It's a no brainer: The secret to creating a close connection with your kids is in taking the time to develop your relationships. That means building conversations with your children. Making them your highest priorities by paying attention to what happens between you, seeing things from their point of views and remembering always that although they may grow big and tall, they will always be the precious baby you welcomed into your arms each day.   

Being close to another human being takes work, says Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids (TarcherPerigee; 2012). The closeness of the parent-child connection throughout life results from how much you connect with your baby from the beginning. 

Research shows that parents — specifically fathers — who take a week or more off from work when their babies are born have a closer relationship with their child at every stage, including the teen and college years.

But good parent-child relationship don’t just spring out of nowhere. Luckily, we are biologically programmed to love our babies and for them to love us. But almost all parents whose children are grown say they wish they had spent more time with their kids. So, let’s get started.

Earliest Conversations

The house is quiet. Baths are done, teeth are brushed and your child is settling under the covers. You perch beside him on his bed and wonder how you can extend this moment. The answer: pose a mellow question to ponder together.

While not every night may be so leisurely, bedtime tuck-in starting when your child is very young offers the perfect setting for engaging in thoughtful conversation.

The comfort and security of the bedtime routine allows kids to open up and share from the heart. Use this special time with your child to explore dreams, aspirations and bucket-list goals together.

Try mulling over one of these questions before you switch off the light:

Conversation Starters

• If you had a whole day free to do whatever you want, what would you choose to do?
• Who is your hero?
• Name one person you would like to be like. Can you tell me why you chose that person?

• What do you look forward to being able to do when you get a little older?
• Where would you most like to go on vacation? What would you want to do there? 
• What is something you would like to learn to do or spend time getting better at?
• Who would you most like to spend a day with, just you and him or her?
• What do people most look up to you for?
• What do you hope one day people will admire about you?

Go ahead and tell your child your answers to the same questions, as time allows. Adding this exercise to his bedtime routine from time to time will take your parent-child bonding to a new level. Plus, you’ll have a whole new group of ideas for activities to pursue together.

Deeper Conversations

It’s not just at bedtime when you can pursue your relationship with your child — there are ample opportunities all day long to help you tighten your relationship.

One way is to teach him HOW to become a conversationalist. There are three simple basics (see sidebar) to making that happen, says Kerry Mehaffey Mataya, co-author of Talk With Me: A Step-By-Step Conversation Framework for Teaching Conversational Balance and Fluency (AAPC; 2017). Take your time as you ease him into understanding the value of communication. It will serve you both well in life!

3 SIMPLE BASICS OF GOOD CONVERSATIONS TO ROLE PLAY

1) Asking Questions

Teach your child to use “w” words like “who,” “what,” “where,” “when” and “why.” Let him know that follow-up questions can show people he is talking to that he is interested in what they are saying.

2) Telling Stories

Teach your child to tell stories — and tell stories yourself so that he learns (the best way). For example, tell a story about the recent trip you took to the zoo together or another fun event. Take your time, and be watchful of his tendency to tell stories that are too long.

3) Making Comments

Making comments during conversation means you’re listening and responding — as long as you’re not interrupting or being rude. Demonstrate for your child how a comment made at the wrong time in conversation can sound like you’re not interested or make it appear as though he’s not listening.

TIP: Always give praise and positive feedback for effort. It’s best when role playing with your child to immediately give praise about what he did well. Look hard to find any small, yet noticeable sign of conversation improvement.

— Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer and mom to three girls.