Connection is important for all of us, especially for children who are still developing in many ways. Research continues to show us the multi-dimensional benefits of interpersonal connection, including learning self-regulation skills. It is important for us to connect in two directions: towards ourselves and away from ourselves. Connecting within helps us to be aware of ourselves, to recognize our own strengths and weaknesses, and to direct ourselves in various ways. We also benefit from connecting to others, recognizing their emotions and thoughts as different than ours, but still valuable and relevant to us. While there is plenty of talk about what gets in the way of human connection (i.e., devices, social media, video games), the suggestions below focus on what you can do to enhance connection with your child and foster the connections they have with themselves and others.
- Emotions are not bad. They may contribute to poor behavior, and sometimes they are excessive, but they also are important and beautiful. When your child is experiencing one of those negative emotions, pause. Consider how it must feel to have such a big emotion in a little body. Remember that you were once that little and still learning what to do with those emotions. Connect through physical touch, eye contact, sitting together, breathing together, listening to a song together, or just being quiet until your child feels less overwhelmed.
- Connect, then redirect. When needing to help your child make more positive behavior choices, take time to connect with them first to help them learn and grow in the context of a relationship, rather than in response to a simple command. Eye contact, getting down to their physical level, gentle touch, and removing them from the watchful eyes of other kids are some ways to help focus on regulation and connection first, which will help your redirection, teaching, or discipline be more effective. Here’s a recent example from my life. My older daughter wanted to play with something my younger daughter received for her birthday. Instead of simply giving the command to “give it back” from across the room, I took her hand, knelt down next to her, and helped her remember how excited she is to play with gifts she receives, and how her sister is feeling that way right now. While still disappointed to give up the toy, she was able to connect with her own previous feelings and gain insight into her sister’s perspective.
- Set aside time. I know if often feels like there’s never enough time, but chances are, you can find a few moments to intentionally connect with your child or teen. With young children, find opportunities to slow down and take your child’s lead. If your son is examining a worm after the rain, crouch down and take a look at it with him. If you’re driving with your teen, ask them to pick the music for the drive. If you like a song, tell your teen or ask who sings it.
- Ask questions that require self-reflection. Look for moments that come up naturally when you can ask your child these types of questions. Listen to understand, not to respond. For example, you can ask, “How do you want your friendships to be different? The same?,” ‘What are you proud of about yourself? Grateful for?,” “Who are the people that make you feel good? How do they do that?”