By Tina Grady Barbaccia
In a world of video games, electronics, extracurricular activities and busy parents just trying to manage their own schedules, truly connecting with your children may be difficult. Parents often try to connect by asking their children about their day as soon as they are picked up from school or aftercare.
Jami Wilder, Psy.D., co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness in Cranston, R.I., notes that being connected is different than being present. “For most of us busy parents, it can be challenging to be more than present in our kids’ lives,” Wilder says. “Running from one event to the next, juggling chores and work and schedules, all while attempting to maintain our own sense of selves can make meaningful connection to our kids difficult to facilitate.”
Wilder says that moments of connection and genuine positive regard are like deposits in kids’ self-worth bank accounts. “The more we can make those deposits, even small ones, the greater the return,” Wilder says. “Kids who feel connected in positive ways to the adults in their lives are likely to grow to be resilient and emotionally healthy.”
Many parents want to teach children different things and help guide them through life, explains Jamey DiVietro, M.A., L.C.P.C., a counselor at Waubonsee Community College. “This is good, but it’s also important to listen to what our children are telling us.”
Here are 10 tips to help you connect to your child:
1. Taking a walk or bike ride. Be more than just physically present to bond. Don’t text or surf the net. Use the time to talk or sing to your child. For older children, don’t discuss issues such as unfinished homework, chores or what needs to be done when you both get home. Letting the child set the pace and distance will also make the outing more about leisure and enjoying time together instead of the task of going a specific distance.
2. Read with your kids.This not only attributes to literacy, which will only help your kids throughout life, “but it’s great quality time,” according to ZenHabits (http://zenhabits.net/10-ideas-for-connecting-with-your-kids/).
3. Make physical contact. There’s nothing that beats snuggling. For older children, it could just be a pat on the touch. There is something “unquestionably powerful about the human touch,” according to The Modern Mom Channel (http://www.modernmom.com/article/5-benefits-of-the-human-touch).
4. Meet children eye to eye. “So often, we interact with our kids while we are doing something else – driving, cooking, texting, etc.,” Wilder says. “Giving your child your full attention for even just a moment, particularly when he or she is telling you something conveys respect for that child. It says, ‘You are important enough to have my full attention.’”
5. Let children play the way they want. It lets them control their own environment, DiVietro says. “At school, teachers decide when the read, study math or go outside,” he says. “At home, parents tell them when bedtime is and when they can watch. Having a sense of control for just a little bit on a regular basis, will help their development and growth.”
6. Walk a mile in their shoes (Model empathy through what you say). Saying something like, “I remember feeling sad when my friends left me out. Do you feel that way?” models empathy and also lets her tell you about her experience, Wilder says.
7. Ask open-ended questions and accept the response (even if it’s not one that you want): “Yes” and “no” questions don’t invite much sharing, explains Wilder. “We tend to rebut or try to fix things for our kids, which also stops conversation. Asking “who, what, and why” questions invites conversation.” Adds DiVietro: Instead of answering directly when kids ask endless questions, ask the child what he or she thinks. “If the child asks you why Batman is a superhero, ask the child, ‘Why do you think Batman is a superhero?”
8. Catch kids doing something positive and acknowledge it. “As parents, we spend a lot of time teaching, which can often mean pointing out what our kids are ‘doing wrong,” Wilder explains. “By acknowledging what they do right, you not only increase the likelihood that they will continue to do those things; you also create an environment that makes them proud to show you more of who they are and what they do.”
9. Eat together. Regular meal times shared together set the stage for a daily routine, Wilder says. Routine helps kids feel secure in their environment. Sitting down for a meal lets every member of the family focus on each other. It lets kids know that their presence is important.
10. Little things add up. Notes in lunch boxes saying that you love a child of 15 minutes of talking in bed right before a child goes to sleep can connect you, Wilder notes. Playing with Legos for 20 minutes before dinner or asking the child to help with making breakfast can also be special. “These “small” moments make huge deposits in the self-worth bank,” Wilder says. “They also bring parents and children closer together when life is busy.”
Tina Grady Barbaccia is a writer/editor in Ohio.