The other day, after my daughter got home from preschool, she was sitting in my lap, pressing her nose against mine, and we both started giggling uncontrollably. We’d stop for a moment, and then she’d move closer and we’d burst out laughing again. It was a moment of pure joy, love, and connection. The kind of moment where being connected is all that matters and everything feels easy.
These moments matter. They can be hard to find, though, when our child’s behavior challenges us or leaves us feeling triggered. The thing is, that’s often when our children need that connection the most.
When connecting isn’t easy
If we love our children unconditionally, it makes sense to believe that connection should follow naturally, and it can feel frustrating and confusing when it doesn’t.
I like to view connecting as a practice, just like I view my writing, yoga, and meditation practices. I see it as an essential piece of my own work within my relationships, even when it doesn’t come easily. I set a daily intention of connecting with my family, and I actively look for ways to boost our connection when it’s not coming easily. The recommendations I’m sharing are strategies that I utilize within my own family and that have worked for my clients.
If you take away one thing from this list, let it be this: slow down. When we are rushing from one activity or moment to the next, it is hard to stay connected.
Be intentional about slowing things down. Maybe that means cutting back on some activities and commitments, or maybe it just means getting up a few minutes earlier so there’s less of a need to make every second count in the morning. It really depends on your family; you know where you feel rushed.
This may sound simple, but it has a profound effect not only on the connection we feel with our child, but on their state of overwhelm as well. Feeling overwhelmed is the root cause of so many challenging behaviors, especially for Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs). When your child feels less overwhelmed, transitions will be easier, you’ll be met with less resistance, and you may find that you feel like you actually have more time than you did when you were trying to move things along more quickly.
Give your child your full attention when they wake up, when they get home, and at bed time.
You may have seen this article floating around on the internet. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out. The basic premise is that there are nine minutes of a child’s day that have the most impact on your child: the first three minutes after they wake up, the first three minutes after they get home from school, and the last three minutes before they go to bed. If you are feeling disconnected, stressed, and overburdened, this can be a great place to start.
Make a point of giving your child your undivided, calm attention in each of those moments. Fight the urge to ask a lot of questions, simply hold the space for the two of you to be together. And if you simply aren’t available at those times? Focus on being one hundred percent present for your child in the moments of reunion and separation that you do share. If you don’t see them until after you get home from work, for example, hold space for connection then, and understand that they may need a little more than three minutes.
One of the most common strategies parents use to connect with their children is to ask them questions. We want to know how their day was, what they did at school, what they’re looking forward to. This is well intentioned, but it can feel overwhelming to a lot of children, and it’s especially overwhelming to Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs).
Instead of steering the conversation with questions, practice holding space for your child to talk and reflecting back what they say to you. You can then bring in questions to clarify and add depth to the conversation, but let them get things started. Sometimes we all need a little down time and shared silence to reflect on our day before we’re ready to talk about it. Practice honoring that.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s so important. Our children connect to the world through play. They make sense of their experiences through play. When we join in their play, we are making an effort to connect with them and help them make sense of the world. It’s a win-win for everyone.
To be clear, when I say join in their play, I actually mean join in play of their choice. Fight the urge to direct things and let your child lead the way. In doing this, you give their creativity and interests a chance to shine through, and you may be amazed by what you discover.
This is my go-to, regardless of the weather. If tensions are rising or we’re feeling restless, we go outside. Being outside helps us feel more grounded and offers loads of opportunities for open-ended play. It brings a little adventure into our day to day routine and is a great way to build shared memories with siblings, too.
Involve them in daily life.
If you’re finding it hard to make time to connect with your child and balance your own household responsibilities, involving them in the daily life of the home is powerful solution. In this context, I’m referring specifically to completing household tasks together, not assigning chores. Many children enjoy working with their parents to prepare dinner or fold the laundry. It’s an opportunity for them to make a positive contribution to their life of their family and connect with you while they’re doing it.
Read lots of books.
I’m a former middle school Language Arts teacher, and I have a Master’s in Library Science, so of course reading is going to be one of my biggest recommendations for parents wanting to create a stronger connection with their children. Our children benefit from being read to even after they learn to read independently. The books we share with our children create opportunities to support their understanding of relationships and the complexities of the world. Read to your children daily, and keep doing it even after you think they may have outgrown it.
Do phone-free dates.
Make an effort to break free of your routines and take your children on special adventures where they get your full attention. Keep your phone in your purse or backpack, and tune in to your kids, whether you’re taking them out to lunch, going on a picnic, or going to the pool. Just like spending time outdoors, planning dates with your children is a wonderful way to deepen your connection and create memories.
What about families with multiple kids and very busy schedules?
This is a question that comes up a lot, and there isn’t a cookie cutter answer. You’ll find you have to pick and choose to find the strategies that work best for you, just remember it means a lot for children to have one on one time with all of the important adults in their lives. It’s okay if there are other people around, and it’s okay if you can’t devote large chunks of time to it, but aim to give each of your children a few moments of complete focus every day. Stop what you’re doing, put down your phone, and hold space just for them for a few minutes. You don’t have to talk or force anything, just be there.
Remember that this is a practice, and just like any sort of practice, it’s not going to go perfectly all the time. There will be days that just rush by and it’s bedtime before you know it, and that’s okay. There will be days that you feel disconnected, no matter what you do. That’s okay, too. Acknowledge it, and then reset your intention for the next day.
Parenting with a growth mindset
One of the most powerful moves you can make as a parent is to adopt a growth mindset. Parents who work to develop a growth mindset are able to see their flaws and challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles preventing them from having the family life they desire. If you want to see how your mindset lines up, check out this mindset assessment from mindsetworks. While you’re there, you may want to check out their research and resources, too.
Are you working to cultivate a growth mindset? Are you taking action to connect more deeply with your child and break free of the old parenting paradigm of rewards and punishments? If so, you might want to check out our membership community, Compass Rose. Compass Rose is a community of like-minded parents committed to doing the inner work of parenting so they can show up better for their kids. Membership includes spotlight interviews with complementary practitioners to help you along your journey, mind-body practices for children and adults, and a monthly group coaching call to address whatever’s coming up for you. Doors open to new members March 14th. Sign up below to join the wait list. You’ll get sneak previews of each of the Compass Rose resources including an exclusive invitation to join us for March’s coaching call.