “Get to know your children for who they are rather than who you want them to be”. That is so hard when you want the best for them so it is great advice. Thanks again.
    Sue recently posted…Anything Goes #10My Profile

  7. I have unique relationships with each of my children…they need me for very different reasons although sometimes I think it is only for money :) As I am getting ready this week to take my son to college, I have to say that having him as an “only child” for the past few years since my daughter went to college really gave me the opportunity to cultivate a bigger, better, stronger relationship that I don’t think we would have obtained had the birth order been reversed. Thanks for sharing via #AnythingGoes
    Beth recently posted…When Lightning Strikes, Build A Sense Of CommunityMy Profile

  8. I had all these goals and plans and then I got divorced (note that this wasn’t in my plans).

    When I had kids, I tried to do the same thing except that I had Triplets so there were so many things that we could do that would be extra special. And then I lost my son (this was obviously not in the plans either).

    Nowadays, we take every day as it comes. I understand how precious life is and you can’t have yesterday back. While I’m not perfect, I try and accept my kids for who they are and help guide and support them to become the people they want to be.

    Thanks for the tips on how I can be an even better person and in turn, wife and mother.

    Besos, Sarah
    Journeys of The Zoo
    Sarah De Diego recently posted…WIN at our Weekly Canadian-Friendly Giveaway Linky (Ends 6/30)My Profile

    • It sounds like you’ve had *quite* the journey. My own journey has been a long one, and I had a surprise divorce, too. I suppose they usually are, but some come as more of a shock than others!
      I’m sorry to hear about your loss of your son. That is something I can’t even imagine. I’m sure your kids are blessed to have a mother who recognizes how precious the time is that you have together.
      I’ll visit your blog and subscribe there. Thanks for stopping by and following on Twitter, too!

  9. Carolyn,

    Thanks for another great post. I am so glad you joined the blogging world. Your perspective is much needed in this dialogue!

    As a busy working mom, I find out can be so easy to start putting off my kids because there is so much to do. This is a really helpful insight that we have to make the time for the important stuff and think about how our interactions are affecting our children.

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  10. Carolyn, thanks for such a beautiful post. i really love the point where your said about “Children need to feel validated and respected”. I strongly agree with what you said. As i have two kids, i know how important is to have a respect show towards the little one. I am happy that there is someone who is good enough to write about the real values that the children should have. Thanks again for sharing this. I also came across another article ( ) in the same genre and i loved it to. Carolyn, i would really like to see a same kind of article in your words. you words have made me follow you.

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