How to Bond With Your Children: Strategies for Closeness

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "1-2-3 Magic" by Thomas W. Phelan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Do your kids see you more as “the enforcer” than “Mom” or “Dad”? Would you like to have more time and energy to give to the relationship with your kids?

Clinical psychologist Thomas W. Phelan knows how important it is for parents and children to have strong bonds. His book 1-2-3 Magic includes parenting strategies that let you spend less time managing your child’s behavior and more time enjoying your relationship.

Read more to learn how to bond with your children and get closer than ever.

Bonding With Your Children

Too often, parents spend a ton of time and effort trying to get their kids to stop doing what they shouldn’t do and start doing what they should do. Then, they have little time and energy left to just enjoy each other. Phelan provides strategies for directing child behavior and then shifts gears to share advice on how to bond with your children.

Phelan explains that having a deep, loving relationship with your children has two main components: being a sympathetic listener and enjoying one-on-one time with your child. Let’s take a look at each.

Sympathetic Listening 

Being a sympathetic listener means listening to your child with the intention of trying to see things from their point of view. As Phelan explains, your only jobs are to understand the way they experienced a situation and then to relay your understanding back to them to make sure you got it right

Sympathetic listening often begins with a simple, open-ended question or comment from you. With each comment or question, your goal is to deepen your understanding, not to teach a lesson or draw your own conclusions.

Sympathetic listening is often more easily said than done because it requires a great deal of parental self-control. As Phelan explains, there’s no place for parental judgment or opinion in sympathetic listening. Therefore, even if you’re disappointed or angry about how your child handled something, you need to stay focused on understanding their perspective rather than launching into a lecture about how they should have known better or providing your ideas for how to solve the problem or make amends.

There are many benefits of sympathetic listening. One is that it can help kids process and thus let go of negative emotions. When you communicate to your child that you understand why they were feeling upset, it honors their feelings about a situation, even if you’re not a fan of their actions. Another benefit is that sympathetic listening can help you avoid being an overbearing parent. When you refrain from lecturing, judging, and problem-solving for your child, you’re helping them build their self-esteem by showing them you trust them to independently handle setbacks and make good decisions.

Enjoying One-on-One Time

Phelan writes that having quality one-on-one time is integral to a positive relationship with your child and benefits your child’s brain development. Therefore, it’s important to carve out time to simply enjoy each other’s company, showing your kids you not only love them—but you also like them. 

Phelan notes that it’s OK to replace some time spent as a whole family with this quality one-on-one time. While family time is also important and often enjoyable, one-on-one time allows kids to have your undivided attention, eliminating sibling rivalry and other distractions that often detract from larger-group activities.

(Shortform note: If you’re not sure how to best spend this one-on-one time with your child, other experts offer suggestions: Put one-on-one time in your calendar and schedule it for the time of day that best suits your child. You don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary with your child; simply being with them is enough—you can even just join them in a favorite activity. And if you only have 15 minutes each day for each of your kids, that’s OK—just make sure you put away your phone and focus on your child. If you have multiple kids, feel free to schedule each one’s one-on-one time on a different day—but, as Phelan notes, you should aim to give each child individual attention to develop a healthy relationship with them.)

How to Bond With Your Children: Strategies for Closeness

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Thomas W. Phelan's "1-2-3 Magic" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full 1-2-3 Magic summary:

  • A simple countdown approach for disciplining your child
  • How to cultivate a warm and loving relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs are ineffective and don't correct bad behavior

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.