We love our children and value connection with them, but we lead busy lives inundated by modern technology. We're constantly connected to things outside of the home. It's too easy to lose connection with your most valued relationships as you quickly answer "one more email," text a friend, post a quick update on Facebook or zone out on a Netflix binge. The great news is that there are many simple ways to reconnect and develop long lasting, loving connections with your children (and you don't have to give up your phone!). Here are the top seven ways to connect with your child in a disconnected world:
1.) Play Physically
Chasing our kids around the house, giving them a chariot ride on a blanket, giving them a horsey or piggy back ride, playing their favorite sport full out with them: all of these playful, physically active ways of engaging with our kids boosts them emotionally and deepens our connection with them.
2.) Listen to Feelings
To help our children develop a healthy relationship to their feelings, listen to all of them, even when they're crying and having tantrums. Let them know you are there, hold them, rock them, and let them emote. Don't try to fix or stop their feelings. Accept them and be there to witness them.
3.) Do Special Time Regularly
Your child's limbic, or emotion-centered, brain thrives off uninterrupted, warm, loving one-on-one special time with you. Set a timer for 15-60 minutes and announce you will be doing Special Time (you can call it something cooler for the older tween and teen set). Say "We're going to do special time. We can do anything you want to do!" And then give them your undivided, warm, loving attention. Enjoy noticing your child and how wonderful he or she is. Avoid the urge to suggest or direct and follow your child's lead. This is a deeply nourishing and connecting practice for both parent and child and will become a cornerstone of your parenting for years to come.
4.) Stay Connected to Yourself
Instead of using social media to numb out or tune out from yourself and your actual life, put the phones and screens away for 30 minutes per day to actively connect with yourself. This can include meditation, journaling, painting, writing stories, yoga, a walk in nature. Take some time everyday to let your thoughts and worries go, to purposefully get away from screens, and tune back into who you really are. The more you do this, the more available you are to tune in to your kids.
5.) Make Eye Contact
It's easy in the hustle bustle of our hectic days between drop offs, work, activities, pick ups, to not slow down enough to look people in the eye. Children especially thrive off of the emotional connection that is fostered through eye contact. Every chance you can, whenever you speak with your child, remember to make eye contact. This helps build your connection and keep it strong.
6.) Talk Thoughtfully About the Big Questions
Does your 4 year old already want to know where babies come from? Is your 8 year old struggling to understand her grandparent's death? As parents, these early curiosities related to life's biggest and often toughest topics can seem too heavy and scary to address. Talk with your partner and decide what are the top 3 things you hope your child learns about this tough topic in their lifetime. Then speak to those things. Do you hope they know sex happens when two people love each other? Then emphasize that people who love each other make babies (and you can reserve the sex-ed details for when they are older). Do you want them to understand that even though someone dies, their influence lives on in the people they love? Then talk about that to help bring peace and perspective. The point is, don't completely avoid these topics or assume kids can't handle them or that they don't want to hear from you. They NEED to hear from you and base their own internal compass on yours. Drop in to your own values and beliefs and teach from there, gently, and thoughtfully. It will deepen your connection.
7.) Tell Stories About Your Own Life
Kids want to know what it was like for you to do the things they are learning to do and figure out. Tell as many stories as you can about your own upbringing and childhood. Your kids should know who your grandparents were, where you went to school and how you got there, your favorite teacher, when you learned to ride a bike, when your first crush was and on who, who took you to your first dance, where you vacationed with your family, the books you loved as a child, how your friends were at various ages, their names, etc. All these details help your child to feel close to you and to make choices in their own lives.
Kiran Gaind is a mom to two young girls and owns The Connected Family, a boutique life, leadership and parenting coaching practice for modern parents. She teaches 6 Week Call-In Connected Parenting classes, offers private coaching packages via phone, video and in person, gives talks at schools and companies, provides webinars and writes a blog and email newsletter. She is available for a free consultation (650-308-9425) to help you discover how connection can change your family and your life.