I once heard Josh McDowell speak. He made the statement, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” I believe that this statement is extremely well said and accurate. As parents, we must all work to truly build a relationship with our children and not just be the local drill sergeant. So the question remains, what can you do to build a relationship with your children when you have a house full of kids of all different ages and some whom you may have only known for a few weeks or months? The key is to purposely provide opportunities for a relationship to develop and understand it takes time for this to happen. Some of the simple ways you do this include taking the kids shopping one on one, tucking them in at night, and reading to them as well as doing family devotionals and spending meal times together. However, we have found that there are a few more deliberate and simple ways that you can begin to develop a relationship with your children.
One idea is to try to take a child out to eat each week. (For some children, these lunches may need to be only with the same gender parent or in small groups with two or three children.) Let the child choose the restaurant and do not use this as a time to correct behavior or tell them ways that you feel they should improve. Simply spend time with the child and get to know them. Talk about school, likes and dislikes, whatever hobbies they have, etc. This works two fold. In addition to helping build a relationship with the kids, it gives the kids more experience in observing how others act in social settings. Even if a child has pages (click Super Simple Strategy for Discipline to find out more), I still allow them their turn in the rotation. The only time they don’t get to go is if they are in a significant amount of trouble and are spending the day in their room because they are too disruptive to be around the other kids.
We also try to find simple and deliberate ways to show the kids that we love them. At night, sometimes I place a small inexpensive gift (favorite candy, lip gloss, etc.) in a paper gift bag with their name on it. I do this for each child at the same time and have different yet comparable presents inside the bags for the kids to find the next morning. I do this regardless of whether the kids are in trouble or not. I want them to know they are loved and included no matter what they have done. I place the gifts randomly and as a surprise.
Other times, I write an individualized compliment or words of encouragement on a sticky note to each child and place the note on the bathroom mirror. When the children wake up, the notes are the first things they see. For the longest time, there was a huge array of sticky notes that covered the children’s bathroom mirror. I also noticed that even after the notes were taken down, some of the kids had saved them as a keepsake.
A great book to read about expressing love to others is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He has also written the book The Five Love Languages of Children. The point of the book is that different people feel love in different ways. The love languages mentioned include spending quality time together, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and gifts. The basis of the book is that people feel most loved when you are “speaking their love language.” In other words, you are relating to them in the way they best understand and appreciate. People have a primary love language which is how they most easily feel loved and then one or more secondary love languages that also make them feel loved. Children and adults typically express love in their primary love language. For instance, a child whose primary love language is gifts, may often bring you a dandelion or color a picture for you. A child whose primary love language is acts of service, might offer to do the dishes or cook dinner for you. If their love language is quality time, they always want to spend time with you and might even offer to help you cook or do work around the house in order to spend time with you.
We selected these activities to do with the kids based on The Five Love Languages because we felt that if we did these things for all of the children, we would relate to their primary love language at least part of the time. We tried to vary the activities so that they were based on a particular love language. For instance, taking the kids out to eat directly relates to quality time but can easily be used for words of affirmation toward the child if you take the time and effort to compliment them. The gifts on the bathroom counter, of course, relate to gifts. The individualized shopping trips could be considered gifts as well as quality time. The sticky notes correspond to words of affirmation. It is easy to do acts of service for the child by randomly offering to help them with a chore, helping with homework or assisting in a class project. When you bake something for the class, some kids view this as both a gift and an act of service. Also to children whose biological parents never took the time to cook homemade meals, simply cooking wonderful meals for them could be considered an act of service. Physical touch is slightly more difficult; many of the kids have been sexually molested and may be uncomfortable with physical touch. You should respect their boundaries but realize that other kids may need physical touch. Something as simple as a high five, pat on the back or a hug at just the right time can really help. The point is that as a parent you must make the effort to build a relationship with your child and share your love with the child in the way that they can best relate.