As a parent who longs for fantastic relationships with your children, why do you sometimes feel like you are missing the mark? While your children give your life meaning, somehow, the deep connection you crave seems to be missing. You provide all of what they need and much of what they want. Despite your efforts, something is missing.
I’ve got great news. You can improve your connection….the fact that you’re motivated enough to read this article shows that you have what it takes.
A meaningful connection with your child is simple. It only requires that you pay attention and listen, engage and be fully present…..consistently. Why then is it so difficult? The short answer is because it isn’t easy. It’s funny, most of life’s best choices are simple…but never easy. Want to lose weight? Eat right, exercise and get 7-9 hours of sleep….Yeah, right. So goes deepening your relationship with your child. The unfortunate truth is tuning into your children requires commitment and mental discipline that can feel heroic in this age of competing distractions and unrealistic demands on your time. However, with a few small changes, you might be surprised to find someone “hanging out” in your space much sooner than you think. Make these pointers habit and you’ll get the answer’s right when they quiz you about the things that matter most to them.
When did you last dig in deep to your child? When was the last time you fully listened to their retelling of the latest Captain Underpants episode? Were you listening when they named their dolls? Did you notice that this morning they made their beds without a single wrinkle or brushed their teeth without prompting? A close relationship with your child is made up of many mundane moments like those described.
Listen when they don’t think you’re paying attention.
Play-dates and activities that happen in another room are solid gold. Eavesdropping on my children playing tells me a lot about what’s going on in their heads. I get to hear their aspirations, fears, and frustrations as they reenact the images held in their mind. More importantly, I can see the type of mother I am. Sometimes they are impatient and critical in their play….ouch…..I can literally see my life stress spilling over onto my babies. On other occasions, my “littles” are supportive, generous, and encouraging.
Make a Mental Shift.
When I have a public presentation I often imagine myself stepping into the moment. The minute I cross from my personal sphere into my presentation space, I am energized. I notice everything about my audience, my posture straightens, my speech pattern becomes crisp and my language is rich with verbal imagery. In this heightened sense of awareness, I can see how my presence impacts others and adjust my frequency until I am perfectly tuned to my audience. A similar method can be implemented when dealing with your children. Maybe, you “enter a new space” when you pull into the garage or sit down for dinner. One man rubs his “trouble tree” every night before greeting his family. Plan 3 or 4 specific trigger points throughout your day and “step into the moment.”
Look at Your Children.
When your child comes into a room, take a moment and look at her closely. This look is more than determining if she is appropriately dressed for the day. This look sinks down into her and tells you if you need to stop and dig a little deeper. How is he holding his body? How bright are her eyes? Has she chosen a new favorite outfit? Does her smile match her eyes? Are his shoulders tense? Is her smile relaxed? Next follow up on your observations with gentle questions…. wait and listen to the responses. Don’t be surprised if your questions are first rebuffed. Ask again. If your child responds tensely try a bit of gentle humor to lighten the mood. When you see anxiety, stop everything else and focus fully on her. Look her in the eye. Smile. Listem. Touch her…so she believes that nothing else matters more than she does.
Play With Your Children.
Silly faces, voices and other over the top antics are fantastic ways to quickly connect with your child. When life demands steal your time or your lecture sucked the life out of the room, lighten it up with a silly voice, tickle, and a hug. Make it a point to play with your child several times a week. Set aside an hour for a board game, turn up the music and have a dance party, make a race car track, and play Barbies for 15 minutes. When you are short on time, turn chores into games and races. We play “At the Opera” or “Rap City” when cleaning the house, making dinner or learning boring spelling rules.
Our favorite chore turned game are grocery trips when I’m short on time. We’re agents on a “mission” that MUST be completed in 22 minutes….if we fail….the world explodes….queue the secret agent voice and grab a pair of sunglasses…with no more than your imagination and a silly voice, you can complete your errand, meet your timeframes and be the coolest mom on the block.
The BEST bonding times often happen just as my littles are drifting off to sleep. We lie in the dark together and talk for a few minutes before they drift into sleep. This distraction free mommy and me time is like prime real estate at my house. EVERYONE fights for their turn to lay down with mommy.
Share a Journal.
My 9 year-old daughter and I share a journal. When there are things she doesn’t know how to discuss, she writes about it and leaves the journal on my pillow. I respond in writing and return it to her. Receiving the journal always sparks the conversation and the journal is often back on my pillow within an hour….more often our journal is the gateway to conversation, helping my daughter find her voice.
