Kids who feel connected to us feel settled and secure in themselves.
Kids are evolutionarily programmed to want our presence and attention. Baby mammals need their parent’s care and attention to survive, and so our children are wired to want us to be deeply engaged with them. Unfortunately our busy modern lifestyles mean that kids are getting less connection with us than ever before.
If kids feel disconnected from you they can resort to acting up to get this connection back. Difficult behaviour is a sure sign that your child is in need of more connection.
When we give children our presence and attention they get the message that they are worthy of love, they feel good about themselves and this builds their self-esteem. A strong bond with us is also protective against the influence of peers and social media. And as a bonus, kids who feel connected to us are much more likely to be co-operative, which makes parenting a whole lot easier!
Nurturing your positive connection with your kids doesn’t have to take long and can be easily integrated into everything you do together.
Here are some great ways parents can help kids feel connected:
1. Take the time to reconnect
When you’ve been apart for the day, your kids desperately need to reconnect with you. This is often the exact time of day that you need to rush home and get things done like cook dinner. Your evening will go a whole lot better if you can take just 10 minutes to be with your child and hear about their day. Don’t touch your phone and give your child your full attention. Or even better, do something fun and physical together to reconnect. (See below.)
2. Respond to your child’s “bids” for your attention.
All day long our children send out “bids” for our attention, for example, a question or “Mum, look at this!” If you can “turn towards” these bids for attention by responding to your child, you are building up credit in their emotional bank account which can carry you through times when you can’t be so attentive.
Sometimes these “bids” for attention are annoying! When you child “pokes” you or does something to get your attention, see if you can respond with connection instead of getting mad. You could turn it into play by responding with mock fury. “Rarrr, you didn’t just poke me did you? I’m going to get you!” and chase them round the lounge.
3. Laughter & play
Laughter and having fun together is incredibly connecting. Laughter releases feel-good hormones which help us feel warm and connected. This can be as simple as playing silly word games, speaking in a funny voice or pulling silly faces! Kids are experts at being silly, it’s us adults that have to re-learn this skill! Play games with your child that get them giggling. We can follow our child’s lead here, if they giggle, do it again, and again! I love playing “don’t you smile!” it always leads to lots of smiling and laughing.
Rowdy, physical, interactive play gives kids physical release, connection with you, laughter and fun. Remember your child’s “emotional backpack”? (See previous post on Meltdowns.) Laughter and physical play release the same backlog of emotional stress that crying does, leaving your child feeling happy and connected to you. When done regularly, roughhousing can even prevent Meltdowns! Even if wrestling is not your forté, you can find ways to have physical fun together. You can arm wrestle, have a pillow fight, wrap your child in a bear hug, jostle each other for positions on the couch, or pretend your child is a “lumpy cushion”! Just make sure that everyone’s having fun and stop if either of you get out of control! One of my favourites, is “the sock game” where you have to try to pull each other’s socks off!
Sometimes roughhousing can end in tears or a meltdown. This is ok. It just means that the closeness and connection with your child has allowed the child to show their deeper feelings. All you need to do is stay close, listen and allow the release of feelings.
5. Listening to feelings
Children feel better and more connected to us when we listen to their feelings. This means just listening without interrupting, or giving advice, or trying to fix things. We don’t actually have to DO anything. What kids need most is simply to be heard and have their feelings acknowledged and accepted. Your empathy helps your child process all her feelings from the day and feel understood, accepted and loved. You can even acknowledge your child’s feelings while you are setting a limit on behaviour that you don’t like.
6. Special time.
Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to just be with your child. You can tell them this is their special time and you can do anything they want you to do together. Put your mobile phone away and give them your full, undivided, loving attention. We so often give our children half our attention while we are doing something else. Special time shows our child in a very tangible way that they are deeply important to us. Avoid teaching, setting limits or talking about problems during this time, just be together. If your child doesn’t know what to do with this time you can suggest some roughhousing to start. Also, no screens or reading, the aim is to be deeply engaged with your child, not just doing things side-by-side.
7. Create connection rituals.
Kids love rituals, something that you do regularly together that reminds them of your love and connection. You might have a special way you say goodbye or great each other at the end of the day. Having afternoon tea together after school, reading bedtime stories, or snuggling on the couch watching a movie together on Friday nights are all regular connection rituals. They give your child something to look forward to, knowing they will get some connection with you. Even the words you say to each other can become rituals, like “goodnight, sleep tight” or “I love you to the moon and back”.
8. Morning (or evening) cuddle.
Start the day feeling connected. A 5 minute cuddle in bed in the morning can make a huge difference to the day going more smoothly. Or in the evening, you can use this time to talk together about the day. Often this is a time where your child’s feelings may bubble to the surface and you can practice just listening. Or you can just snuggle, kiss and stroke your child as you tell them how much you love them.
Keeping our kids close to us, by prioritising our connection with them, is what will keep them safe as they grow in this world. When we focus on deeply connecting with our kids, they thrive and parenting becomes a joy and a pleasure.