By Catherine Segars, Crosswalk.com
How can you eat better, sleep better, exercise better, work better, play better, spend better, save better, serve better, worship better, and pray better? Those are very good questions to ask at the beginning of a new year.
But how can you improve your relationship with your kids this year?
Now that’s a question for parents to put at the top of the list. That is why I addressed this question in the first episode of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD this year.
On CPCW, we spend a lot of time counteracting the onslaught of secular ideology and theology that is coming against our children in an attempt to subvert their faith, and that is critically important work to do. But we can’t really help our kids with those vital issues if we don’t have a solid relationship to start with.
So in episode 52, I share 12 ways to improve your relationship with your kids this year. These ideas aren’t revolutionary, nor or they rocket science. They are practical and simple. They just take a little time and effort.
In this article, I share 8 of those relationship builders. To hear all 12 suggestions including the question every parent needs to ask their child, listen to the latest episode of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD.
To improve your relationship with your kids this year:
1. Cook a meal together.
Something special happens when we eat a meal together. And something special happens when we cook one together too.
My husband did this with the kids during the Covid lockdown, but this is a fun thing to keep doing for everybody. He let each kid pick a special meal that they wanted to cook.
One kid picked German schnitzel, which is a pork cutlet. It was awesome and good for, like, five extra pounds. Another kid picked homemade meatball lasagna. They made everything from scratch—the meatballs, the pasta, the sauce. My husband is Italian, so there was a bit of family heritage passed on here.
Try making a dish that has some meaning in your family or your lineage. Or make a dish from a place you’ve always wanted to go. Get cultured.
My husband happens to be an amazing cook, but even if you aren’t, give it a go. You can always order a pizza if your efforts fail, but find something your child would like to make. It can be pancakes—but do it together.
2. Read a book together.
Of course, we do this with our younger kids, but make it a point to do this with your older kids too. I love this idea because I’m a reader, but if you don’t like to read, you can always listen to a recorded book.
But here’s the key—let your child pick the book. Then read it separately if your child is old enough or together if they aren’t, and then talk about it with each other. Set up a coffee date or, if your child is younger, a lemonade date. If the book is fiction, talk about the theme, the characters, the setting, and the plot. If the book is nonfiction, discuss the ideas and how successfully the author imparts wisdom or makes his or her case.
My oldest daughter has already picked a book for us to read together this year. She loves philosophy and has studied a lot of significant thinkers, but she hasn’t engaged directly with many of their works. I’ve taught her to investigate original sources in order to form her opinions (one of the seven guidelines I offer for challenging our culture in episode 29 of CPCW), so she picked The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The ideas of this prolific French philosopher were behind the French revolution and have led to the pursuit of pleasure as the chief goal of life. Clearly, this man’s ideas are antithetical to our faith, but I support my daughter’s pursuit of understanding this man’s thoughts in his own words, and I want to investigate his works with her. So, we are taking this philosophical journey together. We will compare Rousseau’s ideas to the truths found in Scripture and objective reality.
Find a book that interests your child and go on that journey together.
3. Have a regular game night.
Turn off the telly and have an old-fashioned game name. Put together a puzzle. Play Rummikub. Break out a deck of cards and play Gin or Rook or Spades or Hearts. Learn how to play Bridge. Go old-school with Monopoly or play the newer classic Settlers of Catan, a favorite in our house.
The laughter our family has experienced playing Apples to Apples has probably extended all of our lives. After all, Scripture says that “a cheerful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22) Games for smaller groups or families are hard to find, but Cribbage or The Lost Cities are a perfect choice.
Find some games and make a regular date for game night this year.
4. Learn something new together.
Find something that interests your child and take a class. Sometimes the local library offers free courses on various topics, or you can find a series of YouTube or Netflix videos that teach a new skill and attempt to do it.
I’ve always wanted to try to paint like Bob Ross. (He’s the artist who loves to paint happy little trees.) Every time I watch that guy, he makes me feel like I can paint. I probably can’t, but he makes me think that I can. And I just happen to have a child who is a huge fan of Bob Ross.
