05/26/2015 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Simple Way to Connect With Your Kids Every Day

A 9-year-old girl who usually gets picked up from school by her mother walks out of her third grade classroom and sees her father waiting for her instead. Her eyes widen and a surprised smile crawls across her face. "Daddy!" she shouts and starts running towards him.

Emotionless, the father asks, "Where's your sweater?"

The little girl's smile falls to the ground as she stops running.

"Why don't you have your sweater on? It's cold," the father says.


A 5-year-old boy comes to the door of his kindergarten classroom when his mother arrives, looks up at her smiling, and says, "Mommy!"

She doesn't acknowledge him (or even look at him), but starts talking about him with the teacher.

Then she takes him by the hand and leads him away, while talking to another mom.


A 14-year-old girl gets into her mother's car after school, bursting with energy and excited to tell her about the A she received on a math test.

The mother holds up her index finger while she continues a conversation on her cell phone.

After 10 minutes, the mother hangs up and asks, "So, how was your day?"

The girl's sparkle has dulled and she simply answers, "Fine."



The way you reconnect with your kids each and every day helps set the tone for your relationship. The more they feel connected to you, the less they'll need to act out in order to get your attention. And the stronger your bond, the more they'll actually want to cooperate.

How do you connect with your child after you've been apart?

Do your eyes light up? Do your face and voice show how excited you are to see him? Do you put aside all other distractions and focus just on her?

Forget about how they greet you. Focus on what you can control: how you greet them.

In other words, when the first words out of their mouths are, "Can we go to the park?" or "Where's my snack?" -- don't come back with a defensive, "Well, hello to you, too!" As the grown up, you're their model for how to acknowledge people warmly and politely. After you've greeted them and made a loving connection, then you can address the park, snack, etc.

Also, it's ok if they're not as excited to see you. Don't take it personally. Kids tend to hold themselves together all day at school and then fall apart when they're back in the comfort of your presence. Knowing this, you can be prepared to show compassion for them and allow them to decompress after a long day.

This doesn't mean you allow them to be rude to you or get whatever they want. You can show compassion while setting limits on how they behave, or simply ignore their invitation to a power struggle. For example, "Seems like you had a hard day, but it's not ok to talk to me that way. Try again," or "Sounds like you had a stressful day today. Wanna talk about it?"

Going back to the three examples above, what could the parents in each situation do differently?

The father in the first example could greet his daughter with a hello and a hug before questioning her about her sweater. I'm not sure where it originated, but there's a saying, "Connect before you correct." I like that philosophy.

The mom in the second example could kneel down to her son's level and hug him before talking with the teacher. She could also include him in the conversation, rather than talking about him as if he's not there.

Ideally, the mom in the third example would hang up the phone before her daughter gets into the car. If that's not possible, she could still show excitement on her face and pause the conversation long enough to say hello and let her daughter know how long she thinks the conversation will last. This little bit of common courtesy shows the daughter that she's valued.

Start to pay closer attention to how you connect with your kids (and spouse, too, for extra credit) after you've been apart, and notice how they respond. These times include first thing in the morning, after school, after work, etc. Focus on being present, listening without judging, and showing them you're happy to see them. Sometimes the simplest actions yield the most powerful results.

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