Strengthen Your Family Relationships

Relationships that Help Kids Thrive


Sometimes we think parenting is most a set of strategies and techniques we use to shape our kids. But—at its core—being a parent is primarily about having a powerful relationship with a child who becomes a teenager, and then an adult. But what do those strong family relationships look like? What can we do in our families to be intentional and proactive in ensuring that our relationships continue to be positive and powerful as our kids grow up, even as we each grow and change?

Through extensive research with families across the United States, Search Institute has identified five keys to that help young people be and become their best selves. Many people can have these kinds of “developmental relationships” with children and youth. But mothers, fathers, and other parenting adults have central and powerful relationships that typically begin before childbirth and continue throughout life. The challenge and opportunity is to work together to keep those relationships strong, flexible, and resilient as each person grows and changes. We created Keep Connected to help you do just that.

What Are Developmental Relationships?

Developmental relationships are connections through which young people be and become their best selves. Relationships between parenting adults and their children are particularly powerful developmental relationships—though many other relationships are important and powerful, too.

There are five elements—or five keys—to relationships that help kids grow, learn, and thrive. They are:

  • Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
  • Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
  • Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  • Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  • Expand possibilities—Connect me to people and places that broaden my world.

Learn more about specific actions you can do in relationships to help kids thrive.

Take a quiz about these five keys in your family. Invite other family members to do it too. Then compare results.

What Strengths Do Families Experience in their Relationships?

In 2017, Search Institute asked 671 parenting adults across the United States to reflect on their relationship with their child. Most parents say they Express Care, Challenge Growth, and Provide Support for their kids. They are less likely to say they Share Power and Expand Possibilities. What about your family? Take a quick quiz to check your own relationships. Have other family members do it too, then compare your perspectives.

Why Do Developmental Relationships Matter?

Parents who have stronger relationships with their children are more likely to say that their children, according to a Search Institute study of 1,085 U.S. parenting adults with 3 to 13 year olds:

  • Take personal responsibility for their actions
  • Are motivated to learn
  • Manage their emotions well
  • Experience fewer behavioral problems, such as throwing temper tantrums or fighting
  • Help other people
  • Are hopeful and have a sense of purpose

Read more research on the power of family relationships.

Explore Your Family Relationships on Keep Connected

Keep Connected is designed to help you strengthen relationships in your family, particularly between parents and kids. Two ways you can get started:

  1. Take a quiz to see how you see relationships between yourself and your child or children. Then invite other family members to try it, too. Compare results, then decide where you want to focus.
  2. Pick the key to relationships that is most interesting or challenging to you:
Research Sources
  1. Ben-Eliyahu, A., Rhodes, J. E., & Scales, P. C. (2014). The interest-driven pursuits of 15 year olds: “Sparks” and their association with caring relationships and developmental outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 18(2), 76–89. doi:10.1080/10888691.2014.894414.
  2. Borawki, E. A., Ievers-Landis, C. E., Lovegreen, L. D., & Trapi, E. S. (2003). Parental monitoring, negotiated unsupervised time, and parental trust: The role of perceived parenting practices in adolescent health risk behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33(2), 60–70.
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