In today’s fast-paced and technology-driven world, it can be challenging for parents to find meaningful ways to connect with their children. As parents, we want to establish strong bonds with our children, fostering trust, understanding, and open communication. Connecting with your child goes beyond mere interaction; it involves creating a deep and lasting emotional connection that lays the foundation for a lifelong relationship.
I always talk about the concept of “head, heart and hands.” Connecting with a child requires an understanding of what they are thinking, feeling and how they are communicating this to you. So when we look at ways to connect with children, we need to look beyond just sitting on the couch or being in the room with them. We need to be able to connect with them communicating, “I’ve got you” and “we are in this together.”
So the “head” of it all is understanding what your child is thinking. That requires active listening and opening the lines of communication.
- Active Listening
Too often, we listen to respond or react. Our children, like us, often just want to be heard. We want someone to sit with us and validate our feelings. So actively listening to a child is incredibly important. Maintain eye contact, show genuine interest, and provide undivided attention when they share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. By actively listening, you not only validate their emotions but also create a safe space for them to express themselves freely.
- Open the lines of communication
We know the way it feels to share something and feel judged. So looking at how you can hear your child without judgement is incredibly important. Sometimes we find that we listen without understanding. Having an understanding of your child’s intentions is incredibly important. Having a child say to you “I hit him because I felt unsafe, and that was my only option because he has bullied me for days.” That gives you a lot more insight than just shouting at him for throwing fists. By maintaining an open line of communication, you strengthen the connection and build a strong foundation for a healthy parent-child relationship.
The ”heart of the matter” comes down to empathy and understanding.
- Empathy and Understanding
Practicing empathy and understanding is crucial when connecting with your child. Put yourself in their shoes, acknowledging their emotions and experiences. Show compassion and validate their feelings, even if you may not always agree with their perspective. Remember, things are different for you than for them. Times have changed. You’re experiences are different. By demonstrating empathy, you create a deep sense of connection, fostering a loving and nurturing environment.
To show your child “I’ve got you” you need to be showing them this with your “hands”, doing something together. This is done with quality time.
- Quality Time
Driving in the car is not considered “quality time” if you’re on the phone and your child is on the iPad, but it is considered “quality time” if each of you gets to play a song and have the other listen to it. It can be incredibly meaningful to have your child show you an App on their phone or the way you can use different filters on your camera. Quality time used to be going for walks or cycling together but it’s not always possible. So find ways beyond putting on a Netflix show to connect with your child. Maybe you wash the dishes together or you have them help you cook a meal. Maybe your daughter gets to put on your make up or you wash her hair and brush it for her while telling her all the things she does that makes you proud. Have your son teach you a really cool move on the sports field or have him tell you about the children in his class. Play UNO or a boardgame. Something that takes as little as 10 minutes where it’s just you two. Or it’s you and the rest of the family.
Finally you need to be patient. You need to be patient with yourself when learning new ways to connect that are different from what you grew up with. I remember, connecting with my parents with Friday night movies and a Spur burger. Those times have changed, I now connect with a video call and cup of coffee. You need to be patient with yourself as you learn new ways to meet your child where they are. You also need to be patient with your child as they grow, learn and make mistakes. Ultimately by connecting to the “head, heart and hands” you are constantly modelling to your child how they can connect with others. So listen, communicate, empathise and enjoy the time with your child. It is all fleeting and all so precious.
Author: Simone Oberholzer