Posted by: coachingparents | October 24, 2007

10 Tips for Connecting Deeply with Your Children


by Minette Riordan, Ph.D, ACPI CCP

What we all want as parents is to raise happy, healthy kids who will find joy and success in life. We believe that we have their best interests at heart and we do what needs to be done to keep them clothed, fed, clean, safe from harm, etc. Yet there is more to parenting than simply meeting the basic needs of human existence. We get so busy and so caught up in the day-to-day struggles of getting everything done, getting everyone from one place to the next, making sure that our children have the best of everything that sometimes we forget that time flies and before we know it another day, week, month or year has flown by and our children are leaving home.

I am sure your children know that you love them but if you ask your child, especially younger children, what they really want from you, most will respond, “I want you to play with me, read to me, BE with me.” Our children want our time, they want our undivided attention, they want to be secure in our love. If they cannot articulate this need in words they make scream, color on the walls, whine and try a million other tricks to ensure that pay attention.

Knowing the busy world we all struggle to survive in today, it can be difficult and frustrating to give your child what they want when you are trying to get dinner on the table, help an older child finish homework while the younger one screams for your attention and drop in another load of laundry. I have compiled a list of 10 simple ways that you can connect deeply with your children, let them know that you cherish them and send them out into the world secure in themselves because they know they are loved. If you build this connection when your children are young, it will continue to blossom so that in adolescence your child will be able to make healthy choices and talk to you about all the difficult decisions they may face. They will know they have a safe place to come home to and to share what is happening in their life.

