When I think about prevention and parenting, I think about connectedness. We find connectedness in multiple areas in the science of prevention. Connectedness can help protect children from the risks they face in their everyday lives. A key part in connectedness between parent and child, is a clear understanding that connectedness and friendship are different. Children need connectedness with parents and friendship with well, friends. This way, a parent can successfully fulfill the role of a parent without blurring the lines and confusing a child (does a friend give a clear curfew, or make sure a room is cleaned before going out?).
To explain how connectedness can lead to a healthy child, a parent can help a child develop or strengthen a skill, then provide that child with an opportunity to use that skill, and then recognize the child for successfully using the skill in a meaningful way. Those 3 steps of: skill development, opportunity for use, and recognition lead to bonding between the parent and child. Through that bond, a parent is able to set clear standards and rules which will lead to the adoption of healthy behaviors.
The more often parents use the 3 skills steps, the stronger the parent-child bond, and the more likely healthy behaviors are used. That means a lower likelihood of at-risk behaviors. Now, let’s think of how we can make those bonds even stronger. What if as a parent, we entered the child’s world and allowed that child to use those skills steps on us? We can give the child a ball and play by the child’s rules. They get to teach us the skills, give us an opportunity to use the skill, and recognize us for success. Some researchers refer to this as “child’s game”. As we participate in “child’s game”, we can model the positive behavior we’re trying to teach our children and strengthen our connectedness with them.
Finally, in order to strengthen our connectedness, we obviously need to spend time together. Here are some ways to do that:
- Eat together as a family; every additional meal eaten together reduces the likelihood of a child engaging in harmful behaviors.
- Create opportunities to use skills development.
- Spend time in your child’s world. That may mean playing video games, trying skateboarding, or listening to new music.
- Pass along some of your favorite things to do. They may not like fishing, or shopping, but they’ll appreciate being with you and that you want to be with them too.
By Rob Timmerman
Rob Timmerman is a graduate of the University of Utah with degrees in Behavioral Science & Health and Sociology with a Criminology Certificate. A Substance Abuse Prevention leader for over a decade, Rob has parlayed his experience mobilizing communities and building coalitions into his position as a PFS Region Prevention Director working with Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele counties. Mr. Timmerman serves on a number of community and statewide boards and councils including the Utah Prevention Advisory Committee, Utah Evidence Based Workgroup, Utah State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup, Parents Empowered Workgroup, and is a founding member and advisor to the Utah Prevention Coalitions Association.