So, for my daughter’s birthday later this month, I’m going to get some canvases, some oil paints, and some brushes, and we are going to attempt to paint like Bob Ross—together. Our paintings may be hideous, but it won’t matter. Because we are going to laugh like crazy and paint like Bob Ross. We will create a forever memory and hopefully some happy little trees.
Find something that you and your child can learn together and create a masterpiece, or make a hilariously epic fail. It doesn’t have to be drawn out for eight weeks—it can just be a Saturday afternoon. But plan to learn something new together and make a memory.
5. Go for a walk.
This one is so simple, and yet we often get too busy to go for a nice stroll with our kids.
I was struck in my conversation with Jennifer Ellers last year in CPCW’S episodes on teen suicide, episode 49 and episode 50, about how mental health is greatly improved by physical activity. New research is showing that regular exercise is as effective or even more effective than anti-depressants for anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. I know this to be a fact for myself, having struggled with anxiety and depression for 17 years. Regular exercise really helps.
Why not do that with your child?
You can do this with little kids. You can do this with big kids. You can do this with adult kids. And while you’re walkin’, take out the earbuds and do some talkin’. You will be glad you did.
6. Give an “atta-boy” or “atta-girl” every day.
This one must be strategic because we often forget to do this regularly. I’m always harping on my kids about how messy their rooms are, how much laundry they haven’t washed and folded, or how behind they are in school—but I forget to tell them what they are doing right.
Get in the habit of giving your child a word of encouragement often, and this will go a long way toward strengthening your relationship.
Check out episode 37, “Seven Ways to Bless Your Kids with Words,” for some pointers on how to encourage your kids with your words.
7. This one is so important… have a regular heart-to-heart.
Make it a point to regularly check in with your kids. Put a recurring event on your calendar every week or two, then sit in their room and ask how they are doing. Ask about their relationships. Ask how school is going. Ask about their feelings. This is the time to ask how they are really doing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
In CPCW’s two-part series on teen suicide, Emma Benoit, who is a very rare survivor of a suicide attempt, said it would have made a huge difference if her parents had inquired about her emotional and mental health.
We need to do this strategically. Regularly. Ask if your child is feeling anxious or depressed or stressed out. Ask if they are worried about the future. Ask if thoughts are getting stuck in their head.
And at some point—ask each child if they have ever thought about ending their life. I know that is a hard question to ask, but ask it anyways. In our interview, Emma made this shocking admission:
“I think that if someone would have asked me, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’[or] ‘Have you ever had a thought of harming yourself?’ that I would have certainly opened up about it… It would have made it ten times more real, and it would have prevented me from making the decision.”
You will never regret asking if your child struggles with thoughts of ending their life. But you might regret not asking it.
Sometimes our kids are suffering mentally and emotionally, and we just don’t know it, so ask how your child is doing without any expectation of a positive response. We want our kids to know that they can talk about anything with us and that we are here to help.
8. Pray the Word of God over your kids.
This one you don’t do with your kids. You do it for your kids.
We need to be speaking the Word of God over our children. We need to pray the Bible over them. Scripture is the espresso of the prayer world. It is not watered down. There are no artificial sweeteners or fillers. It is completely pure. And it is perfect for prayer.
I covered the topic of prayer in episodes 13, 14, and 15 of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD, and I have recently put together an index of 70 Bible verses alphabetized by topic that you can pray over your kids this year. Pray this verse for protection. Pray this verse for renewal of the mind. Pray this verse for godly friendships and this verse for wisdom. It is super practical. You can receive this list as a free resource by subscribing on my website.
Nothing is more powerful than praying the Word of God over your children. And nothing will build a better relationship.
Want Tips 9-12?
To learn all 12 ways to build a better relationship with your kids this year, and to hear the one question that every parent needs to ask their child, check out episode 52 of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD.
If you try even half of these suggestions, you will build a stronger relationship with your kids in 2023.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, podcaster, and motherhood apologist. This homeschooling mama of five has a Master’s Degree in Communications and is host of Life Audio’s Christian Parent/Crazy World (named 2022 Best Kid’s and Family Podcast by Spark Media), a podcast that navigates through tough cultural and theological topics to help parents establish a sound Biblical foundation for their children. She is also an award-winning writer whose regular articles on family, faith, and culture reach hundreds of thousands of readers. You can find Catherine’s work at www.catherinesegars.com.