Close your eyes and imagine someone who helped you feel safe and cared for as a child.
Chances are, the care you felt wasn’t because of some fancy vacation or amazing birthday gift. You probably felt safe with them because they saw you during small, everyday moments—because they spent time with you and helped guide you through the unique challenges of growing up.
You can be that presence in your child’s life through family bonding. Whether you’re celebrating a special day together or walking through the mundane moments of life, spending quality time together can help form healthy parenting habits, family connections, and strong bonds. We’ll explore what healthy family bonding time can look like and how it can benefit both you and your child.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Bonding
When many people think of “family bonding,” they may picture a close family relationship, where family members are enjoying time together and making happy memories. But the term “family bonding” describes a lot of different scenarios and dynamics beyond the frame of the smiliest picture.
Healthy family bonding is honest. It can happen in life’s messy moments, like when your toddler is having a bad day, and you use it as an opportunity to help them learn how to cope with big feelings and practice communication skills.
Similarly, unhealthy family bonding can happen if parents pressure their children into keeping a family secret, or when a family undergoes a traumatic experience together and ends up developing harmful coping mechanisms.
Examples of Healthy Bonding
Healthy bonding with your child can unfold at a moment’s notice. Keep your eyes open to identify the emotional strengths of a child or for the moments where they express emotions or perk up at a topic that interests them. These are the moments when family bonding and healthy family traditions can foster.
Here are a few examples of what healthy bonding can look like:
- Fostering secure attachment – When your baby has consistent positive experiences with the people around them, they learn to trust people to take care of them, and as a result, develop secure attachments to their caregivers.1 Quality family bonding activities can prove as ordinary as taking care of your child’s needs and showing them warmth and affection every day.
- Supporting your child’s authentic self – One of the most significant ways to encourage healthy bonding is by showing your child that it’s safe to be themselves in the family. Children often feel the pressure to fit in, even in their own family life. “Fitting in” might look like a child feeling pressure to act a certain way so their sibling won’t make fun of them, or a pre-teen keeping their sexual orientation a secret because they worry their parents won’t accept them. Showing your child how to practice self acceptance and that you love and accept them exactly as they are can help them feel more comfortable being themselves around you.2
- Spending quality time together – As a caregiver, you may find the term “multitasker” particularly resonant with your life. To help encourage healthy family bonding, remember to breathe and slow down. Taking moments to focus on your child during quiet moments can help you form lasting bonds and encourage conversation. Examples of quality time include daily routines like family dinners, telling your child you love them, trying a fun activity like a game night, or even just playing together for a few minutes.3
- Repairing strained relationships – Sometimes we make mistakes and hurt people we care about. With healthy family bonding, parents and children try to make space to repair the relationship. For example, if you lose your temper with your child, try to wait until everyone has calmed down. Then, gently approach them, apologize for your behavior without making excuses, and explain your plan to improve to avoid making the same mistake. When you model how to repair a relationship, you’re not only taking steps to heal—you’re showing your child how to build fortified relationships.
- Spending time with your heart family – You might also hear “heart family” referred to as “chosen family.” Your heart family is the people you and your child choose to spend time with, because you love, enjoy, and respect them. You feel safe being your authentic self with them. For some of us, that can include our biological family. For others, it might include friends, caregivers, and neighbors. Spending time strengthening your heart family bonds can nourish you and your child in a way that makes you feel supported, loved, and seen.
How Healthy Family Bonding Can Support You and Your Child
Whether big or small moments, family bonding has the power to build connections that last a lifetime between you and your child. These positive connections ripple far and wide into their life: in school, in their future relationships, and in the way they connect with the world.
Creating Secure Attachment
One of the major benefits of family bonding and connecting with kids is the creation of secure attachment. Secure attachment is an attachment a child (or an adult) feels with a caregiver or loved one that makes them feel safe, secure, and loved.