Hug, Cuddle, and Cover Your Kiddos in Kisses.
My children are still on the young side, both are under 10. To them, nothing says you matter to me and I love you more than hugs and kisses. Even into their teen years, physical affection communicates love and bonds you to your children. My step-son, now a young man well into his twenties, sometimes calls when life is tougher than he imagined wishing he could lay his head on my lap and talk…like we did a few years ago when he was in high school. Make time every day to touch your child and hold them close. While you’re in the mist of the hug, squeeze a little tighter and whisper “I love you more than sunshine” in her ear…..then tell her why.
Tell Your Children When They Get it Right.
As parents, it is our job to correct, discipline and redirect our children. It is also our job to encourage and acknowledge them. Tell your children how much you like them. Explain why their fantastic character matters. My oldest daughter purchased a birthday gift and planned a party for her best friend a few weeks ago. The gift arrived and she squealed as if it were for her. Though she loves vanilla cake, she chose chocolate. I was beaming and made a point to tell her how special she was for putting another person’s interests above her own. What an incredibly thoughtful she was! I also made a point to tell my mom, her BFF’s mom, and Daddy about her stellar display of character , making sure she was could easily overhear my conversations. I want her to hear me bragging about how amazing she is.
Make a Date.
If your schedule is anything like mine, there aren’t enough hours in the day for the things you have to get done….life, however, didn’t get the memo and there are times that you have to do a lot extra to move yourself and your family to a better place. When life requires more of me, I have a conversation with my children, telling them what’s going on, why it’s important and I ask for their support. Then, I commit to a regular activity of their choosing. I treat that time as sacred. How we spend the time is irrelevant. The kids might choose to make pizza or watch Captain Underpants….again. The point is that they know that no matter what life throws at me they are important.
Put Them First.
When my non parenting responsibilities consume time normally spent with my children, I make a real effort to give the girls their time first. That means when I get home at 7:00 with a full briefcase, the kids get the first hour….period. While writing this post, each of my children has climbed onto my lap for cuddles. I stop, smile, plant a kiss and share a cuddle. Once they felt reconnected, they each ran off to play. Those breaks paid off in dividends. First, my kiddos know that they matter. Second, I needed a break. Third, children who feel safe, secure and valued will let you work without attention-seeking.
Teach Them Mistakes Are Not Fatal.
My children leave messes behind, forget to brush their teeth, whine when it’s time to read, and lose their hearing when I make a request during playtime. All day long, life tells them that they are inadequate. It’s my job to teach them that imperfection is a human condition… Mistakes are the price we all pay for breathing. Your children NEED to know that no mistake is big enough to weaken your love for them. Point out that the wrong note at their piano recital didn’t cause the ceiling to cave in. Remind them that failing a math test just means they need extra practice.
When your children disobey, hold them accountable, require an apology, and help them make it right. Make the time to brainstorm with them about better options for next time. Then, “throw it in the bottom of the sea.” Your children NEED to make mistakes because mistakes are fantastic teachers. You want them to make all the mistakes they can in childhood for the value of the lessons learned…. and because correcting childhood mistakes is cheap.
I almost always get a rush after completing a project. The harder the task, the greater the satisfaction. Working with your children not only gives them the opportunity to share in that satisfaction, it gives them a sense of contribution and helps you feel supported. A few weeks ago, our deck was in dire need of a stain job. It was hot and humid outside. I was tired and a little cranky,,,, I thought my children’s “help” would only create more work for me. I resisted the urge to send them inside to play, giving one a mini-roller to work on the steps and the other a near empty can of stain for touch-up work. A few days later, when the project was complete, we all took pride in what we had accomplished….together.
When you are suffering from life fatigue, it is easy to become so caught up with all you must do that you are distracted by your thoughts and stingy with your time. These suggestions can help you carve out small moments with intention. Use them on a frequent and consistent basis to improve your relationship with your children.
Though the days of parenting are long, they are fleeting. Every day is a new opportunity. It is also a day closer to the time your child will leave your home. These days of childhood are too precious to miss. Which reminds me of one other suggestion…..sometimes, you just have to speak to yourself out loud and tell yourself to PAY ATTENTION and be the parent you are called to be…..don’t ask me how I know.