Our kids go through a lot of changes as they transform from tweens to teens. In addition to a host of physical transformations, hormones and social factors frequently trigger personality changes. Most parents are sad to leave the simpler days of raising little ones who seemed to care mostly about playing and who were generous with affection.

As parents, we often forget that our little kids still lurk inside in our teen’s brains. While they’re desperate to everyone else around them that they’re becoming mature adults, they continue to be motivated by the same factors that affected their behavior and sense of well-being as children.

Whether your child is five or fifteen, there are four critical factors in creating healthy relationships with them. Not surprisingly, those factors are at the heart of a particularly effective therapy approach known as Theraplay. Concentrating on all four factors allows parents to become more effective at meeting their children’s most important emotional needs, helping them deal more positively with new experiences and other people, thus preparing them for what life has in store as they grow into adulthood.

The first, structure, protects and guides young ones and teens alike. Kids and (especially) teens may angrily push back at rules and boundaries, but the reality is they appreciate knowing where those boundaries are. That’s because clear boundaries provide a zone where they feel safe. Our role as parents is to define and manage those boundaries consistently. When we do that, our kids get better at self-regulation. Structure says, “My world has safety; therefore I am safe at home.”

Engagement is the next factor. It’s all about connecting with your child in positive ways and letting them know they are truly important to you and others. We need to make children and teens a priority, encouraging them to try new experiences and paying attention to how those experiences affect their behavior and emotions. It means looking into their eyes without the distraction of devices. It means listening to hear and being curious about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Engagement says, “I am important, and I matter.

Nurturing may seem like an obvious component of parenting, although it’s one some parents struggle with, especially if their parents weren’t particularly warm. When you nurture your child, you reassure them you’ll care for them, even when they’re reluctant to ask. It’s more than hugging. Nurturing demonstrates your love for them and willingness to be there no matter what they encounter. Nurture says it is okay to have emotions, and that those emotions aren’t wrong. Nurture strengthens self-esteem and self-confidence and it says, “I am loved and I am lovable.

Finally, it’s important to challenge kids. Childhood and adolescence prepare us for adulthood, where a key element is taking risks and trying new things. When your kids try something new and succeed, they gain feelings of competence and mastery that help them approach future challenges with confidence and resilience. Challenge teaches resilience and independence and it says, “I am confident and capable of trying new and difficult things.

The key to structure, engagement, nurture, and challenge, isn’t perfection. It’s consistency and it’s consistency in all four areas, rather than perfection in just one or two. It’s natural for us as parents to lean toward one or two of these, and kids still need all four. Maybe you’ve been trying to do these things with your kids and have not been feeling successful as a parent? Maybe you want more insight into building your relationship with your kids? Our professional counselors are ready to hear more and to offer proven strategies you can use with confidence. Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart, so no need to go it alone. We’re here to help. Call today.

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