Children who experience secure attachment to their caregivers tend to:1
- Show more willingness to explore independently and try new things
- Solve problems more effectively and have a more moderate reaction to stress
- Have healthier and more enjoyable relationships with others
Fostering Quality Time
Spending quality family time with your child can have similarly positive effects as a secure attachment style. Children who share regular quality time with their caregivers are:
- Less likely to have as many behavior challenges at school3
- Less likely to participate in risky behavior, such as drugs or alcohol3
- More likely to be physically healthy3
- More likely to learn important social skills4
- More likely to have higher self-esteem4
Spending quality time together can also improve your sense of well-being. We all can benefit from slowing down and spending time with the people we love—even heroic, selfless caregivers.
Family Bonding Opportunities
Now that we’ve covered some of the qualities of healthy family bonding—and how it can benefit your child—let’s explore some natural moments to nurture those connections.
You can strengthen your relationship with your child by:
- Sharing big feelings moments – It can feel overwhelming when your child has a meltdown or keeps misbehaving. But these big feelings can provide an important opportunity for you to connect with your child. Learning about and teaching emotions are important ways to encourage growth and foster connections with your child. You can help them learn to recognize their emotions by validating what they’re feeling. For example, you can say, “You’re sad because your toy broke” and then remind them that it’s okay to feel sad. Depending on the situation, you can patiently keep them company as they feel those big emotions, or you can help them practice calming techniques like breathing. Afterward, you can talk to your child about how to name the emotions they felt.
- Sharing about yourself – Many children love to hear stories from their caregivers’ childhoods. They’re curious about you! In addition to entertaining your child, sharing stories about your own childhood can help you remember what it felt like to be a kid. It’s a simple family activity for both of you to foster empathy and connect with your child.
- Designating family bonding times – When our lives become hectic, it can feel hard to strike up spontaneous family connection and bonding moments. It helps to build proactive time into your everyday schedule. Maybe you eat dinner together or read a book together before bed. In addition to your little daily routines, try to pencil in other time spent together, such as a few hours every weekend to play your child’s favorite game. Regular positive interactions can be a fun way to help your child feel secure in their relationship with you.1
Reading stories together about important emotions – We’ve talked about some of the emotional ingredients that can prove especially important for healthy family bonding, including authenticity, heart families, conflict resolution, and connection. You can help reinforce these ideas with your child by reading books that explore each of these topics.
For example, you can use Otter’s Heart Family and Otter’s Community Grows to help your child learn about connecting with others. Hammerhead Mad’s Not Bad can help your child learn to navigate big feelings and conflict resolution. And Unicorn Let Your Light Shine can help you and your child celebrate authenticity, in the home and out in the world. When your child sees characters experiencing the same emotions they do, it can help them feel understood.
Let Slumberkins Help You Practice Family Bonding
Family bonding may feel intimidating to approach, especially in the throws of a busy life. Not to worry. Family bonding moments are hiding around every corner—and sometimes even in plain sight. Your child can feel safe with you, open up to you, and bond with you more deeply than you could’ve ever imagined.
Founded by a family therapist and a special education teacher, Slumberkins creates tools that help parents and educators nurture early emotional learning in children. We believe that together, we can help children learn care, confidence, and resilience.
From our board books to our snuggler characters, each of our products is designed to help strengthen your child’s relationships with the people around them—from embracing our feelings to honoring our authentic selves. So that one day, when they’re all grown up, they can close their eyes and remember all the ordinary, extraordinary ways you helped them feel safe and cared for.
- "Secure vs. Insecure Attachment." Better Brains for Babies, Georgia Department of Human Services. https://www.bbbgeorgia.org/secure-vs-insecure
- Pace, Karen. "Help kids learn the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging." Michigan State University. 27 August, 2013. ”https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/help_kids_learn_the_difference_between_fitting_in_and_belonging
- Roudabush, Claire. "Why Spending Quality Time With Your Children is Important." South Dakota State University. Updated 9 April, 2019. https://extension.sdstate.edu/why-spending-quality-time-your-children-important
- Lam, Chun Bun et al. “Parent-child shared time from middle childhood to late adolescence: developmental course and adjustment correlates.” Child development vol. 83,6 (2012): 2089-103. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01826.x