By: Dr. Emily Nichols, Psy.D.
Have you ever found yourself giving your child the same direction multiple times to no avail? Do you find yourself getting into power struggles with your teen more often than you would like? It’s no secret that these negative interactions can have quite a toll on the parent-child relationship. When arguments happen, caregivers often feel like they are trapped in an endless cycle that leaves them feeling frustrated and defeated. The good news is research has shown that spending just 5-10 minutes of “special time” with your children each day can improve the parent-child relationship.
So how does one do special time? With PRIDE! The PRIDE acronym represents some handy skills to keep in mind when spending quality time with your child. Here’s a breakdown of the various PRIDE skills and how to use them:
Praise your child’s behavior
Praise is all about expressing approval to your child. When giving praise, aim for it to be specific, sincere, and process-based. The idea is we want children to become flexible learners who are encouraged to develop a growth mindset and try new things, which is why it’s more helpful to praise the process of your child’s efforts over the actual outcome. Here are some do’s and don’ts when praising your child:
Use specific and descriptive praise (e.g. “ I like how you’re carefully putting your toys into the toy bin”).
Sincerely praise behaviors you want to reinforce (e.g. “It’s generous of you to share your snack with your sibling” or “I appreciate how flexible you were when we made a change of plans”).
Praise their efforts and process (e.g. “Great job using different strategies to solve that math problem”).
Use generic language (e.g. “Good job!” or “Nice work!”).
Be overly lavish or praise easy tasks. Overpraising can actually reduce intrinsic motivation and lead to entitlement. Kids may feel they are superior to others and will be unwilling to work unless praised.
Focus solely on their achievement or ability (e.g. “You’re so smart; you should definitely be valedictorian” or “You’re the best soccer player on the team!”).
Reflect your child’s talk
When we reflect, or repeat back what we hear children say, it demonstrates that we are listening and that we understand them. It also gives them an opportunity to lead the conversation. For children and teens, this fosters their sense of autonomy and boosts their confidence. It also provides validation, which further strengthens the parent-child connection. Here are examples of how to reflect:
Child: “I did it all by myself!”
Caregiver: “Yes, you did it all by yourself!”
Teen: “I’m so mad at her; she completely betrayed me!”
Caregiver: “It’s so frustrating to feel like you can’t trust a friend.”
Imitate your child’s play
It’s easy to get caught up in making sure children are doing things the “right” way. One of the most common instances this comes up in is when kids are coloring. Adults are quick to encourage children to color in the lines. When practicing PRIDE skills, we encourage you to actually imitate your child’s creative play as a way of bonding. Is she coloring outside of the lines? Join her by scribbling a little on your own paper and watch your child light up. Are they pretending that a spatula is a paddle they can use to row down a river? Grab some tongs and start paddling too! There’s a reason they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
This applies for teens too! Next time you catch them playing Candy Crush, download the game and start swiping! Doing so will demonstrate that you are interested in what makes your adolescent happy and it will also give you some common ground to discuss.
Describe your child’s behavior
For young children who seem to move a mile a minute, taking the time to describe their behavior can actually slow down their play and help them organize their thoughts. Think of yourself as a sportscaster narrating a play-by-play of your child’s actions. Behavioral descriptions lead to mindful moments where you and your child become more focused on the activity. Describing your child’s behavior can be as simple as saying, “You’re blowing bubbles” or “You’re rolling the play-doh.”
Enthusiastically engage with your child
When we show enthusiasm while playing with our kids it tells them that we are enjoying this special time with them. Not only will your enthusiasm demonstrate a vested interest in your child, it will also help model positive emotions and further strengthen the relationship.
You can demonstrate enthusiasm with teens too! Did you go on a special outing together? Let them know you enjoyed yourself by saying, “That was so fun!” or “I’m really glad we got to spend some time together.”
What to Avoid When Using PRIDE Skills
Remember, special time is all about strengthening the parent-child relationship. It should be held daily, regardless of a child’s behavior. This demonstrates unconditional positive regard for your child which can be especially powerful when there are a lot of negative interactions. To keep special time fun and child-friendly:
Avoid Questions and Commands
Although well-intentioned, asking kids questions about their school day, friends, or other subjects during special time can disrupt the flow of fun. Questions and commands take away the child-led portion of the play and can inadvertently come off as criticisms. For example, if your child goes for the coloring materials and you ask, “Don’t you want to play with the puzzles?” it may give your child the impression that they are doing something wrong.
Avoid Criticisms and Corrections
Parental criticisms, which indicate a lack of approval, can have undesirable effects on children. Common criticisms include, “You’re doing it wrong” or even “Cut it out!” These statements can create a negative environment and even a power struggle if they trigger child misbehavior.