10 ways to connect with your child
Updated: Mar 13, 2019
The most important part of parenting for me is connection with my children. Training them up with beautiful manners, academic excellence, sporting trophies, and all the extra mural activities is good and well, but as a parent, I believe that there is nothing more important than the connection with my children. Heck, perhaps I even need to let go of some things in my own life in order to foster a deeper connection with my kids. I am far from perfect, and most days I connect too much with my phone and too little with my kids, but connection is always my number one goal.
Most behavioural problems in young children are rooted in a lack of connection. When children can’t connect with their parents, and have a safe space to process their feelings, these negative emotions emerge in other ways.
Recently my friend Anja was really struggling with getting her 6 year old, Sarah, off to school. She was crying at the gate and refusing to go in, for no apparent reason. Friends suggested bullying or unhappiness at school, but that was not the case. It was a lack on connection with her mum. With three girls to get out of the car and off to their various classes, Sarah, her middle daughter felt abandoned and disconnected, and then Anja’s irritation had just made it worse. We were chatting and I reminded Anja that the most important thing, above all else, is that her little girl knew that her mom was on her side, 100% for her. This really changed her perspective and she has realised that her daughter just wants to connect with her before a day at school. She has changed her mindset and allocated an extra 10 minutes to the school drop off routine, to drop the other girls and then have a hug and walk her daughter to her classroom. Just this simple act of connection has made a huge difference.
If I think about my children when they leave home, I would love them to be happy and successful and smart, but most of all, I want them to be kind and I want to be connected to them, I want to be their friend, and I want them to know without a doubt that I have their back and am backing them 100%.
The authors of Hold On to Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, refer to the analogy of parents being a North Star to their children. The North Star is a bright star which sailors and explorers used to navigate and find their bearings. They would look up at the sky and find true north, and all other directions fall into place for them. You are your child’s North Star, and they orientate themselves around you, learn from you, and learn from their relationship with you. If children don’t develop a deep connection with you, their parent, this will affect the way they see themselves, and the way they connect with others for the rest of their lives. So how do you intentionally connect with your children? These are a few techniques I have learnt. I'm sure there are more but these work for us:
This is the kind of connection that you build on a day to day basis with your children, just like you maintain your car rather than waiting for a break down, we need to do the same with our kids.
1. One-on-one time every day
If you can schedule this quality time in on a daily basis, this is the best way to do it. It can be as simple as reading a few stories before a nap each day or squeezing in some time with one child while another one naps. Often it means noticing what your child is enjoying and doing it with them - jumping of the step together or playing doctor. Sometimes quality time can happen on the go too. It’s a half an hour drive to school with Lexi and it’s really tempting to listen to a podcast or catch up on voice notes, but I know that she is spending the while morning away from me which is still slightly stressful for her, so I try and connect by singing songs with her, or playing “I Spy” in the car.
2. Physical touch
Physical touch is so important, but when we are busy with errands and supper and homework, clingy children can be so frustrating. Try and be intentional about squeezing in as many hugs, kisses and cuddles as you can throughout the day. Getting down to the children's level is just asking to be jumped on and cuddled in our house. There will come a time when mom kisses are gross, so get as many as you can in now.
3. Speaking words of affirmation
Children become what say about them. I have witnessed how telling Lexi how helpful she is, has made her so much more helpful, because she really does believe that about herself. Even if you can’t be spending one-on-one time, or having a cuddle, you can look across the room and let your child know that you love seeing them playing so nicely, or building such great towers, or sharing so nicely with their siblings.
Remember that children do what they see you do, and so part of connecting with your children is sharing your emotions with them. Sometimes when I am feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, I shout at my kids. Other times, I take a deep breathe, get down to their level, and explain that I am feeling really stressed trying to get supper ready on time. I am modelling naming and processing emotions and I hope they learn from that, and not just the times I lose my cool.
5. Connect before transition
Transition times are especially hard for children to process; leaving for school, going to bed, or saying goodbye to a parent. Be proactive with connecting, rather than waiting for a melt down. If I know I’m going to be away from the kids, I make sure to squeeze in a story and a cuddle with each of them before I leave for the day.
These are the times when emotions are running high, there are tears, tantrums and your child may even be lying facedown on the floor. If we go back to the car analogy, you are broken down on the side of the highway with steam coming out the engine.
6. Get down to your child’s level
Getting down low and looking your child in the eye is so helpful for parents and for children. Children feel like their parent is connecting with them on their level, literally. As soon as you get down low, you stop and slow down, and it is easier to empathise with your child.
Listen to, and try to hear, what your child is expressing. It doesn’t always make sense, nor is it always rational, but they need to know that when they speak and express themselves, you are listening.
If you can put words to your child’s feelings and emotions, not only does your child realise that you see them, they also learn how to name, and in time, process, their emotions.
9. Don’t try and stop the tears
Tears are the most wonderful natural mechanism for emotional regulation. Although it is hard to see your child cry, learn to see the tears as a gateway to a happier, calmer child. Laura Markham compares pent up emotion to a backpack full of feelings, weighing your child down. A good cry can unload the whole backpack and take a huge weight off those little shoulders, or heart. Sometimes I encourage Lexi to have a nice big cry so that she can feel much better afterwards, in fact she often needs a bit of a cry before a nap in order to unwind.
10. Offer a hug
A tantrum can make a parent feel frustrated and alienated from their child - they seem angry and distant - but often a hug is just what they want and they need. If they need some time to calm down, just let them know that you are available for a hug when they need one. Don’t force a hug, but offer it, and you will be surprised at how often they will run into your arms.
In the midst of the chaos that is life, and during that dreaded hour before dinner, or during the school run, don’t forget to look at your child and truly see them. Choose to strengthen your connection daily - with a hug, affirming words or some quality time - and you will see how your child and your relationship blossoms.
My parenting style and most of these ideas and thoughts come from the following resources:
- Laura Markham's blog, https://www.ahaparenting.com
- Unruffled Podcast by Janet Lansbury
These photos are by Robs Oosthuysen of Design Ardour