Why Is “Relational” Parenting That Important?
by John Trent and Dewey Wilson
It’s been thirty years now since the first personal computers and cellphones began infiltrating almost all aspects of our everyday life. We’ve been dealing with technology long enough now to begin understanding the risk factors that we didn’t recognize early on. No doubt, parents from the 1950s eventually learned that smoking in a car with the windows up was damaging (or smoking in general, much less around children). Parents today, in their heart of hearts, are beginning to understand the need to put down the screen and start relating more with their children in a way that builds personal, loving relationships.
But the real challenge is how do you build stronger relationships with your child once you put down your phone!
The great news is that you can help your children experience and create positive relationships by learning and modeling what they need to learn in your home. In the process, you’ll discover how they learn and how prepared they are for real-world experiences like relating well with others in the workplace, social settings, and even their loving relationships in the future. Becoming relationally intelligent will have a positive impact on their health and future.
Consider an eye-opening study out of UNC-Chapel Hill showing your children’s life expectancy is linked with their ability to be relational.1 Drawing on the research of four major studies concerning health and longevity, the lack of close-knit, face-to-face relationships is now actively linked with high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer risk! Conversely, these negative physical measures all go down as you help your child experience and learn to build close relationships and friendships. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! You are giving them life when you teach them to be relationally intelligent.
Yes, there are significant benefits to having screen-based relationships. We’re not asking you to ceremonially smash your smartphone. But what we are asking you to do is take time to learn how to build healthy relationships by being willing to first put down that digital screen. When you do, you’re not only benefiting your health and that of your children, but you are also influencing the imprint of their perspective on whether they had a “happy” or “unhappy” childhood.
A new study on childhood memories found the memories most linked with a happy childhood didn’t involve how many major vacations or “cool experiences” parents provided for their children, nor the number of “things” they were given.2 Being happy in childhood wasn’t even linked to the absence of negative or difficult experiences. Instead, emotional happiness was linked to the very same thing that impacts their physical health: the degree of connected, caring relationships in their home!
The quality of your children’s relationship with you at home is more important than any cruise or theme park trip. The memories of individuals who knew they were deeply loved and cared for as children, even in a less-than-perfect home with failures and challenges (like most of ours), are the happiest and most remembered in adulthood.
Our definition of relational intelligence is an ability-based, applicational understanding of this phrase. How you can gain tools, examples, and insights to apply when relating and connecting closely with others. How you can model relational intelligence with your children as they watch you apply these relational skills as a parent and person.
The five elements of relational intelligence listed below are progressive in that each element is foundational for the one that follows. In the same way it is virtually impossible for your child to run a race without first learning to walk, we know that developing a secure attachment with your child is foundational to every other element. A secure attachment encourages and enables them to fearlessly explore their world! Because they’re going to fall when they explore, through getting up and going again, they develop an unwavering resilience as a child. All of which leads to them making wise decisions and having a future-focused perspective for serving others as teenagers and adults.
• 1st Element—The foundational need for SECURE ATTACHMENT
• 2nd Element—Which paves a way for fostering FEARLESS EXPLORATION
• 3rd Element—Resulting in an UNWAVERING RESILIENCE that’s needed to overcome real-world relational challenges
• 4th Element—Which becomes the platform for WISE DECISION-MAKING that’s essential and crucial for developing self-regulation
• 5th Element—With the end goal of seeing life so hopeful, it empowers FUTURE-FOCUSED SERVING of others.
Becoming relationally intelligent through face-to-face, in-person relationships is harder than posting a perfect social media picture or selfie. However, it is also immeasurably more beneficial to your children when you teach them how to engage, explore, love, serve, and relate well with real people!
1. Yang Claire Yang et al., “Social Relationships and Physiological Determinants of Longevity across the Human Life Span,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 3 (2016): 201511085, https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/113/3/578.full.pdf?-b028-4462-9bf9-ba6=.
2. Krystine I. Batcho, “What Will Your Children Remember about You?,” Psychology Today, June 18, 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ longing-nostalgia/201506/what-will-your-children-remember-about-you-0.
Adapted from The Relationally Intelligent Child: Five Keys to Helping Your Kids Connect Well With Others by John Trent and Dewey Wilson (©2021). Published by Northfield Publishing. All rights to this material are reserved.
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