Connecting with Kids at Any Age

June 25, 2009

Family game time

From 5 to 25, kids are different at every age. Here are some experiences from parents across the spectrum, offering ideas for building a strong relationship.

The bond between you and your children will always be strong, but how you interact with them changes over time. A few parents share their experiences connecting with their kids from age 5 to 25. Here's what they have to say.

Christy

Children: Jack, 8; and Cecelia, 5

My kids are always expressing themselves in different ways – through playing with Legos, making science experiments, or playing the drums. It may not be of interest to me personally, but I always try to participate in their lives on their level - their interests and activities. Being actively involved in things that are important to them strengthens our relationship and creates wonderful memories that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

I try to make sure they understand "real life" and how things work from an early age. By giving them small age-appropriate doses of reality, they grow up learning along the way and aren't shocked when they become an adult. For instance, part of their allowance is set aside to donate to charities at the end of the year. I also try and help them understand that they need to take care of their toys and our family's "things": the money used to repair or replace items may impact our ability to buy something else they want.

Also, I think it's important to demonstrate that you're a whole person, not just a parent, and you need things like "date night" and grown-up time. Kids need to see that you have your own life and interests. This is harder to do when the kids are young because they're so dependent on you, but still important for your sanity.

Most importantly, no matter what they come to me with, they get my unconditional love and acceptance.

About the author

Christy is the brand advertising manager at Humana. But she measures true success by another role – parenting – often quoting Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." Right now, she and Jen, her partner of 14 years, spend much of their time camping out with their kids in the backyard, reading Junie B. Jones books, and swimming at the neighborhood pool. Christy also loves travel, interior design, and collecting vintage Trixie Belden books.

Mark

Children: Liam, 15; and Breck, 12

There's a fine line between connecting as a friend and being a parent. I'm lucky in that I have common sports interests with both my sons. We watch soccer and baseball games together, and as a family we play golf and tennis. It gives us time together which can lead to discussions about school, friends, and other parts of their lives. Both of our kids have made very good choices in friends and we try to make our home an inviting place for them to come over and play games, watch movies, or just hang out.

My wife and I try to stay involved at their schools so that we're aware of the academic challenges they face. We each drive one of them to school and we use this time to ask about their classes, schoolwork, activities, and friends. At home, we try to create an atmosphere of openness, to build trust while maintaining parental authority. We let them know we're here to help if they have questions about things they encounter while "growing up." We try to demonstrate the behavior we expect from them, so that we're modeling and not just demanding. One of the hardest things at this age is to remember that they're still kids and to let them be kids. They want to grow up so fast and we have to protect them from that.

About the author

Mark is manager of Brand Copy at Humana. In addition to activities with his family, Mark plays guitar with Humana's "house band" and plays soccer in Humana's "Human League."

Kirk

Children: Adam, 25; and Hannah, 23

When my son and daughter were pre-school age, we were sensitive to giving them full and equal choices. But even with all options available, my daughter always seemed to pick pink, preferred ballet over soccer, and reached for dolls – not trucks. Yes, girls and boys often have very different tastes and interests, but I think it's important to give them the same opportunities.

I really enjoyed being involved in school trips and extracurricular activities, but I usually checked with the kids first – just to make sure I was giving them enough space to be themselves. Who wants another family member always looking over your shoulder? Parents can be involved without smothering. My children always had the freedom to let me know when they felt the need for independence.

It's important for both parents to have a unified front, even through a divorce like my own. It's not fair to turn your problems into their problems. Children need to understand that they're not the cause of marital unrest.

I'm a big believer in keeping the lines of communication open – especially on the tough and potentially embarrassing topics. The discussion may seem awkward at the moment, but later on when something really big crops up, you'll be able to talk through it because you've had practice!

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