  1. Cherish children, your own and everyone else’s. Children are our most precious gift, our most precious commodity, they are the future. Love your own children unconditionally, without judgment or criticism. Love them for who they are, discover who they are and learn to work with them according to their strengths, needs and desires. Tell your children every day that you love them. This sounds so simple, but how often do we forget. Studies show that it takes 40 positive statements to negate 1 negative comment. Think about what you say to your children every day.
  2. Hug your child often! Reach out and give them a hug, pat on the back, snuggle on the couch for 5 minutes (without the t.v. on) and let them tell you about their day. Children thrive on physical affection. When they are infants, we hold our children constantly but once they are on the move, we hold them less and less. That does not mean they don’t need or want to be held. Make time to reach out in whatever way is most comfortable for you. My daughter has an elaborate bedtime ritual of kisses and hugs that help her to calm down. If we miss one step, we have a major meltdown, and have to start all over. My older son likes quick bear hugs or just to sit beside me with his head on my shoulder at story time. Pillow fights, tickle time and wrestling with dad are all great ways to meet their need for physical contact. This type of play also teaches them to play safely, to say no when they have had enough and to respect boundaries.
  3. Schedule a date with your child. Every child deserves and needs to have your undivided attention. We can’t give constant undivided attention to children but we can set aside special  one-on-one time with each child. Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting, calls this “mommy time” or the name of the child, “Conner time.” My children have learned to ask for “mommy time” or “Conner time” when they feel like they have not seen enough of me or maybe have something going on they want to talk about. Even 10 minutes every couple of days will meet your child’s need for attention. Make it a specific time: “Okay, Conner, we can have some time together tonight after dinner. I need to finish this task and then at 7pm we can have 15 minutes to do whatever you want to do.”  You will be amazed at the difference this small change can make. My kids look forward to their private time, they never interrupt when the other child is having her time, sometimes they even decide to share their time and we have family time. I often turn errands into private time with one of my children. I take one of them to the grocery store and then we do something special together. This week I took my son shopping for winter clothes and shoes, we also stopped at the candy store. We laughed, shopped, ate and came home happy and relaxed. This is a simple yet extremely effective tool for building deeper connections with your children.
  4. Play with your child. I know that sounds silly. I also know that I am a busy mom and I can think of a hundred things I would rather do (and need to get done) than play Barbies or play Monopoly Jr. again. When you go to the park, push them on the swing, focus on their silly antics on the monkey bars or join in a game of tag. I love to visit with all the other moms hanging out or take a book and sit in the sun. But sometimes I need to devote time to playing with my kids doing what THEY want to do. It’s really not all about me, it is about letting them get to be the decision maker, providing your child the opportunity to have a voice and decide how you spend time together. Families are a collective, not a dictatorship and everyone should have a voice. Knowing that they do have a voice and you respect their opinion will build the foundation for them being able to confidently ask for what they want and need throughout their life.
  5. Laugh with your child. Tell silly jokes in the car, make funny faces across the dinner table, watch a goofy movie together or some old Tom & Jerry cartoons. One morning, I was driving my kids to a summer camp about 20 minutes from my house. We started playing a game of saying words backwards and whether it was really funny or not doesn’t matter, my kids thought it was hysterical. They laughed for the entire ride in the car and I laughed with them. What a great start to our day. We all went our merry way with smiles on our faces that lasted the whole day long. There is nothing more endearing than the sound of children laughing. When was the last time you acted silly and made your kids laugh?
  6. Read to your child. This is another simple and effective way to create quiet time with your child. Set aside time everyday to sit and read to them or have them read to you if they are old enough. Aside from the tremendous academic benefits they receive from being read to, they will know that you care about them, that you want to spend time with them and that they will get that time with you every day!
  7. Create a safe space to share emotions. This doesn’t have to be a specific place, but it does need to have a specific feeling and atmosphere. When your child is upset, worried, frustrated, struggling at school, or fighting with her BFF (best friend forever) make sure you set aside time to actively listen to what she is feeling. Stop what you are doing and turn to face your child. Suspend judgment, don’t try to solve the problem for her, just sit quietly and let her tell her story. This can be difficult in the heat of an argument with a sibling or the middle of a tantrum. Hold your child or sit with her, ask her to take a few deep breaths (breathe with her) and when she is ready have her tell you what’s going on. If it’s a sibling issue, make sure each child has the opportunity to tell her side of the story. Your child needs to know that she can safely come to you with any problem she is having, without fear of your criticism or your anger. If the child has made a mistake, talk calmly with them, let them help decide what the consequences should be. Work through problems together. This will empower your child to solve her problems but also to continue to talk to you, even when her challenges are more complicated in the teen years.
  8. Spend time outside. From the time that my children were infants, we found that fresh air could calm them immediately. Put your little one in the stroller every day and take him for a short walk, you will both benefit not just from the quiet time together but also from being outside. A walk around the block, a romp in a local park, a game of hopscotch, a sandbox, a trip to the zoo are all examples of ways to get outside, a bicycle ride through rain puddles… There is a whole world out there that children love to explore through touch, feel, sight, hearing and even taste. What child hasn’t stuffed sand and gravel in his mouth at some point? Snow balls fights can be a great way to release excess winter energy from being stuck in the house. What’s more fun than hitting mom or dad right in that one spot they don’t have covered up!  My son and I have had some of our best talks about God while on nature walks. Being outside sparks all kinds of questions like:  “Where did animals come from?” “What kind of tree/plant is that?” “Do you believe in angels?” It always amazes me what they come up with. When was the last time you walked in the grass in your bare feet? Try it, it feels great! It will also keep you connected to your environment and help to teach your child that there is world outside of school, home, the mall that we need to take care of.
  9. Car talk. Do you ever listen to the Car Talk guys on NPR on Saturday mornings? They are hysterical. They have made a life and career out of listening to people tell their stories. It’s only partially about the car problems, have you noticed that? Now more than ever, we spend a significant chunk of our lives in an automobile. Use the time to your advantage (and stop the kids from fighting in the back seat). Play a car game like “I Spy” or “In My Mother’s Purse”. Tell knock knock jokes. Sing along to everyone’s favorite cd. Have them share something they are grateful for or something nice they did for someone else today. Or, if you have just one child with you, use the time to talk about her. Ask them leading questions about her friends, her day, what’s making her happy right now, is there anything she is struggling with at the moment, etc. For more ideas about how to ask questions, see my article on Ten Tips for Communicating with Your Children. Driving time can become “mommy/daddy time” when you shift the intention and focus to your child and let them lead the conversation.
  10. Work on a goal together. “My son Rain and I recently completed a 6-month-long goal together — reading the first 5 books of Harry Potter aloud together. We made it a goal to finish all five before the movie came out (this weekend!), and it took some long reading sessions, and sometimes 2-3 times a day, but it was fun and very rewarding. And it taught him about setting and achieving goals by taking small steps each day. Now, my 7-year-old daughter Maia and I are doing another goal — to get her in shape for soccer in August. We have a workout plan, and I’m the drill sergeant, and we have a cool high-five we give each other at the end, and she has a workout journal. It’s a lot of fun, and it bonds us.”
  11. Minette Riordan, Ph.D., CCP is a certified coach for parents. She can be reached at mriordan@waymark.net or 469-585-3615.  She is passionate about helping parents to enrich their relationships with their children by learning to communicate and connect more effectively. She is available for individual coaching, seminars or public speaking opportunities
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