We were never meant to take care of children whose hearts we did not have, and that includes our teenagers. When they are not in right relationship with us, their instincts are to resist us, to oppose us, to shy away from us.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld

Dr. Neufeld’s work in attachment theory has been instrumental in the way I now view children, childhood and my role as a parent. Specifically, my understanding that children are not meant to follow those to whom they are not attached was a pivotal point in my journey as a mom. What does it mean to have your child’s heart? Let’s clear up the misconceptions first.

First, being in the right relationship, or securely attached, does not mean that you must always do what makes your child happy.

There will be times when your parental decisions do not please your children, yet you know your decision is in their best interest. They are not yet mature enough to understand this, but you are, and this is why they are entrusted to you.

Attached parenting is not about walking on eggshells so as not to upset your kid, but rather it’s about standing confident in the truth that you are your child’s best bet, the one who knows what they need and how to take care of them, and you do so with a quiet strength and assured gentleness.

Secondly, having your child’s heart does not mean you are peers or are on level playing field.

It does not require you to give up your authority as a parent, and in fact enables you to have true, genuine authority rather than forced authority. When you have your child’s heart, they trust you. They look up to you. They follow your lead intuitively and this is how parenting was meant to work.

Unfortunately many of today’s parenting practices sabotage this in favor of a false or forced authority. We threaten to take away the things that mean the most to them or we withdraw the invitation for them to be around us until they do what we want them to do, and this power play gets results but breaks the heart ties.

Lastly, having your child’s heart does not mean that there is never any conflict.

Even a parent and child who is connected at the heart will have moments of disconnection. Troubles will still arise from time to time because such is the case when two or more imperfect humans are in relationship with one another. However, having your child’s heart does greatly improve cooperation and peace.

Here are 21 ways to reach your child’s heart.

1. Listen with the intent to understand their point of view and feelings.

2. Speak to them respectfully, even when you issue requests or correct them.

3. Believe in their goodness and tell them that you believe.

4. Put away your devices and distractions and spend time focused on them.

5. Read to them.

6. Hug them often.

7. Ask “How can I help?”

8. Correct without criticism.

9. Speak life-giving, encouraging, affirming words to them daily.

10. Play what they want to play.

11. Show them that their opinions are valuable.

12. Thank them for their contributions to the family.

13. Let them hear you speak kindly of them to others.

14. Empathize with their emotions, even the tough ones.

15. Be silly with them. Laugh a lot. Let them remember your smile.

16. Greet them warmly.

17. Allow room for mistakes.

18. Call them by a special nickname.

19. Be generous with your “yes” and confident with your “no.”

20. Tell them stories from your youth so they’ll know you better.

21. Show interest in the things they care about.

This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.